Spotting the signs of stress
Stress is something we hear about a lot and it is generally accepted as a normal part of busy lives. Many of us feel like we have a good handle on knowing when we are stressed. You might find yourself saying ‘I’m stressed’ or thinking ‘this is stressful’ when you are finding something difficult. But how can we tell if what we are feeling is normal everyday stress, or a potential sign of something that needs addressing?
What is stress?
Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is actually your body’s way of protecting you from a perceived threat. If your brain senses you could be in danger, it will release a flood of stress hormones putting you in what is called ‘fight or flight’ mode. In this emergency mode your heart beats faster, your muscles tighten and your blood pressure rises. Your senses become sharper and your strength and stamina increase, meaning your body is better prepared to fight off danger.
Stress can help increase your focus, energy and alertness. This is helpful in a life-threatening situation or when you need to complete something under pressure, but less helpful when it starts being triggered too frequently and begins negatively impacting your life.
When does stress become a problem?
When you feel under pressure, worried or like things are out of your control, your body can react as if you were facing a life-or-death situation. If you are faced with multiple causes of stress this can become incredibly draining and overwhelming.
The more your stress reaction is activated, the easier it is to trigger. This can lead to becoming stuck in a constant state of heightened stress that can feel almost impossible to break. When stress is left unmanaged it can begin to impact on your productivity, relationships, mood and health.
How can you spot stress?
Stress affects everyone differently and the symptoms can vary depending on the situation you are in. Stress can affect the way you feel both physically and emotionally, as well as affecting your behaviour. If you are experiencing a number of the following symptoms that are unusual for you, you could be suffering from stress.
Feelings to look out for
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritable, impatient or aggressive
- Anxious or nervous
- Unable to switch off
- Like you can’t enjoy things any more
- Unproductive or uninterested in things you used to be
- Feeling forgetful
- Feeling negative
Physical sensations to look out for
- Muscle tension
- Problems falling or staying asleep, nightmares
- High blood pressure
- Shallow breathing or hyperventilating
- Lack of sex drive
- Sore eyes
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Feeling sick or dizzy
- Becoming ill more frequently
Behaviours to look out for
- Unable to concentrate
- Biting your nails
- Struggling to make decisions
- Struggling to eat properly, either too little or too much
- Becoming easily irritated with people, snapping or being short
- Withdrawing from people
- Being restless
- Worrying more than usual
What can you do to help?
Stress is a common problem that affects a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it. There are many things that can help to reduce your stress and recognising it is a good first step.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can provide incredibly effective methods for helping to deal with and reduce stress. CBT helps you to look at and understand the way our thoughts and feelings are connected and play a big role in how we cope with certain situations. It isn’t necessarily the situations or events that cause our stress, but actually the way in which we think about them.
When something happens to us, we often have an automatic reaction. This reaction could be something like “this is too much, I can’t cope!” or ”this isn’t fair.” This could then cause us to feel a range of emotions from anxiety, anger, hopelessness or feeling irritable or bad tempered. These thoughts and emotions will often cause our bodies to react physically by our heart racing, our muscles tightening and possibly cause headaches or aches and pains. This can then lead to us being unable to concentrate, constantly rushing from one thing to another and being unable to sleep.
These behaviours will make it much harder to get things done and will often lead to feeling more stress and overwhelmed, leading into a negative cycle.
CBT will help you develop strategies to change these automatic thinking patterns, interrupting the negative cycle and helping you get back on track to feeling accomplished and living a life you can enjoy.
Click here to find out more about CBT.