Stress can be both good and bad. In small doses, it can help us become motivated and be more decisive. In the long term, however, elevated stress levels can impact both physical and mental health.
People react to stress differently however there are some common signs, which may indicate stress is becoming a problem that needs to be addressed. Being aware of these signs can help you take control and self-manage your stress, and also recognise when it may be time to seek support.
If you are experiencing such signs and symptoms, it’s important you don’t ignore what they might be telling you – your GP is a good place to start for advice. If they seem to be related to sustained pressure in the workplace, you may also speak to your manager, your HR department or your EAP (Employee Assistance Program) provider.
Whether you’re at work or at home, it’s also important to look out for those around you who may be showing signs of stress. Try asking them: “Are you okay?”, which can be a soft but effective way to start a supportive conversation.
Although occasional stress is normal and can even be beneficial, constantly feeling overwhelmed can have adverse effects on your body and mind. Stress is a temporary response to danger and should not be a permanent state. Recognising the signs of stress will help you manage it more effectively.
Stress isn’t always harmful, right? Stress can be healthy, normal, and even helpful depending on the circumstances. Your fight-or-flight response is activated during stress, helping you navigate awkward encounters with your ex, job interviews, or impromptu speeches. Stress can aid you in overcoming short-term challenges that you feel confident handling. Stress only becomes problematic when it is constant or when situations are beyond your control. It’s essential to learn how to manage stress during these times.
What are the symptoms of stress? Stress hormones are released when your body perceives danger. These hormones trigger temporary physical changes that help you remain alert and focused until the situation is resolved. However, if stress and these changes persist, long-term problems can develop.
If your stress response doesn’t cease, you might feel anxious, nervous, or unable to relax. This can lead to tension headaches or migraines. Chronic stress can also contribute to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
Stress causes rapid breathing to increase oxygen intake in the body. This can make breathing difficult for individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma. Hyperventilation or panic attacks can also result.
Stress causes your heart to beat faster and harder, pumping blood to your muscles and major organs while also increasing blood pressure. This added strain on the heart can lead to serious complications.
During times of stress, your liver produces more glucose for an energy boost. Frequent occurrences can result in type 2 diabetes. Stress hormones can also cause stomach upset.
Sexuality and reproductive system Stress can be exhausting for both your body and mind, potentially decreasing your desire for sexual intimacy. Stress can also contribute to fertility issues.
When more blood is pumped into your muscles, they tense up in preparation for a fight-or-flight response and protect your body from injury. If you’re constantly stressed, your muscles might not have the chance to relax. Tight muscles can cause headaches, backaches, shoulder and neck pain, and general body aches.
While stress can initially stimulate the immune system to help heal wounds, the stress response weakens the immune system over time. This leaves you more susceptible to infections and illnesses and prolongs recovery after illness.
Integumentary system (skin, hair, and nails)
Stress hormone production can increase oil production, making your skin oilier and more sensitive over time.
Stress can also lead to hair loss.
What can you do? Learning to manage stress can improve your overall health and happiness. To cope with stress, accept what you cannot change and attempt to solve problems within your control. When feeling stressed, ask yourself four simple questions to help you make a decision:
- What aspects of the situation can I control?
- What steps can I take to address these aspects?
- What aspects of the situation are beyond my control?
- How can I accept or adapt to these uncontrollable aspects?
By answering these questions, you can develop a plan to manage stress and maintain your well-being.