As vague as it may seem, stress is a major contributor to many, if not all, of our ailments. Although stress in its most common context is primarily a psychological phenomenon, it is also closely tied to most aspects of the physiological functioning of our bodies, so whenever we feel stressed out for prolonged periods of time, our immune system suffers and the risk of getting sick or acquiring pain in some parts of the body is significantly increased.
Stress is a normal part of human life and there’s no denying this fact. As much as we strive to make our lives stress-free, there will always be challenging situations and overwhelming experiences that we simply can’t control and which cause our body to react by producing stress hormones in order to prepare us for coping with the situation in the most effective way.
Stress is an evolutionary mechanism which primary function is to optimize our interactions with the environment and adapt to it better, and in many occasions, literally keep us alive. In ancient times, our ancestors felt stressed out while facing an imminent danger, and the increased flow of stress hormones helped prepare them both mentally and physically for fighting or running away from their perceived source of stress.
Nowadays, however, we are very rarely exposed to the kind of dangerous situations which made up a big part of the life of our ancestors, and generally speaking, our lives are much more comfortable than they used to be many centuries ago. Yet, that doesn’t mean that we are less prone to stress; in fact, the opposite might be true.
The main difference is that the type of stress we’re used to experiencing today is most often of an emotional nature, meaning that it usually doesn’t endanger our lives in a direct, real way, but still causes a certain degree of emotional suffering. And the problem is: our bodies don’t know that. Whenever you’re under stress because your boss yelled at you, your body reacts in the same way as if there was a hungry lion in front of you.
So why is this problematic? Stress was originally designed to last for shorter periods of time, i.e. for as long as we needed to deal with the frightening or confusing situation. Today, however, we are increasingly prone to experiencing prolonged periods of stress, which have the ability to cause great damage to our health and psychological well-being.
Prolonged stress, also known as chronic stress, causes the body to maintain constantly elevated levels of stress hormones in the body, which has a negative impact on most bodily systems and functions. Although life can be really challenging at times, we tend to make our problems even bigger by worrying too much. And what’s worse, when stress becomes a fixed part of our daily lives, we might get so used to it as to stop noticing that we are constantly tensed, while our health continues to deteriorate – this happens to more people than you think.
If you have a reason to believe that you are one of them, check out these 7 signs that you are overstressed without even knowing it, and then make the first necessary steps to reduce stress and anxiety and improve your health and well-being.
7 signs that you are overstressed without even knowing it
Start listening to your own body. Do you often experience digestive issues, diarrhea, ulcers, muscular tension, inexplicable pain or palpitations? When your stress levels are skyrocketing, all that tension takes its toll on the body and can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms.
Therefore, you need to build up your awareness of your body and any type of dysfunction that might be bothering it and address it as soon as possible. Take a moment to discover where the pain is coming from, or at least to acknowledge that your shoulder or neck muscles are constantly tense. Never forget that awareness and acceptance are the most crucial steps towards change, so practice them regularly. Also, visit your doctor and do the necessary tests to make sure that your symptoms aren’t rooted in an underlying serious issue.
#2. Sleeping and eating disorders
In this country, so many people are suffering from insomnia that we don’t really consider it as a serious issue anymore – we simply see it as a typical by-product of modern life. However, insomnia (not sleeping enough) and hypersomnia (sleeping too much) represent significant disorders of the sleeping pattern and are both considered to have negative influence on many aspects of human well-being. And stress has a powerful ability to affect your sleep.
When you’re chronically stressed, you could be completely exhausted and still struggling to fall asleep or get a sufficient amount of good quality sleep, or you could be sleeping more than 12 hours and still feel pretty beaten up. Create a way to relax yourself before going to bed, be it through meditation, exercise or soaking in a hot bath and try to clear your mind of any worries and negative thoughts.
On the other hand, you should also know that stress can significantly slow down your metabolic rate, thereby making you more susceptible to weight gain, even though some people experience difficulties maintain a healthy weight throughout their whole life and it’s safe to assume that not every issue of this type comes from elevated stress levels.
Monitor your appetite closely. How often do you forget to eat? How often do you find comfort in food and end up overeating? Get your diet in check and make sure to eat healthy, whole foods as much as possible, spread more or less evenly throughout the day. If you don’t eat regularly or eat only junk food, your body won’t have the energy needed to stay focus and perform all daily tasks efficiently and your health will be less than optimal. Find the time to eat real meals regularly.
#3. Automatic negative thoughts
Become aware of your thoughts. Which kind of thoughts come to your mind most often? Are they attached to feelings of anxiety more often than not? If you’re one of those people who take their work home every day or are constantly worried about finances, stress could be having a hold of your life. If it’s hard for you to shut down your problems for a while and find inner balance, you need to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture.
If you don’t have health, you won’t be able to enjoy anything else. Don’t let yourself become a hostage of stress and anxiety. You can break the cycle by adopting new, healthier habits, focusing on your accomplishments and dreams instead of your problems, as well as making sure to take some time just for yourself every single day. Do things that you enjoy, spend more time in nature and surround yourself with people with an optimistic mindset.
#4. Difficulty calming down and sitting still
If you’re not able to sit still for longer periods of time, whether it is being alone with your thoughts, taking a walk by yourself or sit in your doctor’s waiting room (without constantly checking your phone), this might be a sign that you’re overstressed. When anxiety is constant and overwhelming, the ability of the mind to relax is reduced and it can create somewhat of a protective barrier between you and the disturbing thoughts.
Unfortunately, there is no other way to reduce this type of tension than making an effort to discover what exactly is causing you to avoid being still and properly addressing it. If you don’t do this and the stress doesn’t go away, all those emotions or thoughts you’re avoiding will get pushed further and further down and ultimately cause you bigger problems. It’s your responsibility to find constructive ways to manage your fears and nobody else can do it for you.
Make room for introspection by creating a quiet space and asking yourself deep and honest questions, while making sure to remove any judgmental or catastrophic thinking from the process. If you stick with this long enough, you will probably find out that your troubles aren’t as big as you first thought and that there are many potential solutions.
#5. Mood swings and lack of patience
When we have too much on our plate for a long period of time, we eventually break down. Moods wings, i.e. rapid changes in one’s emotional state, are one of the most common symptom of elevates levels of stress. Sometimes moods swings occur as a result of a physical or mental health condition, but more often they seem to happen for no apparent reason.
At least that’s what it looks like. Everybody will probably experience a certain degree of general moodiness at some points of their life, but stress-induced mood swings can be severe and drastic and have a substantial negative effect on health and daily function. What’s maybe worse, mood instability is often an important source of reoccurring conflict between the individual and his/her environment and loved ones.
Chronic stress is terribly tiring – more often than not, people are simply unable to handle it anymore and unable to contain their discomfort. In such cases, even the slightest hint of stress overwhelms them and they immediately become overly emotional and irritable. The end result? Lack of patience and tolerance with others and frequent snapping at the people who are closest to you.
If such behavior lasts for extended periods of time, your personal relationships can suffer great damage. To avoid this, start tracking your moods and try to understand exactly what causes the shifts and changes in emotions. Write your feelings down and try to discover the pattern and potential triggers, then find ways to neutralize them. Change won’t come overnight, but it’s crucial to take the first step and practice tolerance. Once in a while, remember to slow down and just smell the roses!
#6. Hair loss
Research suggests that there is a strong link between stress and changes in hair follicle biochemistry. Hair loss can be one of the ways the body responds to severe physiological or psychological stress. Short-term, everyday stress won’t affect your body in such a way that your hair starts to fall out. However, when we’re exposed to significant or lasting stress (divorce, death, serious financial worries) or big hormonal changes (such as during menopause or the post-pregnancy period), this may spark a change in our body’s routine physiological functions and cause temporary or even permanent hair loss.
According to most dermatologists, the two most common problems for hair loss or telogen effluvium (change in the number of hair follicles growing hair) are chronic stress and diet deficiency. Over time, chronic stress can gradually exert a noticeable negative effect on hair growth and even lead to persistent telogen effluvium.
However, hair loss is never the only symptom of being overstressed, so it is very rare for it to occur if your anxiety isn’t severe. To determine whether your hair loss is related to stress, visit your doctor who will examine your general health and detect the problem.
#7. Reduced drive
When you’re distracted by periods of high pressure, reduced s*xual desire can be one of the first problems you encounter. This is because chronic stress interferes with your body’s hormone levels and impairs your ability to relax, let go and enjoy yourself. First of all, some of the hormones that are secreted when you’re under stress are also responsible for s*xual response.
In addition, during times of stress, your arteries can narrow and restrict blood flow, resulting dysfunction down there. The psychological aspect of stress makes the situation even harder – stress causes exhaustion and diminishes your ability to experience intimacy. When you’re constantly preoccupied with your problems, s*x can be the last thing you think of at the end of a long day.
One recent study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease suggests that regardless of the quality of the relationship, your general levels of stress can have a major direct effect on your s*xual life. Unfortunately, more often than not, people do not address their stress-related loss of libido because they’re either too ashamed to acknowledge it to themselves and their partners or they assume that something else is the reason for their lack of s*x drive.
Regardless of that, prolonged libido issues can pose a serious threat to any loving relationship, especially if there’s a lack of communication about these matters between the two partners. Don’t be afraid to open up and express your fears to your loved one – by being honest and admitting your anxiety, vulnerability or confusion during the period, you can actually free yourself at least a bit from its power over you. Ask your partner for understanding and patience and work on the problem together. Everybody needs support now and then and there’s nothing shameful about that.