Stress is one thing that we all have to deal with. Whether it’s juggling family and work commitments, a busy day of errands, managing your finances, or working through a challenging relationship, stress is a common factor in all our lives.
Sometimes the stress we feel is slight, and other times it can be overwhelming. A little stress is actually beneficial, but too much can wear you down and cause you to become sick.
The key is recognizing the symptoms and learning to control the stress. Once you grasp this, the stress will not be eliminated, but your healthy coping mechanisms will protect your health.
What is Stress?
Stress is your body’s natural reaction to a harmful situation, whether real or just perceived. Once the threat is in your mind, though, chemicals are released through your body that prompt the “fight-or-flight” response.
Essentially, every part of your body is put on high alert for you to either defend yourself or to run away, which is an evolved response passed down over generations. Your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, blood pressure rises and your muscles tighten.
Your body doesn’t know if the threat is real or not, but it automatically gets ready to face it or start running.
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is stress. It means different things to different people: what causes you stress may not be of any concern to your neighbor.
Some people are also better able to handle stress than others. A little stress in your life is a good thing, such as slamming on your brakes to avoid that car in front of you.
In that instance stress saved your life. In fact, our bodies are designed to handle small amounts of stress in a healthy way. But, too much stress, long-term, and experienced all day is dangerous to your health and well-being.
The Symptoms of Stress
Stress has far-reaching effects and can impact your emotions, behavior, physical health, and ability to think. (1) While every part of your body feels the impact, symptoms may vary from person to person.
The way your body reacts can be vague and may even be similar to those caused by other medical conditions. (2) Here’s what you need to watch out for.
Emotional symptoms of stress can include:
♦ Feeling overwhelmed, like you need to regain control of situations or are losing control
♦ Lowered self-esteem, such as feeling badly about yourself, feeling lonely, worthless, or depressed
♦ Being easily irritated, frustrated, and moody
♦ Having difficulty quieting your mind or relaxing. You feel trapped in a continual cycle of thoughts
♦ Avoiding people, including friends and family
Physical symptoms you may notice can include:
♦ Low energy levels
♦ Aches, pains and overly tense muscles
♦ Constant headaches
♦ Frequent colds or infections
♦ Chest pain and a rapid heartbeat
♦ Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
♦ Nervousness, shaking or coldness, and sweaty hands or feet
♦ Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
♦ Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Cognitive symptoms of stress could be:
♦ Racing thoughts that never seem to end
♦ Forgetfulness and disorganization
♦ An inability to focus or concentrate
♦ Constant worrying
♦ Poor judgment
♦ Always thinking negatively or being pessimistic
Behavioral changes from long-term stress exposure are:
♦ Changes in appetite, either eating too much or too little
♦ Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
♦ Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
♦ Exhibiting nervous behaviors, like fidgeting, nail-biting, and pacing
Long-term exposure to stress can also cause more chronic health problems as well as exacerbate conditions you may already have. The emotional changes you experience could lead to the development of depression, anxiety, and other personality disorders.
Men and women can experience sexual dysfunction in the form of premature ejaculation or a loss of sexual desire. Changed behaviors regarding diet can cause gastrointestinal problems, like GERD, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome or causes obesity and other eating disorders.
The prolonged exposure to stress hormones causes an imbalance in your body which can lead to menstrual problems for women and skin conditions, such as eczema, acne, or psoriasis for men and women.
Additionally, constantly being in a “fight-or-flight” mode causes cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.
Coping with Stress
Since you know that stress is an inevitable part of life, what is important is learning to handle it. (3) Once you learn what your stress symptoms are, you can then start working on preventing an overload.
If you are feeling stressed and notice any of these symptoms, talk to a doctor first, so they can rule out any other health conditions. If stress is indeed the culprit of your problems, there are a number of things you can do to control and lower your stress levels.
Once you effectively learn to cope with it, your body will no longer feel its negative effects. (4)
- Speak to a therapist or counselor to discover the sources of your stress and together you can work through a plan to get past the problems.
- Start eating healthy and well-balanced meals
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Find relaxing things to do, such as going for a walk, meditating, deep breathing or yoga
- Get regular sleep and plenty of it
- Avoid alcohol and drugs as a solution
- Make time for yourself in your busy day. Find a time to get away from work or the family to just be alone and relax.
Stress is an inevitability, so don’t feel like a failure if you start feeling stressed out. That’s the sort of thing that only adds to your problem. Remember that everyone goes through stress, even if you can’t tell from the outside.
Understanding that no one is perfect can be a great way to release yourself from what is effectively the “shame” of stress. You can go about your day a little more relaxed. And, with stress, every little reduction counts.