Warning Signs of Stress and Simple Techniques on How to Handle it
Feeling a bit stressed lately? Stress can be an acute or chronic condition caused by a plethora of sources. Regardless of the source, there are simple ways to identify the warning signs of stress and combat them with simple remedies.
Everyone at one point or another in their life finds themselves dealing with stress. Whether it be due to an unsettling world pandemic, like COVID-19, or from the daily pressures of everyday living or work-related deadlines, stress is not an uncommon condition. It affects every one of us differently and can lead to a health concern if not managed properly. It is essential to be able to identify stress-related symptoms and effective ways to cope with it.
Definition of Stress
Scientifically, stress is known as any stimulus that threatens the homeostasis of your body. Simple right…? In layman’s terms, stress can be pretty much be anything that affects your well being and usual way of life. Stressors can negatively impact you physically, mentally, and even emotionally. Stress can be acute and only last for a limited amount of time, or it can be a chronic condition which is dealt with daily. Stress is not a “one size fits all” condition, meaning it’s source and presentation varies from person to person. Regardless of the underlying stressors and associated symptoms, this condition can be managed effectively to get you back on track to normal living and better health.
What are the effects of stress on the body?
When a situation triggers the stress response of the body, certain hormones are released that prepare the body for what is called fight or flight mode. It means that the body prepares itself to either fight the “danger” or trigger causing this response or run away (flight) from it. Hormones are released during times of stress. They direct blood to the essential organs and major muscle groups, preparing them to either fight or flight.
This innate response can have numerous effects on the body, which include rapid heartbeat, headache, deep breathing, sweaty palms, and even chest pressure. Imagine you are fishing a large river and notice a crocodile approaching from a few feet away. Unless you are a crocodile hunter like Steve Irwin, this would trigger your body’s stress response and send you into survival mode. Your heart would begin to race, pupils would dilate, and your auditory senses would heighten. It is a classic example of your body’s response to a stressful situation.
Stress can also cause other symptoms that may vary from person to person that differ from those that occur during fight or flight mode. Physical signs of stress may include but are not limited to acne, skin conditions, heart palpitations, elevated blood pressure, digestive problems, heartburn, and stomach issues. Stress can also compromise one’s ability to fight infection or overcome mild illness. Mentally and emotionally, stress can cause a lack of sexual desire, depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, memory loss, and lack of energy. As you can see, stress can take a toll on an individual’s well being and disrupt your way of life in multiple ways. It is crucial to be able to recognize the following symptoms and ultimately identify what is triggering your stress.
Here is a more comprehensive stress symptoms checklist to help you identify if you present with one or more of the following regularly. Remember, having any one of these symptoms listed below does not necessarily suggest that you live with stress. But if you present with a combination of these symptoms without an underlying medical issue, stress may be the underlying culprit.
Stress Overload – What are the signs, and when it is too much?
Stress is a condition that can be quite burdensome. If it comes and goes in moderation, it can be coped with and managed effectively. Chronic stress can cause constant wear on the body both physically and mentally. Over time, it has the potential to lead to overload and even severe health issues. Stress-induced high blood pressure, rapid pulse, hyperventilation, and heart palpitations may lead to major cardiovascular problems if not appropriately managed. It is not unlikely for such symptoms mentioned to cause fainting spells, a heart attack, or even heart arrhythmias. Stress can also cause severe bouts of mental problems that may lead to major depression or even suicidal thoughts.
When the amount of stress you have has the potential to cause mental or health conditions that are life-threatening, you have reached stress overload. It means that you have TOO MUCH pressure, and you must seek help or guidance from a support group or healthcare provider. No one should have to fight (or flight from) the battle with stress alone or suffer from its severe preventable overload consequences.
What are general triggers that cause stress?
Many triggers have the potential to cause stress in your daily life. Everyone’s situation is different. A stressor in your life may not be considered a stressor in say your friend’s life. Furthermore, something stressful in your life may be completely different from something deemed stressful to someone living in another country. With that being said, there are general triggers that make up the majority of stress among people across the globe.
1. Money or financial burden
Money is a significant cause of stress amongst all civilized and industrialized populations. Making ends meet financially is a burden that many live with daily. The majority of people are in some financial debt, whether it be student loans, credit cards, car loan, home mortgage, bills, etc. Before you know it, your debts owed become greater than your monthly income. Many people live paycheck to paycheck, leaving no finances left for any unforeseen situations, like car maintenance or an unexpected hospital visit. Not being able to overcome looming debt or financially sustain your way of life can take a significant toll on anyone.
2. Fulfilling work or life-related obligations
Being able to fulfil career or life-related obligations is also a significant trigger. Many jobs have strict deadlines and are performance-driven. Failure to meet or exceed expectations can lead to stress at the workplace. Such shortcomings may cause you to doubt your abilities and lead to worrying about job loss. For example, you are a sales manager, and your job is to obtain and maintain partnerships with other businesses successfully. If you fail to get contracts or lose existing ones, it could cost your company revenue and suggest poor job performance to your boss.
Everyone has certain obligations they must fulfil in life. There is a myriad of commitments each of us must face daily. For a single mother, it may be supporting her child. For a college student, it may be passing exams to be able to graduate. For a pilot, it may be getting his or her passengers safely to their ultimate destination. For a boyfriend, it may be impressing his girlfriend’s father. For a homeless individual, it may be finding their next meal or shelter. As you can see, life-related obligations are individualized based on your situation.
3. Traumatic events
Unforeseen, traumatic events can have a considerable impact on a person’s life. A car accident can leave one with expensive medical bills or a life-altering handicap. A young adult with a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia will ultimately have to become their caregiver. Being a victim of domestic violence or rape can result in stressful thoughts or memories that may feel insurmountable. Losing all of your belongings in a natural disaster or house fire would add stress to anyone’s life. The death of a loved one can lead to despair and uncertainty in how to go on with life.
4. Major life changes
Significant life changes can also be stressful at times. Purchasing your first home or vehicle may be stressful but also exciting at the same time. Going through a divorce or child custody case is a significant event that has a substantial impact on one’s future. Planning a wedding and making sure your particular “I do” day is nothing less than perfect definitely can be stressful. Well, at least until the reception…!
5. Public Speaking
Unless you are an extrovert who enjoys talking in front of large crowds, public speaking can be nerve-racking and send you into fight or flight mode. Most of us have been there presenting in front of an audience, whether it be academic or career-related. During the presentation, your heart begins to race, palms, and forehead become sweaty, and that feeling of anxiety kicks in. It is a common acute stressor than typically subsides once you become comfortable in front of your audience or once you are done speaking.
How to effectively handle stress using simples remedies
There are numerous ways to cope with and manage stress. There is medicine available to help treat both physical and mental symptoms, but not necessarily the underlying tension itself. The best remedies for stress management are non-pharmacological and start with YOU taking action in bettering yourself.
Exercise is a great way not only to get your mind off things, but also work the stress out of your body. Training can be any physical activity you enjoy and find comfortable. Not everyone is a bodybuilder or fitness enthusiast. Get some fresh air and go for a walk with your dog. Play a sport like basketball or soccer at your local fitness club. Do some light stretches or even some yoga to ease not only your body, but also your mind!
Hobbies are an essential aspect of life that should make you genuinely happy. Every person should have at least one hobby, if not more. It is necessary to spend time doing something you love and enjoy. Spending a reasonable amount of time each week on your hobby helps provide balance and makes daily stressors insignificant. Doing things you DO NOT enjoy, like public speaking, makes the things in life you DO want that much worthwhile.
Merely talking about your situation helps relieve some of the associated stress. Being able to connect and express your feelings will help you get any built-up emotions and worries off your chest. Having a friend, family member, or even a healthcare professional that can listen is the support you need. A positive support system can help you get through stressful times and may even be able to provide solutions on how to overcome or eliminate your stressors. The act of listening and communication is simple and yet powerful in its way.
What better way to ease our body and mind than relaxation!? Treat yourself to a spa day, massage, or a day filled with movies and popcorn. Meditation is also a simple technique that helps ease your mind and relax in silence. Something as simple as a cup of chamomile tea before bed, followed by a full night of restful sleep may be just the relaxation you needed.
5. Take responsibility
Lastly, take responsibility and own your situation. When you get knocked down in life, it may hurt for a while. But, the only way to manage and ultimately overcome your case is by taking responsibility and owning it. It is not going to be easy, of course, but the sense of accomplishment and fulfilment will be rewarding.
Now that you know how to recognize stress and effectively handle it, it is time for you not to fight it or flight from it. It is time for you to take responsibility and charge of it. Reduce your stress using these simple management techniques, and your worries of today will be a thing of the past. Know when you are stress overloaded and when to seek medical attention. Lastly, manage your stress effectively and do not let stress control you.
Dr. Alex Kolb, Pharm.D, R.Ph. is a licensed pharmacist, practicing in the long term care sector. He graduated from the University of New England College of Pharmacy in 2016.