Cumulative Stress and Trauma

Cumulative Stress and Trauma

Stress is a common part of life and at moderate levels one’s psyche can adapt and cope with it. As stress accumulates, however, it can become overwhelming and may result in stress disorders that can lead to physical, psychological and behavioral issues.

Levels of Stress

Stress can occur at a variety of levels and can accumulate over time with chronic exposure to triggers. Symptoms may be similar at all levels, but varying degrees of symptom severity can indicate that one’s stress has reached one of the following levels:

  • Basic stress – A normal level of stress that can occur with everyday triggers such as workplace situations and anxiety over finances or relationships
  • Cumulative stress – Prolonged, chronic exposure to stress triggers that can lead to stress disorders and psychological problems but may be reduced with rest, relaxation, vacation or time away from triggers
  • Acute stress disorder, also known as burnout – A breaking point at which the psyche can no longer cope with the continuously high stress level, common among professionals when anticipated success does not materialize and they are left with feelings of disillusionment
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – A response to extreme events that the psyche is not equipped to cope with, such as war or violent crime

Everyone who is exposed to traumatic events does not suffer from PTSD, however. Certain risk factors, such as cumulative stress or the prior existence of acute stress disorder, can make some people more susceptible than others to acquiring PTSD.

Symptoms of Stress

Stress can induce physical, mental, emotional and behavioral symptoms. When a high stress level begins to cause stress disorders, symptoms may become destructive and the condition may require professional psychiatric treatment.
Physical symptoms of stress may include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Back pain
  • Sleep issues such as insomnia or oversleeping

Mental symptoms of stress may include the following:

  • Boredom
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Paranoia

Emotional symptoms of stress may include the following:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fear
  • Mood swings
  • Sensitivity to criticism

Behavioral symptoms of stress may include the following:

  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia or overeating
  • Procrastination
  • Difficulty completing work
  • Antisocial behavior

Symptoms of acute stress disorder may include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Chronic sleep disorders
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Memory loss
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of failure

Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder may include those of acute stress disorder and any of the following:

  • Obsessing about the traumatic event
  • Reliving the traumatic event
  • Suffering from nightmares and chronic sleep disturbances
  • Feeling intense anxiety or anger when exposed to situations that trigger memories of the event
  • Becoming easily startled
  • Feeling numb or detached