Have you ever been stressed? Your answer is, hopefully, yes. In small amounts, stress is actually good for us. When it becomes long-term or frequent, though, stress can actually cause a lot of mental and physical problems, which only makes it harder to cope with the things we are feeling stressed about.
Here are five stress symptoms you need to be aware of, and how to handle them.
1. Problems sleeping
Sometimes, when it feels like our lives are turning upside down, it’s hard to tell which consequence is the cause and which is the effect. If you have ever felt exhausted on a Tuesday, you’ve probably attributed that to not sleeping well the night before. Your trouble sleeping could be because of stress.
Not getting enough sleep has some pretty serious side effects both in the short and long term, everything from impaired brain activity to weight gain to diabetes and heart disease. Prolonged sleep deprivation can raise your blood pressure, weaken your immune system and make it harder for you to remember things.
If stress is affecting your sleeping habits, try spending some time journaling about your most prominent stressors before you go to sleep so they’re less likely to keep you awake.
If you think it might help, try writing out exactly what you need to do tomorrow, the night before, so you already know what to expect and can sleep easier through the night. If you can, talk to someone about it. Whatever you need to do to get it off your mind as much as possible before it’s time for your brain to rest.
2. Inability to stay focused or motivated
Have you ever noticed that it’s much harder to stay focused and finish what you start when you’re really stressed? It’s not just your imagination. Stress really messes with your hormones, making normal brain function that much harder to maintain.
The problem with stress is that it sends us into a dangerous loop when it comes to accomplishing certain tasks. We’re stressed about that paper, so we put it off for one week; two weeks; three. All of a sudden we’ve accidentally waited until the last minute to write it, which only makes our stress levels rise even higher.
If you’re having a hard time focusing, but need to finish the task that’s causing you stress, don’t avoid it completely. Work on that task in small pieces, taking frequent breaks, until it’s done. It might take you longer, but you will avoid stressing yourself out even more by unintentionally procrastinating.
3. Eating too much or too little
Stress has strange affects on the way we eat. It makes us more likely to engage in emotional eating: eating in response to how we feel, not how hungry we are. It also makes us crave foods higher in fat and sugar and can trick us into thinking we’re in need of nourishment when we aren’t, and vise versa.
The same way overeating is harmful to your health, under-eating can impair your ability to handle stress even more. Not eating enough even in a single day can make you feel fatigued, dizzy and unfocused.
You need energy to be able to healthfully cope with stress, but just the right amount of it. So when you’re stressed, pay just a little bit more attention to what you are eating. Even if you don’t have an appetite, your body will signal to you when it’s hungry. And it will signal to you when it’s not hungry, too: so take a handful of M&Ms back to your desk instead of the whole bag and eat slowly.
4. Social withdrawal
Though it might seem strange, stress can actually make you completely separate yourself from your social circles. You don’t want to be the one always complaining about how stressed you are, so you solve the problem by removing yourself completely. Besides, when you’re stressed, curling up on the couch to watch a movie or read a good book is so much more appealing.
Your stress will only get worse if you lock yourself in your house and refuse to do anything but hide underneath your covers and watch Netflix. You need to be with people. You need to take some time outside your own head for awhile and just do something fun.
Whether you want to or not, spending time with others outside the realm of your stressors is actually one of the best decisions you can make for yourself. Agree to go out with a few friends after work to take your mind off things. Just do it. You won’t know how good it feels until you give it a try.
You know what stress fatigue feels like. It’s different than physical fatigue. All your muscles ache. You have that kind of headache, the one that just won’t go away no matter what you do. You’re moody and lethargic. You have no idea how to make it stop.
Fatigue caused by stress doesn’t help when trying to manage stress. It makes going to work, concentrating and getting things done seem like an impossible feat. You have to find a way to deal with it, though, because after awhile, fatigue can start to affect more than just your ability to do work.
Start by identifying your stressor. Then develop a specific method for dealing with that stressor, such as yoga, meditation or exercise. If you have not been sleeping well, do what you can to make sure you get some extra rest. If you’re feeling fatigued, it’s okay, even necessary, to pull back a little and give yourself time to recover and figure out how better to handle your stress.
Stress can be harmful to your health. Knowing the symptoms of stress will help you to better cope with them in the future. Always remember to take the time necessary to care for yourself, especially when stress begins to affect how you feel physically and emotionally. Your health is always more important than anything else.