Stress in small doses can be a good thing. It can help push us to get things done on time. It can give you the adrenaline rush to cope with some scary situations. Experiencing stress is a normal part of being human and with each stressful experience you are likely to become more resilient and better able to cope next time you are in a tricky situation.
That said, when stress is chronic and it starts to take over every corner of your life, then it’s by no means a great thing to be living with.
It can be helpful to think about stress on a spectrum and try to recognise when you start slipping into what is often called the stress danger zone, where stress starts to take over your life.
Warning signs to look out for include:
1) Feeling moody
Have you noticed yourself feeling less patient than usual? Have you been snapping at the people who are closest to you? Stress can affect our mood and make us feel a whole lot more sensitive than usual when even the most trivial things don’t go to plan.
2) Feeling sleepy
Are you tired a lot of the time? Does a night’s sleep not refresh you in the way it usually does? Do you feel burnt out and wish you could sleep for a week? Do you have worries flooding through your brain as you try to sleep? It can be very frustrating that when we are feeling most tired and stressed we find it harder to sleep. Noticing that you’re sleep deprived is a common sign that you’re stressed.
3) Changed eating patterns
Do you find yourself reaching out for quick and easy fast food without any care for its nutritional value? Perhaps you feel so busy that you haven’t got time to plan and prepare your meals. Maybe you crave sugar, caffeine and salty foods. These foods give a quick boost of energy, but this doesn’t last, and you have likely noticed a drop in your mood and energy soon afterwards, which leaves you reaching for more. Spotting a change in the foods you’re eating is often a warning sign of stress as it’s likely you’re looking for a quick fix for your difficult emotions and energy levels.
4) Feeling ill
Do you feel ill and can’t work out why? Headaches and pains in other parts of your body such as your back, stomach, chest and shoulders can all be signs that you’re stressed. Maybe you’ve been feeling sick or dizzy, had constipation or diarrhoea, or had skin rashes. Often unexplained physical health issues can be linked to stress.
With all these warning signs your body is trying to tell you to slow down and to take time to look after yourself. Can you listen to your body and find a way to look after yourself? Think about what works for you to help you relax and take your mind off stressful things.
Are you able to take some time off to rest and take yourself out of the stressful situation you are in? This may involve talking to your GP to get signed off work or asking for an extension on that uni assignment.
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Chloe Foster has a background in working in mental health and youth work. Today she runs Sussex Rainbow Counselling where she specialises in counselling LGBTQ clients online.
Chloe holds a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapeutic humanistic counselling from The University of Brighton. She is also an approved accredited registrant member of the National Counselling Society, and an accredited gender, sexuality and relationship diversities therapist with Pink Therapy.