Effective stress management is a crucial skill that every individual needs to possess. Although stress is not entirely detrimental and can even be helpful and motivating at moderate levels, chronic exposure to high levels of stress can lead to numerous mental and physical conditions. For this reason, detecting the signs of stress early is an essential step towards leading a healthy lifestyle and being happy.
While stress affects different people in many different ways, there are certain factors and symptoms that are common among the general population. Here are 18 signs you’re under too much stress.
Mental Signs of Stress
1. Weird Dreams
Dreams usually get progressively more positive as you sleep, so you wake up in a good mood. However, when you’re stressed, you wake up more often, disrupting this process and allowing unpleasant imagery to recur all night. Good sleep habits can help prevent this.
Aim for 7-8 hours a night, and avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
2. Mood Changes
You’re rude to a friend out of the blue, you can’t seem to sit still, or you’ve started crying at random intervals. It may be that stress is affecting your mood, and thus your behavior. That’s not to say that you can blame stress for all of your bad moods, but if you can’t seem to shake it you may want to ask yourself if stress is to blame.
3. Feeling Bored and Unsatisfied
Another sign of stress is the feeling that everything in your life is dull and boring. If you are feeling this way, it could mean that your brain is not getting enough stimulation. When you’re under constant pressure to perform tasks that do not give you satisfaction it is likely that you will start feeling acute stress over time.
4. Feeling Emotionally Distant
Another common indication of stress is feeling emotionally distant or unresponsive. You may feel like you don’t have the energy to interact with people, or that you just can’t connect with them anymore. These feelings of disconnection may cause you to isolate yourself and avoid socializing with others.
5. Memory Problems
We all have our moments of not being able to find our car keys, but research shows that the more stress we are under, the more frequent these mental lapses may become. In fact, not only can long-term stress (over a period of weeks or months) disrupt communication between brain cells, but even several hours of acute stress can affect the brain’s ability to store information and create solid memories.
If you find yourself at a point in which you’re forgetting appointments and meetings regularly, you’re most likely stressed almost to your breaking point. Don’t let it go farther without seeking help.
6. Lack of Motivation
When you’re stressed out you may start feeling overwhelmed. When this happens you may have an extremely difficult time getting anything done. Sometimes stress can be a motivating factor, but if you’re losing focus on a project that is important or that you were previously excited about, stress may be the root of the problem.
7. General Anxiety
Anxiety does serve an important function for survival, but if you’re feeling anxious much of the time, it could be because you have too many stressors in your life, or it may indicate a medical condition like generalized anxiety disorder. If you experience an increase in anxiety, you may want to to talk to your doctor.
Physical Signs of Stress
8. Stress-Induced Hair Loss
Some amount of hair loss is normal — strands fall out over time and get replaced by new ones. However, when you’re under physical or emotional stress the normal shedding of 100 or so hairs a day can speed up to the point where half to three-quarters of your hair can fall out.
Known as telogen effluvium, this diffuse and often stress-induced hair loss may not happen right away. In fact, it may take weeks or months after the stressful event for the hair to actually shed. Fortunately, after 6-8 months this type of hair loss often improves.
9. Sleep Pattern Changes
When you’re stressed out it becomes increasingly more difficult to actually fall sleep. Stress-related insomnia stems from not being able to stop thinking about all your obligations in life, combined with the fact that your body is still in “overdrive mode” regardless of what time it is. And, of course, since you can’t sleep, you’ll be even more exhausted the following day, which will only serve to increase your stress load.
10. Weekend Headaches
A sudden drop in stress can prompt migraines, says Todd Schwedt, MD, director of the Washington University Headache Center. Stick closely to your weekday sleeping and eating schedule to minimize other triggers.
11. Reduced Immunity
Excessive stress and anxiety can lead to reduced immunity and an increased chance of getting sick. This link between stress and the body’s ability to fight disease may go all the way back to childhood. Researchers have found that adolescents who were abused or experienced other, intensely stressful situations as children were less able to ward off certain infections even years later.
It’s crucial to keep daily stress under control as much as possible to offset the effects of past stress and encourage good health in the present.
12. Being Exhausted
If you have trouble getting out of bed everyday, despite getting a full night’s rest, you’re probably clinically exhausted. Since your body feels like it’s working overtime, even getting a good night’s sleep is not enough to recharge it for the following day.
Take action to reduce the stress in your life. Your body will thank you.
13. Awful Period Cramps
The most stressed-out women are more than twice as likely to experience painful menstrual cramps as those who are less tense, a Harvard study found. Researchers blame a stress-induced imbalance of hormones. Hitting the gym can soothe cramps and stress, research shows, by decreasing sympathetic nervous system activity.
14. Digestive Issues
Being under too much pressure can lead to physical discomfort. That feeling of nausea you get when you pull into your office’s parking lot is a direct response to the stress you’re already feeling about the day ahead of you. However, it’s not as simple as a quick rumble in your stomach. It could cause problems with your digestive system that could lead to vomiting or other issues.
15. Decreased Sex Drive
When you’re stressed out and have a ton of issues on your mind, your sex drive is likely to decrease. You might be frustrated about it and wish you could do something about it, but when the opportunity arises, you’ll find yourself not being able to focus, or not being in the mood at all.
While most men may experience erectile dysfunction from time to time, when it happens frequently, its underlying cause should be investigated. Causes of erectile dysfunction can include diabetes, high blood pressure, side effects of certain medications, and chronic stress.
16. Abdominal Pain
Anxiety and stress can cause stomach aches, along with headaches, back aches, and insomnia. One study of 1,953 men and women found that those experiencing the highest levels of stress were more than three times as likely to have abdominal pain as their more-relaxed counterparts.
The exact connection is still unclear, but one theory holds that the intestines and the brain share nerve pathways; when the mind reacts to stress, the intestines pick up the same signal. Because of this link, learning to manage stress with the help of a clinical psychologist, meditation, or even exercise can usually help relieve tummy trouble too. However, if you have frequent abdominal pain, see your doctor to rule out food allergies, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, or an ulcer.
17. Changes in Appetite
Another typical sign of increased stress levels is change in appetite. Think about the amount of food that you would eat on a daily basis under normal circumstances. If you find that that amount has significantly increased or decreased, that means you are under stress and should take precautions.
- Overeating usually means that you are using food as a form of comfort – you are getting pleasure out of it because you cannot find pleasure elsewhere in your life.
- People who respond to stress by undereating usually do it because they feel numb all around and are unable to get normal pleasure out of food.
18. Chronic Head and Body Aches
Your body puts itself into hyper mode when you’re under too much stress. This fatigue not only affects your focus and attention, but also puts a physical strain on your body. Your body has a natural “fight or flight” mechanism which stemmed from the early days of humanity in which we had to actually dodge predators on a normal basis.
Nowadays, though we don’t have to worry about predators coming out of nowhere to attack us, our body reacts the same way to recurring stress accrued from work and other parts of life. Why do you think getting a shoulder rub feels so great after a long day? Because your body’s been tense for the past eight hours dealing with all the garbage you’ve had to deal with.
How to Reduce Stress
If you fear that you might be becoming stressed, it’s a good idea to take some preventative measures to stop the stress from becoming any worse and turning into a more serious issue.
Do yoga or meditation. These activities use deep breathing techniques which promote relaxation and minimize stress.
Spend more time with your friends and family. Take some time to enjoy life by spending time with the people you care about. It’s also important to set aside some personal time each day.
Exercise more. Exercise releases feel-good hormones and is one of the best remedies for stress.
Cut back on your workload or change career. If you feel as though your stress is caused by work, consider cutting back your workload, delegating more tasks, taking time off or even changing jobs or careers.
See also: 18 Foods That Relieve Stress