Most people experience symptoms of stress at some point in their lives. And it's completely natural. But that doesn't mean it's always easy to deal with.
Aside from feeling emotionally frazzled, a constant state of stress can also take its toll on the body. A study in the Journal of Psychological Science found that even minor stressors, if experienced daily, can have long-term effects on our health.
So, what can we do to bring our nervous system back into balance? The first step is recognising the symptoms of stress and knowing how to take action. Exhausted the whale music? Feeling ohm'd out? We've got you.
What Is Stress?
Stress is the body's biological response to feeling under pressure or threatened. When it senses danger — either real or imagined — a chemical reaction triggers what's known as the 'fight-or-flight' mode.
This response is the body's way of protecting itself. The symptoms of stress (increased heart rate, tightened muscles, elevated blood pressure) are all designed to help you do things like react quicker, focus harder or lift heavier.
Sounds useful – and it is, when being chased by a bear or needing to study for an exam. The problem comes when the body suffers prolonged exposure to this state. Without frequent periods of relief or relaxation, stress can cause major damage to your health, mood, productivity and overall quality of life.
What Are The Symptoms Of Stress?
Stress means different things to different people. It's something we all feel at times, but what causes it in one person may be of little bother to another. To make stress symptoms even more, well, stressful, no part of the body is immune.
Emotional Symptoms Of Stress
- Moodiness, irritability, or anger
- Avoiding others and loneliness
- Feeling overwhelmed and out of control
- Having a hard time relaxing
- Low self-esteem and self-worth
Physical Symptoms Of Stress
- Aches, pains and headaches
- Low energy and difficulty sleeping
- Upset stomach and digestive issues
- Colds and flu-like symptoms
- Chest pain or rapid heart rate
Cognitive Symptoms Of Stress
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Poor judgement and erratic decisions
- Unable to focus on tasks
- Pessimistic thinking or catastrophising
- Brain fog and memory loss
Behavioural Symptoms Of Stress
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Nervous behaviour (i.e. nail biting or fidgeting)
- Eating too much or too little
- Engaging in risky behaviour
5 Common Stress Symptoms (And What To Do About Them)
If you thought stress was just a brain ache, think again. Alongside increased levels of cortisol (known to trigger inflammation), stress can cause your muscles to tense up, leading to pain in practically any part of the body.
A sore back is only likely to add to your angst, but luckily the reverse is also true. Taking care of yourself physically is a great way to feel better mentally and break the cycle.
Try This: Despite the stereotypical gender breakdown, yoga classes are a great way to flush out the hormonal response to stress and iron out any knots.
Forgot what you're looking for? Bad with names? Can't remember the page you just read? There's every chance you're burnt out. The good news is, it's totally normal.
Stress affects us all, and there's no shame in it. Scientists suspect it has something to do with how mental pressure affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory. All you need to know is it's not permanent.
Try This: If you struggle to get stuck into a Sudoku book, go for a run. Exercise has also been shown to enhance hippocampus functioning.
There are endless aisles of creams, gels, oils and serums that claim to look after your body on the outside. However, those products won't do much if you're stressed on the inside.
If you have a skin condition such as acne, eczema or psoriasis, stress can make it worse. It can also lead to excessive sweating and even hair loss. So while taking care of your skin and hair is a sensible thing to do, addressing the feeling itself is more worthwhile.
Try This: Regularly checking in with yourself in your journal can help you to recognise your emotions and avoid the things that cause you unnecessary stress.
Low Sex Drive
It can be hard to get in 'the mood' while thinking about mortgage payments, which explains why stress is one of the most common factors known to cause a man's libido to lag. The NHS estimates that half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70 suffer some form of erectile dysfunction. But it doesn't have to be this way.
Try This: If you often struggle to focus on the task at hand, practising mindfulness can help as it teaches you to be in the moment, and this has obvious advantages during sex.
Lack Of Sleep
Whether it's an ever-expanding to-do list or worries about money, we've all endured the endless tossing and turning that comes with feeling anxious, overworked, and otherwise stressed-the-hell-out.
Unhelpfully, a lack of shut-eye only adds to the tight feeling in your chest. Over time, this can create a weakened immune system and an increased risk of mental health issues. To flip the switch, start by building a bedtime routine.
Try This: Instead of endlessly doom scrolling, do your best to avoid screens at night. Taking a bath or warm shower is a great way to reduce your heart rate and relax your muscles.
Keep In Mind
Whatever situation is stressing you out right now, remember that there are ways of dealing with it. Whether you're looking for a quick fix for a one-off event or something you can turn to again and again, the ideas above are an excellent place to start. If you need more help, always reach out to a professional.