November 3 is National Stress Awareness Day – what have your stress levels been like recently? At times stress can be a symptom or a result of a greater mental health diagnosis, however it is also a part of all of our lives to some degree. Our bodies are built to tolerate and learn from stress, though chronic stress can affect both physical and mental health long-term.
Learning your specific stress triggers can be a helpful first step in improving your stress management. In addition, learning how you feel stress is important as well so you can name it and manage it. Below are examples of symptoms of stress – can you identify which symptoms you feel most often when stressed? Do you feel any of these symptoms daily?
Emotional symptoms of stress include:
- Becoming easily agitated, frustrated and moody
- Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
- Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
- Avoiding others
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Frequent colds and infections
- Nervousness and shaking
Cognitive symptoms of stress include:
- Constant worrying
- Forgetfulness and disorganization
- Inability to focus
- Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
- Poor judgement
Behavioral symptoms of stress include:
- Changes in appetite – either not eating or eating too much
- Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
- Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing
Once symptoms are identified, what’s next? Stress is an inevitable part of life, so learning to manage it is crucial.
1. Learn the Root Cause of Your Stress
Sometimes, we may think that one thing is causing stress though once we peel back the layers and look more closely, something else may be the root cause. When that is identified we can start addressing that specific area – it may be specific skills for your job, communication with your partner, or access to certain services or resources. What within this area is within your control? Are there specific steps you can take to manage the stress?
2. Deep Breathing and/or Meditation
Learning to observe your thoughts and let them pass, name your emotions, and slow down can help in the process. Deep breathing can help slow your heart rate and relax muscle tension, this can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system and slow the stress response that may be making things such as concentrating more difficult.
3. Time Management
Being overbooked can cause stress and overwhelm which may lead to burn out, though having no schedule at all can lead to lack of direction and confusion which can also lead to stress. Identifying if there are times in your day where you can take a break, go for a walk, or spend more time with family and friends may reduce stress. On the other hand, giving yourself a schedule can enhance feelings of accomplishment, increase motivation over time, and create purpose.
Journaling or writing things down can help give your mind a break, it can be a way of prioritizing and even identifying the root cause of your stress. Sometimes just seeing things on the paper can take away the fear and confusion.
5. Do One Thing at a Time
Multitasking may seem like the way to go, though it can be difficult for your brain to be constantly adjusting to different tasks. If you’re able, focus on one thing at a time, this will allow you to finish tasks quicker and check things off of your to-do list.
If implementing these five tasks does not begin to reduce your stress, talk with your doctor or a therapist for additional support. Spot to Talk has therapists who would love to support you in finding the root cause of your stress and managing it so you can live the life you want.