Many of us are overworked, too busy, and not maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This all ends up affecting our emotional, mental, and physical health. One feature of our lives that seems unrelenting is the amount of stress we face. The effect of stress on our lives can be far-reaching.
What are the effects of stress?
It’s altogether possible, for example, that stress symptoms are affecting your health, even though you might not realize it. While you may think that the recurring headache, frequent insomnia, or decreased productivity at work that you experience is due to some undiagnosed illness, stress may be the underlying cause.
Stress affects everyone in one way or another. You may pick up some symptoms of stress when you’re trying to discipline your kids, when you’re having busy times at work, when you’re trying to balance your checkbook or trying to make your monthly payments, or when you have to deal with a difficult personal relationship.
Stress makes its presence felt everywhere, and while some stress is simply par for the course and beneficial in some cases, enduring too much stress can wear you down and affect your mental and physical health.
While we all experience stress in one form or another, we don’t experience it the same way because our tolerance levels differ, as do our capacities. If you know yourself quite well, you may be able to tell when you’re experiencing stress, but that isn’t always the case. Because stress can affect the way you behave, think, and feel, it’s important to be able to detect the signs of stress so that you can take steps to address your stress.
Before we move to describe some of the signs of stress, it’s important to understand what stress is, and what it can do to you.
What is stress, and what does it do to your body?
Stress doesn’t mean the same thing to different people. A situation that causes stress for one person may be a mere trifle for another person.
Not only are some people better able to handle certain kinds of stress than others, but we must also consider that not all stress is bad. This is called “eu-stress”, another way of saying the good kind of stress. In small doses, stress can push you to accomplish tasks or protect you from getting hurt.
For example, stress is what gets you to react quickly and slam on the breaks to avoid hitting the car in front of you. It’s what causes you to leap out of the path when you come across a snake that might be poisonous.Stress is how your body reacts to harmful situations. These situations can be either real or perceived. When you feel like you’re under threat, your sympathetic nervous system reacts, triggering a series of physiological responses that allow you to act in a way to prevent injury.
The adrenal glands release the aptly named stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones will have an impact on every organ in the body, including your brain, muscles, and even the nerve endings in your stomach.
This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight,” or the stress response, and it ultimately has one main effect: to keep you safe by heightening your focus and putting you on alert. During this stress response, your heart rate will increase, your breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and your blood pressure will rise. All of this is designed to help you get yourself to safety.
What are the signs of stress?
So, stress is good, right? Yes, but our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. We are not equipped to handle long-term chronic stress without negative consequences to our health.
Stress affects every part of your body, and it can affect your emotions, behaviors, cognitive ability, and physical health. While we all undergo stress, symptoms of stress can vary because people handle stress differently.
Additionally, because the symptoms of stress may look like those of other medical conditions, it’s important to consult with your doctor to make sure that you’re receiving the appropriate treatment for your situation. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions.
Below are some of the emotional, physical, and mental signs of stress.
Emotional and cognitive signs of stress:
- Feeling irritable, aggressive, impatient, or wound up
- Feeling easily agitated, frustrated, or moody.
- Feeling overburdened, overwhelmed, or like you are losing control
- Constant worrying, and being anxious, nervous, or afraid
- Being worried about your health
- Having racing thoughts, feeling like you can’t switch off, and struggling to relax or quiet your mind
- Forgetfulness, being disorganized, and struggling to focus
- Displaying poor judgment and finding it hard to make decisions
- Carrying a sense of dread
- Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side of things
- Being unable to enjoy yourself
- Feeling depressed
- Losing your sense of humor and being generally uninterested in life
- Feeling neglected or lonely, and you might feel bad about yourself or worthless
- Some people who experience severe stress can sometimes have suicidal feelings
Behavioral signs of stress:
- You may avoid others or the situations that are troubling you
- Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
- Being irritable and snapping at people
- Your appetite may change, with you either not eating enough or eating too much
- Picking at your skin
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
- Being tearful or crying
- Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as biting your nails, fidgeting, pacing, and feeling restless
Physical signs of stress:
- Panic attacks, shallow breathing, or hyperventilating
- Feeling tired all the time
- Blurred eyesight or sore eyes
- Problems falling asleep, staying asleep or having nightmares
- Loss of sexual desire and being unable to enjoy sex
- Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw
- Low energy, and feeling sick, dizzy, or faint.
- Gastrointestinal issues such as indigestion, heartburn, upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Rapid heartbeat, headaches, aches, chest pains, and tense muscles
- Reduced immune response, evidenced by frequent colds and infections
- Nervousness and shaking, cold or sweaty hands and feet, ringing in the ear
- Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
- High blood pressure
What does long-term stress do to you?
You need to be on the lookout for signs of ongoing or chronic stress. Long-term stress can trigger or exacerbate serious health problems such as:
- Mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety
- Sexual dysfunction, such as loss of sexual desire in both men and women, and impotence or premature ejaculation in men
- Menstrual problems
- Gastrointestinal problems such as gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
- Obesity and other eating disorders
- Problems with your skin or hair, such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and hair loss
What are some good ways to deal with stress?
It’s impossible to eliminate all stress and the sources of stress because stress is a normal part of life. Instead, what you can do is be vigilant about how you handle stress and take steps to prevent stress overload and the health consequences that come with it. Knowing the symptoms of stress will help you immensely in this regard because you can deal with stress before it becomes overwhelming.
If you or a loved one are feeling overwhelmed by stress, talk to your doctor to get the help you need. You can also take steps to manage your stress by using strategies such as:
- Focusing your time and energy on the tasks before you, and avoiding focusing on things you cannot change.
- Getting regular physical activity such as taking walks, swimming, dancing, and so on. These active forms of dealing with stress are more beneficial than inactive ways to manage stress. While activities such as watching television, bingeing on YouTube, or playing video games may seem relaxing, they don’t help as much in the long term.
- Getting plenty of sleep and eating a healthy, balanced diet while avoiding smoking, consuming caffeine and alcohol, and the use of illegal substances.
- Connecting with your support network by spending time with family and friends.
- Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Having a sense of humor about life.
- Carving out dedicated time for exploring and enjoying your hobbies.
- Setting small targets that you can easily achieve and avoiding the trap of trying to do everything at once. You should also learn to say no to avoid overcommitting and putting yourself under pressure.
Need more help dealing with specific stresses in your life? Don’t hesitate to reach out to a Christian counselor. Your counselor can uncover the reasons you are suffering from stress and help you deal with your problems at their roots.
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