Wondering how to recognising stress symptoms? If you are dealing with stress right now, you’re not alone. Stress is something that almost every one of us will face at some point in our lives. A little bit of stress is nothing to worry about. In some cases, a small amount of stress can even be a positive thing if it gives us motivation and spurs us into action. The problem with stress, however, is that it can very quickly go from manageable to unmanageable if it is not dealt with early.
Stress manifests in many ways, from physical to emotional, mental and behavioural. For some, it may manifest as constant anxiety and panic attacks. For others, it can manifest as tummy aches, headaches and frequent colds or other low-grade illnesses. Many will experience the full spectrum of stress symptoms, resulting in the risk of chronic stress disorders. When symptoms are ignored, there is a very high chance of stress turning into anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. There is also a high chance of lowered immunity, heart problems, sexual dysfunction, menstrual problems, GERD and other tummy problems, hair problems, and skin issues.
Over and beyond these risks, there is the more immediate effect of feeling that you are completely overwhelmed by everything in your life. This is when burnout happens. Speaking from experience, this point is an extremely horrible place to reach and it is not easy to dig your way out of the hole without major life changes.
Waiting until stress reaches crisis point is a very bad idea. Even if you do not feel that things are there yet, you may be already experiencing symptoms that you have brushed off as everyday worry.
Don’t Brush Off These Stress Symptoms
You know your body. On some level, you are very likely aware that you are dealing with stress, even if you are worried that you are over-reacting. It is far better to over-react and take action before things get worse than to brush off your signs of stress as something you don’t need to worry about. If you have been experiencing any of these stress symptoms and you have stressors in your life such as big change, work pressure, problems at home, a poor life balance, worry over finances or other factors or anything else that causes stress, it is time to take action.
1/ Low energy
This is one of the first early warning symptoms. For me, it began as feeling constantly tired and sluggish. I battled to get through the day and wanted frequent naps. Small things became an effort and I had no interest in being active. Stress triggers a flight or fight reaction. In the case of a sudden burst in fear, your body reacts and then calms down. With stress, this reaction is sustained. The problem is, our bodies cannot manage stress for long periods, which results in fatigue. Prolonged stress depletes key nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium. When the body is low on these essential nutrients, it further increases anxiety and tiredness, continuing the cycle. Long-term release of the stress hormone cortisol also affects sleep patterns, lowering your energy even further.
2/ Increased anxiety
Most people associate stress with anxiety, and for good reason. This symptom is one of the most common of all stress symptoms. Panic attacks, constant over-thinking, worrying about everything, negative thoughts, non-stop anxiety about work, life, finances, and everything else that is threatening to take over are all common when you are stressed. Increased cortisol levels trigger that flight or fight reaction mentioned above. Your body reacts by sending out constant signals that you are in danger. Your mind responds by trying to process these feelings, which quickly leads to anxiety. Untreated anxiety can turn into anxiety disorders, increased panic attacks and other complications.
3/ Sleep disturbances
Remember those sleep disturbances I mentioned earlier? Those can very quickly cause problems, too. You feel tired all day and by bedtime, you are longing for a good sleep. Instead, one of two things happens – you either battle to get to sleep or you sleep fitfully. The body needs sleep in order to function. Disrupted sleep can be deadly, increasing your risk of heart problems and various other physical problems. Poor sleep can also increase the risk of mental issues. Having battled sleep issues a good chunk of my life, I can tell you now that even a week of bad sleep can cause things to go pear-shaped very quickly. Although my partial seizures had a big impact on my sleep issues, stress also came into play. Before I hit burnout, I would work right through the night far too often. Instead of sleeping well to balance out the all-nighters, I would struggle to get into a good sleep rhythm. This increased my seizures and my anxiety, causing an endless cycle that I battled to get myself out of until I finally got things under control.
4/ Poor immunity
Poor immunity is another potentially dangerous one on the list of stress symptoms. That nasty cortisol can cause many problems, including a lowered immune system. This makes it easier to catch anything that is going around. You will also be at a higher risk of bacterial infections. On its own, this is not really a stress symptom. When you have other signs and you are also getting sick often, it becomes a big symptom. When I hit burnout, and in the years building up to that point, I was sick ALL the time. My immune system was a wreck. You may find that it starts out with constant colds that seem to keep happening. You may assume you have allergies like I did, and focus on treating the cold rather than looking at a bigger cause behind the cold. Listen to your body and pay attention to how stress could be physically manifesting.
Finally, one of the biggest stress symptoms – and one you should never dismiss – is overwhelm. This is also known as burnout. When you are subjected to high levels of stress for long periods of time, you cannot keep going without reaching the point of no return. Human beings are not meant to live with ongoing stress that is not being treated or managed. You will start to feel the effects across all areas of life and you will soon be unable to cope with anything. There is a very real risk of suicide, depression, breakdown, and other serious problems at this point. Even if it starts by feeling that things are feeling a bit too much, it can all too quickly reach crisis point. This is why it is so important to recognise the earlier warning signs… before you hit a critical point.
What happens once you recognise these stress symptoms? The answer is up to you. Hopefully, you will start getting help as soon as possible. This could mean going to your doctor about medication that could help. It could mean finding ways to reduce stress. It could mean making life changes to take off major pressure. It could mean seeing a therapist to deal with underlying issues. It could even mean stepping back from life and going somewhere safe to focus on your health. There are many coping strategies that can also help as part of your recovery plan. Self care can be extremely important as part of this journey, too.
Whatever strategies you put into place, the very first step towards dealing with stress is first recognising the common stress symptoms so that you know how to proceed.