You think it would be obvious if chronic stress were ruining your life. However, the symptoms can be surprisingly subtle unless you know what to look for. Many times, chronic stress manifests in ways unexpected. We’re taking a look at some of the signs of chronic stress, so you can get a handle on your stress, and prevent it from causing harm to your well-being and relationships.
You know what it feels like to be stressed over an upcoming deadline or pending medical procedure. But, we don’t always see when we’re in the midst of living in chronic stress or know how to handle it. It effects your health, causing ulcers or high blood pressure, and shortening your life. Let’s take a look at some of these signs and how to deal with them.
Do These Signs of Chronic Stress Sound Like You?
1. Feeling Agitated
Having trouble trying to relax? Do you feel like you’re never “at peace”? When you’re stressed, all kinds of body chemicals kick in, creating a “fight or flight” response that can play out as a constant sense of agitation. Those same chemicals are there to help you react quickly to danger. However, when they are activated by continued stress, you find it hard to sit still or feel “driven,” even when you are very tired. Instead of relaxing, your body stays tense. You may startle easily.
Do you find yourself having inappropriately angry outbursts over small things? Do small things feel huge and upsetting? Then you might be under too much stress. That tense feeling can manifest as anger and a feeling of being tightly wound. Sadly, those you’re closest to end up hurt by those outbursts. Though they aren’t the reason for your stress, they become targets over the littlest of things gone wrong. This is a serious problem when the stress is chronic. Your marriage and the mental health of your family members get the worst of the angry behavior.
3. Shut Down and “Hide”
The opposite to #1, you might feel depressed and low on energy if you’re stressed. You may feel too tired to do anything, and just end up withdrawing. Many times, overly-stressed people will sort of detaching and not engage anyone around them. Things you used to enjoy with others, you now avoid. Your preferred place to hang out at home is in bed with the curtains drawn. And the more you react to stress in this way, the more it carries on. The active you are the more exhausted you feel; plus the lack of Vitamin D from the sun you’re avoiding can create feelings of depression and fatigue.
4. Unable to Focus
Stressed people may find themselves too distracted to focus on anything, and just space out. Tasks may go undone, and the stressed person finds that only last-minute panic can motivate them. This is because your body is exhausted from making stress hormones, and it takes a lot to kick it into “motivation mode.” Work or study becomes a burden to complete. And even then, your quality of work may, also, reflect your stress.
5. Memory Problems
Trouble remembering basic things is another sign of excessive stress. We all have a memory glitch now and then. But, repeatedly forgetting things like a shortlist, appointments, work projects, etc., then you might be stressed out. Instead of your mind managing your daily life, it’s overworked trying to keep up with the heightened stress. Multi-tasking between that stress and your normal life puts a burden on your mind. Thus, memories become harder to retrieve. That “little file clerk” is working overtime in your head making it hard for her or him to keep up on the tasks at hand.
6. Too High or Too Low an Appetite
Neither overeating nor undereating are healthy. And, stress induces both problems. Some stressed-out people turn to food for comfort, energy (especially carb cravings), and relaxation. While others may find that they either have time to eat, or their appetite goes away. If you find yourself or a loved one eating more than usual or eating less than usual, it could be a sign of too much stress.
How to Cope with Chronic Stress
As you can see, many symptoms of chronic stress can be conflicting and broad. They, also, work with each other. Lack of eating drains your energy making you want to rest more. Feeling overstimulated can push into a mental fog of low concentration and memory loss. However, it doesn’t mean you have to buck up and bear it. Keeping it all in is often how you end up this way. The best thing you can do is take time to evaluate what’s happening in your life. The reason for the stress might be obvious – a sick family member or unemployment. Or it might be a bit more hidden – an unsatisfying job or upcoming change in your life (retirement, the anniversary of a major event, or worry over an unforeseen future).
It’s good to start by getting out. Talk with a trusted friend or family member about your feelings. They may have seen some signs of chronic stress you’ve not noticed or can be a shoulder to lean on. Often the best action is therapy. Talking with a professional who is trained to help you recognize the source of the stress and help you develop coping tools puts you on the track to feeling calmer, peaceful, and happier. Therapy isn’t taboo, it’s smart self-care. Nor does it have to be expensive. Many insurance plans include coverage for it is recognized how much one’s mental health impacts one’s physical health.
Working through your stress in therapy lets you express your feelings and thoughts without any judgment. It might be hard to find a family member or friend who can do that. A therapist can ask the right questions to make the causes become more clear. It’s confidential which is very important when you’re in a stressful situation you wish or need to keep private. You will be able to learn coping tools to lower your stress level in addition to tools to help you tame the cause itself.