Recognizing signs of stress is first step toward reducing it
Do you find yourself clenching your jaw during the day (or night)? Are you forgetting appointments or other important information more easily, or tapping your feet impatiently during a meeting or while waiting in line?
With our modern, rushed lifestyles, it can be easy to feel those familiar stomach twinges that signal you’re feeling a little stressed. But how do you know when “a little stressed” crosses over into more stress than your mind — and body — can or should handle?
Stress can present itself in many different ways, all of which are managed differently by different people. It could start as a slow accumulation of activities and commitments that build upon one another, such as a particularly busy work period coinciding with an increase in your child’s after-school activities; or a sudden and unexpected event, like the illness or death of someone close to you.
No matter the root cause, it’s important to know when your mind and body are saying, “Enough,” and how to begin the steps toward reducing or managing stressful situations.
According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), 77 percent of people in the U.S. have reported regularly experiencing physical symptoms caused by stress [source]. April is National Stress Awareness Month, which provides a great reminder to look at the physical and emotional signs that may point to an unmanageable stress level in your life.
Many of us know the more obvious signs that we’re dealing with too much stress, such as difficulty sleeping, irritability or headaches. But there are also some other lesser-known signs that the stress in your life is affecting you more than you might have thought. These symptoms, identified by the AIS, include:
● Dry mouth or trouble swallowing food or drink
● Craving processed or sugary foods
● Little interest in your appearance or punctuality
● Increased number of minor accidents
● Social withdrawal and isolation
Once you understand how your body manifests the physical symptoms of stress, you can begin working on healthy, helpful ways to manage it.
Some of the most effective methods include light daily exercise, a well-balanced diet and ensuring you’re getting enough quality sleep each night. Sounds simple enough, right? Even if you incorporate just one of these habits into your life, you’ll begin to see some positive reductions in your overall stress levels.
However, some people also turn to more dangerous, unhealthy habits in an attempt to manage their stress — namely, alcohol and substance over-use or dependence. This can affect people from all walks of life, in many different challenging situations; tolerance and occasional use can quickly turn to dependency and addiction, resulting in physical and/or behavioral impairment that often stretches far beyond the original stress response that led to using the substance in the first place.
If you find yourself heading in this direction, know that it’s not too late to turn around with the help of people who understand your struggles and can show you how to replace these negative habits with better ones. Professional help centers are confidential and ready to help you identify a treatment plan that addresses your specific needs, stressors, and responses.
Don’t let stress weigh on you; with the right resources and an action plan to manage it, you’ll feel well equipped to handle whatever stressful situation might come your way.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 31 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.