Maybe it is your morning gridlock, demanding boss, or relationship issues with a family member or a friend. Whatever the cause is, we all are likely to experience different stress levels on an everyday basis. However, some day-to-day stress is normal, and if it motivates you, it can be a good thing. But chronic stress has a negative impact on your emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing.
What is Stress?
Stress is the reaction of your body to harmful situations (perceived or real). The chemical reaction occurs in your body when you feel threatened. These reactions, called fight or flight, allow your body to act in a way to prevent danger/injury. During the stress response, you breathe fast, blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, and muscles tighten.
Different people perceive stress differently. For some people, it may be usual, but for others, it can be a serious concern. Similarly, few people handle stress better than others. And in some cases, little stress can event motivate individuals to accomplish tasks.
What are the Symptoms of Stress?
Stress can affect every aspect of one’s life, including thinking ability, behaviors, and physical and emotional health. Thestress symptoms vary from person to person, and everyone handles them differently. The symptoms of stress can be vague and similar to those caused by a medical condition. Therefore, it is crucial to seek help from your doctor.
You may experience the following symptoms:
- Upset stomach, including constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.
- Ringing in the ear, shaking and nervousness, sweaty or cold feet and hands.
- Low energy.
- Pains, aches, and tense muscles.
- Frequent infections and cold.
- Difficulty swallowing and dry mouth.
- Rapid heartbeat and chest pain.
- Loss of sexual ability or/and desire.
- Grinding teeth and clenched jaw.
- Having difficulty quieting your mind and relaxing.
- Becoming easily frustrated, agitated, and moody.
- Feeling lonely, depressed, bad about yourself, and worthless.
- Feeling overwhelmed, like you need to take control, or you are losing control.
- Avoiding others.
- Avoiding responsibilities and procrastination.
- Exhibiting more nervous behaviors like fidgeting, nail-biting, and pacing.
- Increased use of drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes.
- Changes in appetite – either binge eating or not eating.
- Disorganization and forgetfulness.
- Focusing on only the negative side or being pessimistic.
- Constant worrying.
- Inability to focus.
- Racing thoughts.
- Poor judgment.
How Much Stress is Too Much?
Stress can cause widespread damage. So, it is critical to know your limits. The answer to how much of it is too much is not that straightforward. It differs from person to person. Some people can roll with the punches of life. However, the others tend to fall apart in the face of frustrations and small obstacles.
A few factors can influence your stress tolerance level. These are:
1. Your Sense of Control
If you have confidence in your ability to preserve through challenges and influence events, it becomes easier to handle stress. On the other hand, if you do not have confidence in yourself and believe you have little control over your life, then there are high risks of stress to knock you off.
2. Your Ability to Deal With Your Emotions
If you do not know how to soothe and calm yourself when feeling angry, sad, or troubled, you tend to become agitated and stressed. Having the ability to deal with and identify your emotions can increase your stress tolerance level and help you bounce back from suffering.
3. Your Support Networks
A strong network of your family members and supportive friends is a shield against stress. When you have genuine people to count on, the pressures of life do not feel overwhelming. On the other side, the more isolated and lonelier an individual is, the higher the risk of succumbing to stress.
4. Your Outlook and Attitude
The way you perceive life and its unpreventable challenges make an enormous difference in your ability to handle and deal with stress. If you are optimistic and hopeful, you will be less vulnerable to stress. People who don’t stress over things have a stronger sense of humor, accept changes as an inevitable part of life, embrace challenges, and believe in higher purposes.
5. Your Preparation and Knowledge
Having the complete knowledge of stressful situations, like what to expect from it and how long it will last, the easier it becomes to cope.
Long-Term Stress Consequences
Having little stress is not something of a concern. However, chronic, ongoing stress can exacerbate or cause several serious health problems, including:
- Obesity and other eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating.
- Hair and skin problems, such as permanent hair loss, psoriasis, acne, and eczema.
- Cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, and stroke.
- Sexual dysfunction, such as premature ejaculation and impotence in men and loss of sexual desire (both men and women).
- Mental health disorders, such as personality disorders, anxiety, and depression.
- Menstrual problems.
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as gastritis, irritable colon, GERD, and ulcerative colitis.
When to Get Help?
If you are struggling with stress, you need to seek help from a specialist. You can start with your primary care doctor. He will help you figure out the symptoms you are experiencing due to anxiety disorder or a medical issue. Moreover, he can also provide you with additional tools and resources.
Some of the unavoidable signs that say it is time to get help:
- You are using tobacco, drugs, or alcohol to deal with stress.
- You are in a self-mutilating behavior.
- You are facing difficulties getting through your daily work and responsibilities.
- You are thinking about hurting other people or suicide.
- Your school performance or work is suffering.
- Your sleeping or eating habits change significantly.
- You have anxiety and irrational fears.
- You are withdrawing from family and friends.
If your stress has gotten to the point where you have thoughts of hurting others or yourself, go to the mental health professional or nearest emergency room.
Improving Your Ability to Handle Stress
Regular exercise can distract you from worries and lift your mood, allowing you to break out of your stress and negative thoughts. Rhythmic workouts, such as running, dancing, walking, and swimming, are particularly effective.
Learn to Relax and Rest
You cannot eliminate stress, but particular ways can help you control its effects. Several relaxation techniquesactivate the relaxation response of your body and take you to a state of restfulness. These include deep breathing, meditation, and yoga.
Feeling tired can worsen your stress as it makes you think irrationally. Stress can also disrupt your sleep at times. You can feel emotionally balanced and productive by improving your sleep. Limit your caffeine and avoid alcohol before bed.
Eat a Healthy Diet
The food you consume can worsen or enhance your mood and affect your ability to deal with life stressors. Eating a diet full of sugar snacks, refined carbohydrates, and convenience and processed food can worsen your stress symptoms. However, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality proteins, fresh vegetables, and fruits can help you cope with stress.
Moreover, connecting to others (your family members and friends) and engaging your senses (sound, smell, movement, sight, taste, or touch) can also be helpful to control and handle your stress and negative beliefs and thoughts.
Feeling stressed is not rare, and it is pretty common nowadays. Everyone experiences stress at one point or another in their lives. Look out for the symptoms you are experiencing to know if you have normal or high-stress levels. Different people have different mechanisms to cope with their stress. Some relieve their stress by exercising, practicing mindfulness, sleeping, or doing yoga.
Instead of just sleeping to fight off stress, seek professional help if you are too stressed. Sleeping might work for you, but it will not help you in the long-run. The mental health professionals will teach you how to manage your stress levels and will enable you to function better.