Signs And Symptoms Of Stress Overload
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You dont notice how much its affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. Thats why its important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.
- Other mental or emotional health problems
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Loss of sex drive
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from others
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits
Giving Your Mind A Rest
For people dealing with high levels of stress, it can be hard to fathom how a few moments of meditation will help. After meditation, the stressors are still there youre still getting divorced, caring for an aging parent, struggling with the demands of a high-stress job. How can a few moments of deep thought possibly help your life?
It may help to think about how muscles get stronger. Unrelenting exercise simply tears down a muscle and leads to injury. Smart exercisers know the value of a day of rest thats when your muscles regenerate and come back stronger than before.
Now think about your mind as an emotional muscle. Unrelenting stress without a break will not make it stronger. Your emotions, your brain and your body need moments of recovery to get stronger from stress.
Its about stress and recovery. Just like you build a physical muscle, just like you build biceps, you have to take the same approach to life stressors, says Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, which offers a course called The Power of Positive Stress.
Think of meditation like high-intensity interval training for the brain. During H.I.I.T., you go as hard as you can, then you give yourself a few minutes of recovery before returning to the exercise. This cycle is repeated multiple times and has been shown to be more effective for building strength than long, slow bouts of exercise.
A Simple Way To Combat Chronic Stress
For most leaders today, frequent stress is inevitable. But with awareness and a little skill, its negative impacts are not.
Intense negative experiences of stress are all too common. Consider Stefano, coauthor of this article. In 1998, Stefano began a career abroad while simultaneously completing an MBA. He worked and studied 14 hours a day, seven days a week, fueled by a constant flow of stress hormones. By the end of that year, he suffered from fatigue, headaches, impatience, and irritability, yet he ignored his symptoms and kept going. Soon those symptoms escalated into full-blown burnout: dizziness, heart palpitations, inability to concentrate, panic attacks, apathy, insomnia, and depression. He eventually decided that he needed to take a full six months to rebuild his mental and physical well-being before he could return to work.
Chronic stress impacts people in different ways. In a recent global survey we conducted of 740 leaders, 84% reported experiencing stress on a regular basis . As you might expect, more than half of the 84% said stress had a negative impact on their effectiveness, interactions, or business results. However, the remaining leaders around 45% told a different story. In their experience, stress either had no impact on their leadership or had a positive effect. More than 25% said stress actually improved their effectiveness.
How Can I Tell If I Am Stressed
Whilst we all experience stress differently, you might notice several of the following:
- Physical signs frequent headaches, difficulty sleeping, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, sore muscles, nausea or upset stomach, diarrhoea or constipation, a general sense of fatigue, loss of sex drive, frequent colds.
- Cognitive signs trouble concentrating, memory difficulties, poor judgement, worry, anxious thoughts, confusion, indecisiveness and loss of sense of humour.
- Emotional signs feeling agitated and unable to relax, feeling overwhelmed, feeling unhappy/depressed/moody, feeling irritable and short-tempered.
- Behaviour change eating more or less than usual, sleeping too much/too little, using alcohol/cigarettes/drugs more than usual, habits such as nail-biting or skin picking.
Develop A Positive Self
The way you talk to yourself matters. Harsh self-criticism, self-doubt, and catastrophic predictions aren’t helpful. If you’re constantly thinking things like, “I don’t have time for this,” and “I can’t stand this,” you’ll stress yourself out.
It’s important to learn to talk to yourself in a more realistic, compassionate manner. When you call yourself names or doubt your ability to succeed, reply with a kinder inner dialogue.
Positive self-talk can help you develop a healthier outlook. And an optimistic and compassionate conversation can help you manage your emotions and take positive action.
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What Are Some Strategies For Stress Relief
You cant avoid stress, but you can stop it from becoming overwhelming by practicing some daily strategies:
- Exercise when you feel symptoms of stress coming on. Even a short walk can boost your mood.
- At the end of each day, take a moment to think about what youve accomplished not what you didnt get done.
- Set goals for your day, week and month. Narrowing your view will help you feel more in control of the moment and long-term tasks.
- Consider talking to a therapist or your healthcare provider about your worries.
Simple Steps To Deal With Stress And Anxiety
Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.
Do you wonder if you may worry too much? And how much anxiety is officially “too much?” To answer these questions, you may need to deepen your understanding of stress and anxiety, and how they help and hurt you.
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Connect With Your Spiritual Side
For centuries, religious groups and native tribes worldwide have used prayer beads to guide their spiritual practice, and research shows that spirituality might boost happiness in times of stress. Buy a set of prayer beads or make your own, suggests Hall, and then create a positive affirmation or mantra that resonates with you. Then, next time stress hits, repeat your affirmation as you work your way around and touch each bead. “The more you go around, the more you’ll experience a sense of power and detachment from the source of anxiety as your brain switches into a meditative cadence,” explains Hall.
Exercise As A Stress Treatment
Exercise effectively reduces the causes and effects of chronic stress. When you raise your heart rate level for at least 30 minutes a day, you stimulate new brains cells, countering the damage of past stress.
Even when youve just finished a workout, you can feel that the tension in your body has reduced. Neuroscience studies have found that your brain will regenerate itself when you do things that promote mind health. This can be done through exercise.
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Talk It Out With A Friend
When youre feeling stressed, take a break to call a friend and talk about your problems. Good relationships with friends and loved ones are important to any healthy lifestyle.
Theyre especially important when youre under a lot of stress. A reassuring voice, even for a minute, can put everything in perspective.
Develop Techniques That Will Help You To Feel In Control Of Your Life
There is plenty of research that suggests that the single factor that causes most stress is feeling out of control.
One way that you can help yourself to avoid stress is to develop techniques to help you solve problems and make decisions more easily.
For example, one problem-solving technique involves writing down the problem and coming up with as many possible solutions as you can. Decide on the good and bad points of each one and select the best solution. Write down each step that you need to take as part of the solution: what will be done, how will it be done, when will it be done, who is involved and where will it take place.
There is more about this and other techniques in our series of pages on Problem-Solving and Decision-Making.
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Embrace The Adrenaline And Treat It As Positive
Fortunately, there is evidence that some level of stress is actually helpful, and can improve performanceprovided you believe that this is the case.
Elite athletes, for example, often believe that adrenaline, one of the main stress hormones, is helpful in improving performance. It is, after all, the flight or fight hormone, so you can harness it to help you to fight. Changing your mindset to embrace adrenaline can be a good start to changing how you view stress, especially if you have taken steps to reduce and avoid it more generally.
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How To Eat Mindfully
, a holistic-living center in Bedford, N.Y. Most people have a general sense of what the healthy foods are, but theyre not eating them. Whats on your mind when youre eating: Thats mindful eating to me.
Heres a simple exercise to try next time you are sitting down to a delicious meal:
Your friends and family can be both a cause of stress and a cure for it.
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Do The Most Helpful Thing
Practising self-compassion is not necessarily comfortable or easy at the best of times, says Gilbert. People often say, Its about being kind to yourself. Well, sure, but the key is how you find the courage and the wisdom to deal with your situation rather than doing the things that will temporarily make you feel better.
Courage might be needed to leave a relationship, or care for an elderly parent, while it takes wisdom to recognise what can be let go, or what to do next. Both may take time to develop, says Gilbert. But sometimes the next step is about asking yourself: What would be the most helpful thing?
It might be going to bed early enough to get a good nights sleep or accepting that you havent had enough sleep and are not fully functioning as a result. Shift workers often have to learn how to cope with being tired, says Gilbert. The key is to be clear about the best way to manage your body and mind to get you through, and not doing things that make it more difficult.
Sometimes accepting that there are some things happening to you that you probably cant do anything about right now, will help you focus your time and energy more productively, says Boyd. If you feel prevented by your circumstances it can help to focus on the areas where you do have some choice and power.
Smoking Drinking And Drug Use And Stress
You might find that you smoke, drink alcohol or use recreational drugs to reduce stress. However, this often makes problems worse.28
Research shows that smoking may increase feelings of anxiety.29 Nicotine creates an immediate, temporary, sense of relaxation, which can then lead to withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Similarly, you may use alcohol as a means to manage and cope with difficult feelings, and to temporarily reduce feelings of anxiety. However, alcohol may make existing mental health problems worse. It can make you feel more anxious and depressed in the long run.30 It is important to know the recommended limits31 and drink responsibly.
Prescription drugs, such as tranquillisers and sleeping tablets, which may have been prescribed for very good reasons, can also cause mental and physical health problems if used for long periods of time.32 Street drugs, such as cannabis or ecstasy, are usually taken for recreational purposes. For some people, problems start as their bodies get used to repeated use of the drug. This leads to the need for increased doses to maintain the same effect.33
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Take Action: Get Active
Regular physical activity can help prevent and manage stress. It can also help relax your muscles and improve your mood. So get active:
- Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity try going for a bike ride or taking a walk
- Do strengthening activities like push-ups or lifting weights at least 2 days a week
Remember, any amount of physical activity is better than none!
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Manage Your Internal Entrapment
You might not be able to escape or change your situation, but you can manage the feeling of being trapped by it. Internal entrapment is the tunnel vision that comes from repetitive negative and self-critical thinking, warping perception and worsening our experience of stress. What sometimes appears to be the stressor isnt, says Gilbert.
We may even be undermining ourselves with self-talk: What are you trapped with in your own mind? Do you live in your mind as a compassionate, supportive, empathic, validating self? Or when you experience threat, do you start to criticise yourself and put yourself down?
Whatever your situation, treating yourself with compassion will support you. Gilbert suggests taking whatever breaks possible from your stressors, doing breathing exercises and practising acceptance. If you tell yourself you cant cope, it just adds to your stress, rather than saying: OK, this is a difficult situation, its not my fault, Im going to find a way through.
Understanding the bodily processes at play can also help to put stress into context, Gilbert says. Its not something wrong with your decision making, or that youre just not up to it.
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How Can We Handle Stress In Healthy Ways
Stress serves an important purposeit enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger. However, lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties or increased physical health problems. A large body of research suggests that increased stress levels interfere with your ability to deal with physical illness. While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover.
There are several other methods you can use to relax or reduce stress, including:
How Much Stress Is Too Much
Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, its important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is too much differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with lifes punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.
Factors that influence your stress tolerance level include:
Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, lifes pressures dont seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.
Your sense of control. If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, its easier to take stress in stride. On the other hand, if you believe that you have little control over your lifethat youre at the mercy of your environment and circumstancesstress is more likely to knock you off course.
Your attitude and outlook. The way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. If youre generally hopeful and optimistic, youll be less vulnerable. Stress-hardy people tend to embrace challenges, have a stronger sense of humor, believe in a higher purpose, and accept change as an inevitable part of life.
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Spend Time With Friends And Family
Social support from friends and family can help you get through stressful times.
Being part of a friend network gives you a sense of belonging and self-worth, which can help you in tough times.
One study found that for women in particular, spending time with friends and children helps release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called tend and befriend, and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response .
Keep in mind that both men and women benefit from friendship.
Another study found that men and women with the fewest social connections were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety .
Having strong social ties may help you get through stressful times and lower your risk of anxiety.
Its hard to feel anxious when youre laughing. Its good for your health, and there are a few ways it may help relieve stress:
- Relieving your stress response.
- Relieving tension by relaxing your muscles.
In the long term, laughter can also help improve your immune system and mood.
A study among people with cancer found that people in the laughter intervention group experienced more stress relief than those who were simply distracted (
Try watching a funny TV show or hanging out with friends who make you laugh.
Find the humor in everyday life, spend time with funny friends or watch a comedy show to help relieve stress.
Not all stressors are within your control, but some are.
One way to do this may be to say no more often.