Stress…it has a way of sneaking up on you.
We live in a time where being busy has become an indicator of success. As a culture we are obsessed with being productive. How often have you asked someone how they are doing and they replied, “Busy!” People are proud of their busyness. Yet being super-busy inherently includes with it stress. With our never-ending to-do lists and our calendars filled on the daily, we rarely if ever, take time to evaluate if we are under too much stress.
How much stress we can handle is largely subjective. We all do not have the same capacities for stress. It is not helpful to look at what other people can manage as a way to gauge how much stress you can handle in your life.
Stress happens to all of us–there is no avoiding it. It is a fixture in modern life. Whether real or imagined, when you perceive a threat in your life, the body activates your nervous system’s “fight or flight” response, releasing cortisol, adrenaline, and a host of stress response hormones, preparing you to better handle the “threat.” Stress can make your muscles tense, beads of sweat appear, your stomach ache. Your breath may begin to shorten as your heart pounds.
Stress can feel like it is killing you, and the fact is, chronic stress CAN.
You may be thinking to yourself, well, how will I know if I have too much stress in my life? When does it cross the line from a healthy amount to potentially deadly?
Signs You are Reaching Your “Stress Breaking Point”
1)You have mood swings and no energy. Our lives are full of events that activate the stress response. You are running late to the airport OR your son calls in the middle of the day from school sick OR you forget your phone at home OR the water heater breaks as you are leaving for work OR your cousins once removed are coming to stay for a week and your house is a mess. Do any of these sound familiar? It is important you monitor your emotional well-being for the emotional signs of stress–crying, mood swings, having trouble concentrating, difficulty making decisions, irritability. Stress can bring on a roller coaster of emotions and increase your vulnerability to anxiety and depression.
2)Anxiety has become your new companion. Anxiety can be normal in stressful situations. But worrying more than usual can be a sign your stress levels are out of control. Too much stress can be a catalyst for developing an anxiety disorder. Many external factors can lead to anxiety-stress in your marriage, stress from work, stress from a serious medical illness, financial stress. Stress creates anxiety. Anxiety makes it hard to manage stress. What a vicious cycle–chances are you engaged in it more than a few times. When stress and anxiety begin to interfere with normal functioning, it is time to seek help.
3)Sleeping is impossible for you. You are always exhausted, yet when nighttime comes, you can’t fall sleep. OR maybe you can fall asleep but staying asleep is the problem. It is a terrible feeling to live in a chronic state of exhaustion. Waking up tired is usually a symptom of being spread too thin. You feel lethargic just thinking of all that you have to do that day. When night comes, you may find yourself laying in bed, with your mind racing. This is a sign you can’t shut down your overwhelmed brain.
4)You have frequent headaches. Advil is on you at all times. You pop aspirin like it is candy. You can hardly go a day without experiencing a horrendous, debilitating headache. Tension headaches and migraines are part of the body’s stress response. Identifying triggers can help to reduce the build up of stress that lead to these types of headaches.
5)Your libido has changed. Stress can lead to a diminished libido. Psychological stress impacts our hormones including suppressing our sex hormones. If you are chronically stressed, in all likelihood, your sex life will begin to suffer.
6)You have chronic pain, digestive, or skin problems. Is your job giving you a stiff neck? Do you find yourself breaking out after spending too much time with your mother? Does fighting with your husband get your stomach in knots? Stress often manifests in physical symptoms. Perhaps you have gone to the doctor and they cannot find ANY medical cause for your symptoms. Many physical symptoms can be triggered or exacerbated by stress.
7)Your appetite changes. Stress can spike or kill your appetite. Or it can do both depending on the seriousness of the situation and the level of stress hormones it secretes by the particular stressor. Maybe you loss your appetite when you are stressed by work. But you become ravenously hungry when stressed by your wife and kids at home. These stress hormones mess with your digestive system and screw with your sense of hunger. The gut-brain connection is REAL.
8)Pessimism is your new normal. Chronic stress can have an impact on your personality–including influencing how you view the world, making your irritable, impatient, frazzled. To boot, people with a pessimistic attitude tend to be less adept at handling stress. It can make you wonder which came first–all the stress or the pessimistic attitude. Pessimism leads to stress AND stress leads to a pessimistic attitude. Classic chicken or the egg.
9)You are having difficulty making decisions. Stress can make it hard for people to make decisions. It can be that you got tunnel vision–there is only one right choice and one wrong choice. And you HAVE to make the right choice. When you overwhelmed by stressed, it is hard to compromise or see the nuances of a choice or situation. Stress has a way of moving us towards the safest, sure-fire option. It can make it hard for you to pull the trigger because of fear of making the wrong choice. Stress, as you can imagine, leads to poor decision-making.
10)You are easily annoyed by people and things. Stress can make you grumpy. No one wants to be a grump. Yet when we become overwhelmed by our stress, other people are viewed as pains or nuisances. We become frustrated by other people even if they may not be doing anything annoying. Things (houses, cars, clothes) can be seen as burdens–taking up your time, energy, and adding to your already too long to do list. Stress can cause us to get inappropriately angry at the littlest thing. None of us want to live in that state.
So, what do you do if you are seeing yourself in some, hopefully not many, of the signs listed above?
Just by recognizing and identifying these symptoms in yourself is a great first step to mitigating the stress in your life. There is nothing wrong with keeping busy. But it is up to you to decide when your lifestyle is crossing the line between manageable and unmanageable. You have to remember–as long as you are alive the bills will keep coming, the responsibilities will keep building, and there will never be more than 24 hours in the day. Life has cycles—and the stress will always be there.
Balance is key to living a happy and healthy life. We all KNOW the generic tips to stress reduction: exercise, meditate, eat right, keep a positive attitude, get enough sleep. Self-care is a must. It is practicing these tips that we need to work on.
We are an adaptable species-I have faith that we all have it in us to better manage our lives. If you can learn to go with the flow, life will be that much more easier to manage.
Remember, stress is not what happens to us, it is our response to what happens to us.
Be well, my friends.
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