Knowing the warning signs is an important step toward better health.
In a previous article we talked about how chronic stress is harmful to your health — it’s linked to cardiac disease and GI problems, screws with your circadian rhythms and your immune system, and affects your mood and personality, to name just a few.
Again, the focus is on chronic stress, that kind that’s always present. In fact, those who are chronically stressed might not even realize it. They’re used to feeling that way and can come to regard how they feel as normal.
That wouldn’t be so bad, except that if you can’t tell whether or not you suffer from chronic stress, you can’t do something about it. Furthermore, you may think that, because you don’t any of the issues that cause chronic stress, such as financial problems, work overload, etc., you couldn’t possibly be stressed out.
Unfortunately, you would be wrong to think this way. Those are external factors, but there are also internal factors, things that spring from your psychological make-up, that can play a role. Worrying about everything, being generally negative or pessimistic, over-reacting to situations, being rigid and inflexible, and having unrealistic expectations can make you a chronic stress candidate. The problem with these is that they actually feed on themselves — the stress caused by worrying or a negative attitude will further cause you to worry and have a negative attitude which in turn fuels more stress, on and on.
A lot of research has been done to help you identify the symptoms that are associated with chronic stress, and it’s important to know what these are. That’s particularly true as we get older because our bodies are more vulnerable and don’t recover as quickly.
Here’s what researchers have uncovered:
Aches and Pains
- Chronic neck or back pain, shoulders held high up toward the ears, muscle cramping, headaches, jaw or tooth pain from grinding teeth.
Diarrhea, constipation, nausea, changes in eating habits (either eating more or less), chronic indigestion or upset stomach, regularly feel butterflies or uneasiness in the stomach.
Circulatory and Respiratory
- Rapid heart beat and chest pains
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Cold hands and feet.
- More frequent illnesses, such as colds, that last longer than normal.
- Grind teeth and have hands clenched into fists, nervous habits such as nail biting, pacing, or twitching.
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep, chronic fatigue, loss of sex drive.
- Rely on alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Neglect responsibilities.
Other Physical symptoms
- Bouts of itchy skin, rashes, and acne.
- Difficulty in losing belly fat despite dieting and exercise.
- Impaired memory,
- Racing thoughts, hard to concentrate and make decisions.
- Constant worrying, nervousness, anxiety, and panic attacks.
- Suffer depression, experience bouts of sadness, insecurity, loneliness, or general unhappiness
- Bizarre or recurring dreams that are upsetting
- Apathetic, don’t enjoy activities as much
- Easily agitated, argumentative, hostile, and quick tempered, and prone to moodiness, irritability, anger.
- Feel isolated and disconnected, socially withdrawn.
Now we should point out that not everyone experiences stress in the same way. So you may experience some of these symptoms but not others. And if you experience 1 or 2 only on rare occasions, you may not be chronically stressed — your stomach ache could just be gas. Furthermore, there’s no magic number — we can’t say that if you have only a couple you’re not chronically stressed, but a couple more puts you over the edge. However, what is known is that, if you have only a few symptoms but they’re severe, you may be more stressed than you think.
If you’re not sure where you fall on the totally calm-totally stressed continuum, it’s best to err on the conservative side, and adopt ways to reduce you stress levels.
That’s what we’ll cover in our next installment — stress reduction techniques.