We’re all stressed! Whether it’s because of the formidable challenges of the fast paced and fiercely competitive world we live in, technology, commuting, communication among team members, deadlines, the ‘inbox’, mobile phones, caretaking responsibilities, job security, the threat of terrorism, personal relationships, expectations we have of ourselves and of others— stress is inevitable. And that is not going to change!
But the truth is stress doesn’t just ‘happen’. No one can afford the cost of letting stress sabotage energy, health, productivity or personal joy. Stress is the key determinant in well being, quality of life and successful aging.
Stress can be good. Stress hormones are necessary for peak experiences; joy, top level performance, creativity, meeting new challenges and maximum productivity. But after a certain point, the stress hormones rapidly become counterproductive or even dangerous. When you have maximized the effects of ‘good’ stress and reached your ‘tipping point’, you must be able to avoid the ‘bad’ unhealthy stress responses that can follow.
Living outside of your stress comfort zone —beyond your personal ‘tipping point’, stress hormones work against you. Pulling you down into mediocre performance, inability to concentrate, anxiety, depression and ultimately lead to the development of heart disease, diabetes, eating problems, substance abuse, premature disability or death.
Here are some signs to look for in yourself and others to be able to determine whether you are stressed:
1. Irritability and/Or Lack Of Patience.
One of the prime signs that a person is stressed-out is in how they act. If you are irritable with others, find your patience is very low, and see or hear yourself griping, yelling, shouting, or arguing with those around you, it is a sure bet your stress level is HIGH. Time to look at things and take some action!!
2. Poor Concentration-Short Attention Span.
Another common symptom that our mind and/or body is stressed is that we cannot concentrate as well as we used to, or as well as we “normally” do. We are forgetful, lose our place, and “space out” people and thoughts. Along with this, our attention span usually is greatly shortened when stress is high. Whether we are at work, reading a book or trying to watch a televiion show or work on the computer, we simply cannot stick with it, and get restless, lose interest or cannot seem to “get into it” for anything but short periods of time. Our mind seems to “flit” from one thought to another. We are STRESSED when this is happening!
3. Sleep Disturbances.
There are many ways stress shows up by your sleeping habits. Insomnia of various kinds is one. Being tired during the day due to “non-restorative” sleep is another. Sleeping much longer than usual or more frequently than just at night is another sign our mind and body are stressed out. Check with your doctor if you have these symptoms, as it can also be related to depression, sleep “apnea,” and other physical disorders. Rule out a purely psysiological cause.
4. Physical Symptoms of Stress.
Again, go to your doctor and get a physical to rule out organic diseases if you have these symptoms. Many of the manifestations of stress can CAUSE physical problems, so it is possible your doctor will tell you to slow down, seek out some type of counseling, or give you some medication to help attenuate or get rid of the stress and it’s accompanying physical symptoms. Some common stress induced physical signs are: frequent headaches, chronic indigestion, nervousness, fatigue, depression, muscle spasms, light headedness (usually from hyperventilating when one is stressed alot and breathing very shallow and not from the diaphram) hair loss, biting fingernails, blurred vision, sharp off and on pain in the LEFT side of the upper chest (not where one usually gets pain associated with heart disease) colitis, hives or other skin disturbances, canker sores, sensitivity to loud noises, a heightened “startle reflex,” chronic back-shoulder or neck pain from muscle tension, and frequent colds. **Again, have a doctor check you out thoroughly, and BE HONEST with him/her about your lifestyle and your symptoms.** Symptoms caused by stress can mimic MANY serious diseases.
5. Relationship Problems-Personal and Business.
Arguments at home with your spouse and famaily members, a need to “be alone” when home. Business problems of all kinds and degrees-from being short with the secretaries or your co-workers, to doing sub-standard work, to disagreeing or arguing with your boss or staff about little things that usually do not bother you much if at all.
6. Apathy About Your Life.
This can be a hallmark sign of depression also, and it is also a symptom of someone who has a HUGE stress overload and is “burning out.” Lack of interest in how you look, in what you do in your free time, in your work, with your family, and with your friends. Generally, you feel “out of the loop,” and much of the time don’t care! You have a sense of WANTING to feel better, and also not giving a damn about many of the things that were usually important to you. Again, this could be a sign of depression or another illness, so make sure you do get a complete medical check up if this is one of your symptoms!
7. Substance Abuse.
If you drink more than usual, or drink during odd hours such as during the day, this often is a sign you are trying to “numb” some stress/anxiety feelings. Drinking alone or alot at home or in bars with friends is another clue. Use of any other drug is a sign of escape and high stress. The increase of tobacco use, if you smoke, is a very common sign that a person is experiencing more than their usual amount of daily stress. Get help for this medically from your physician or a substance abuse counselor. It is a symptom, but also becomes a HABIT which you will need help in breaking.
8. Significant Body Weight Changes.
If you lose or gain more than 10 pounds in a six month period WITHOUT WANTING TO DO SO, that is a clue that something in your life is causing you some stress and you are eating more or LESS as a result. A severe weight loss or lack of appetite is also a VERY clear message to get help (medical) and get to the bottom of the problem. Luckily there are many clinics and support groups for people who have a weight problem, and the BETTER groups have trained people who work on teaching you to identify and deal with the stress componant.
9. Strong-Severe Emotional Symptoms.
Stress can cause strong emotional changes, since it triggers the release of alot of very powerful hormones and chemicals into our bloodstream. Some of the more common changes would be: extreme anxiety or agitation, aggressive or violent behavior, “withdrawal-isolation” behaviors, suicidal thoughts or attempts, abusive behavior verbally or physically to ANYONE, consistant or frequent nightmares, and feelings of hopelessness or depression. If you experience ANY of these, your stress levels are much too high to handle on your own. Seek out professional help from your doctor or someone he/she refers you to after seeing you.
10. Feedback From Friends Or Family.
Sometimes our good friends or family will give us hints or tell us bluntly that we seem to be acting odd or really “uptight” lately. When they say this, LISTEN. We often might not notice it, or we might prefer to ignore it. Ignoring stress is not healthy, as it is like a small wet snowball rolling down a mountain. The longer we let it go, the larger and more powerful it becomes. Listen, and then do whatever you can yourself or with help from a coach, a doctor, or a therapist, to get to the bottom of things! You are not alone, and there is no shame in admitting to being stressed out and deciding to get help with it before it does damage to you or to the people around you. There are many non-pill ways to deal with stress, such as meditation, relaxation tapes, excercise, and other self-help methods.