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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Burnout — Is Stress Affecting My Health?

2020 might be remembered as the Year of Stress. Pandemic fatigue, COVID-19 stress, and other issues with mental health have increased throughout the year, but there may be a silver lining: less stigma around therapy and tighter communities.

Stress is the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. It’s necessary for our survival, but when it’s triggered constantly, it can develop into any number of mental health disorders. 2020 has been ripe with stressors that cause anxiety, grief, and trauma. 

2020 Stress

As we wrap up the year, let’s evaluate: How has stress affected our mental health?

Anxiety

For many, the pandemic began with anxiety—we didn’t know much about the incoming coronavirus, and many of us were afraid of what could happen to us, to our family, to our way of life.

As the year went on, the pressures of the election, social unrest, and the unpredictability and fear of COVID only amplified feelings of anxiety. Anxiety might even continue at its peak as we near the holidays, with the pressures of gift-giving and family gatherings.

This constant worry is a source of stress, which can strain mental health, especially if you were already prone to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety or depression.

Grief

In 2020, people will experience grief and loss in ways we haven’t seen for a long time. And the grief isn’t just for those we have lost—that grief can already be unbearable—but also the loss of jobs, special events, travel plans, and routines. Each time people encounter aspects of their lives that have changed due to the pandemic, this triggers a sense of grief that builds on the 2020 stress.

Stress

Anxiety and loss develop into stress. But other situations arising from the pandemic can also cause stress, like watching others who don’t follow COVID restrictions. Observing family and friends acting in an unsafe manner can evoke particular stress if you are an essential worker doing all you can to protect your loved ones from the virus.

Furthermore, if you’re a parent or a student, online school is likely to cause stress and lead to burnout. Parents have to deal with their own workload and fulfill the role teachers once filled when checking on their students. Students have lost the socialization that they got from school and the positive attention they received in person from teachers. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness understandably settle in.

Trauma

Many people are experiencing constant trauma during 2020 and aren’t even aware of it. The body internalizes chronic stress, and the result is that we are stuck on high alert. Symptoms of trauma can include emotional numbness, persistent avoidance of reminders of the trauma, difficulty sleeping and concentrating and feeling jumpy and irritable.

Effects of Stress

Stress itself isn’t an issue, but over time it creates a buildup of cortisol in the brain, which can have long-term effects on your health. When you experience chronic stress, your body produces more cortisol than it can release. High levels of cortisol in your brain can wear down its ability to function properly. This can lead to less socialization, loss of brain cells, and a shrinking of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. However, chronic stress might increase the size of the amygdala, making the brain more receptive to stress, creating a feedback loop.

Stress can also lead to effects on your body. Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are a few common effects of chronic stress. Stress can also affect other parts of your body, like your reproductive and digestive systems, while also damaging your immune system and worsening any illnesses you may already have. 

Silver Lining

Although we have lived through an especially difficult moment, 2020 has taught us some important lessons.

We have learned how to maintain connections with loved ones. Having honest conversations is necessary for our mental health, and we have learned how to have them, even if it’s through the phone.

Many people have begun to consider therapy to improve their well-being. Those with financial and social means have been more likely to reach out for help and work on themselves, which is overall a good thing. Hopefully, this will lead to less stigma surrounding therapy.

Onward, 2021

It’s important to look toward the future with optimism. If you’re feeling stressed about the pandemic, job loss, or any other issue, and you’re worried that it might contribute to your relapse, The Haven at Pismo is here to help. We provide individualized therapy and aftercare support that reaches to the core of your needs and develops your strengths to help you manage the stresses of 2020, 2021, and beyond. 

Connect with us today to learn how we can help you on your recovery journey.