Stress levels are at an all-time high in American culture. Many factors contribute to stress, from finances and work to family and relationships. No one wants to live with stress, but without recognizing it and taking measures to prevent or manage it, overcoming it will not be completely possible. Everyone handles stress differently, and not all people will have the same symptoms. Here’s how to identify the signs of stress.
The mental and emotional side of stress is often the most subtle. Sometimes, people may be accustomed to living in a stressed or anxious state of mind and don’t realize something is wrong. Some mental and emotional symptoms of stress include:
- Negative Mood: This encompasses feelings of irritability, anger, guilt, frustration and short-temperedness. When the mind is overwhelmed with tasks, worries and excessive care burdens, mood is often one of the first things affected. It’s important to your mental health to recognize these states of mind when they appear and learn how to take some time to come to terms with your stress and deal with it constructively.
- Anxiety: Thanks to advances in modern science and increases in awareness of mental illness, we now know more about overcoming anxiety than ever. But this process must begin with identifying it. Anxiety is also not always a chronic mental health condition, and some simple de-stressing exercises can help to overcome it. However, if you do struggle with anxiety, you may also come to discover that you have physical pains such as headaches or abdominal cramping during a flare-up, or that you begin to panic, or that you have low self-esteem or self-image. A sense of helplessness or loss of control can also result. If these mental health problems persist, it may be time to see a doctor or a counselor.
- Depression: Often linked to anxiety, this is also a mental health condition that many people struggle with today. Depression usually involves feelings of inadequacy, failure, extreme sadness or even an empty mood. It can also manifest as a feeling of inability to accomplish tasks and goals. Severe cases sometimes result in the individual being so fatigued they don’t feel able to move. On the other hand, it can also result in insomnia. However, the symptoms of depression are also not always tangible or easy to point out. While depression is not always the result of stress, stressful situations can definitely make it worse. Like anxiety, it is also not always a chronic condition. However, if it is, having it identified as such is the first step to overcoming it.
- Decreased Mental Function: If you frequently suffer from stress, you may find that your capacity to think critically or be motivated significantly decreases. This can include apathy, sluggishness, difficulty making decisions, forgetfulness, difficulty keeping track of everyday details and lack of awareness of your surroundings. This can also manifest in avoidant behaviors, in which you try, consciously or unconsciously, to stay away from a stressful situation or individual.
- Addictive or Vice Behaviors: Being under stress often leads to the pursuit of coping or defense mechanisms. This can include anything from increased appetite or sugar consumption to addictive behaviors like tobacco and alcohol consumption. Anything that you find yourself indulging in more frequently, which comforts you or makes you feel good, can potentially be a coping mechanism. However, coping mechanisms only continue to harm you, as they cover or ease the symptoms of stress without dealing with the root cause, and may also go on to cause physical problems.
The physical side of stress is much more obvious and easily noticeable. Many physical symptoms of stress are disabling or cause a great deal of pain. Once again, not everyone will experience the same physical symptoms of stress, but all of these can indicate that your stress level has become too much for your body to handle.
- Appetite/Weight Changes: For many, stress directly affects appetite. For some, this means binge eating, while for others, this means a complete loss of appetite. Rapid weight change can also occur as a result of both stress and appetite changes. If you find that you’re eating significantly more or less than usual or gaining or losing excessive amounts of weight, it may be time to evaluate your life for stressors and see a doctor.
- Physical Pain: When under stress, the body often responds with pain signals. This can cause any number of symptoms, such as headaches/migraines, intestinal or bowel issues (i.e. gas, constipation, diarrhea) and muscle aches and tightness. For some people under stress, pain can become chronic and will need to be dealt with through taking dietary supplements or medication.
- Changes in Sleep, Fatigue and Sexual Wellness: Sleep mostly helps our brains stay healthy. But when our brains are overloaded with stress, they can respond by either demanding more rest or by not allowing you enough rest. Both insomnia and oversleeping are common signs that your body clock is being messed up by stressful situations. Additionally, feeling physically fatigued, whether or not you’re able to sleep, is a sure indicator that your body and mind are worn down. On a related note, you may notice changes in sexual wellness or libido.
- Frequent Sickness: Closely related to the physical pain symptom, those who are under stress may find themselves becoming sick far more often than normal. Stress weighs and wears on the body, and will over time decrease the effectiveness of your immune system. When your immune system is compromised, it will not as easily fight off illness.
How to Handle Stress
The first step in handling stress is to decide you’re not just going to “deal with” or “tough through” it. It’s important to recognize when you’re stressed. Stress indicates a boundary or limit in your physical or mental/emotional abilities that will negatively impact your overall wellness if continually breached. Admitting and seeking out answers and solutions to stress will help you overcome it far more than ignoring it. A few ways to manage your stress include:
- Maintaining a healthy diet and taking supplements if needed
- Drinking lots of water
- Exercising regularly
- Meditating, doing yoga and/or breathing exercises
- Journaling, reading or doing other calming, self-aware and self-care practices
- Reaching out to others for assistance (you don’t have to do this alone!)
Finally, if you are having difficulty managing your stress level, talk to your primary care physician. He or she can help you find healthy and body-positive solutions that will empower you to enforce boundaries with stress in your life and help you face all of life’s challenges with a mindset of self-awareness. At Community Access Network, we can and desire to help you navigate life’s daily struggles and your personal wellness. Contact us today!