Understanding and Dealing With Stress
Introduction > What Is Stress? > Signs of Stress > Dealing with Stress > Long Term Strategies > Resources
Physical and Mental Signs of Stress
You've heard before that recognizing when you are under stress is the first step in learning how to deal with your stress, but what does that mean? Sometimes we are so used to living with stress, we don't know how to identify it.
Whether you are experiencing immediate or short-term stress or have been experiencing stress for a long time or long-term stress, your body and mind may be showing the effects. Here are some 'warning signs' that stress is affecting your body and mind.
Physical and Mental Signs of Short-term Stress
Often occurring in quick 'bursts' in reaction to something in your environment, short-term stress can affect your body in many ways. Some examples include:
- Making your heartbeat and breath faster
- Making you sweat more
- Leaving you with cold hands, feet, or skin
- Making you feel sick to your stomach or giving you 'butterflies'
- Tightening your muscles or making you feel tense
- Leaving your mouth dry
- Making you have to go to the bathroom frequently
- Increasing muscle spasms, headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath
While this burst of energy may help you in physical situations where your body needs to react quickly, it can have bad effects on your mind and performance if there is no outlet or reason for your stress. These effects may include:
- Interfering with your judgment and causing you to make bad decisions
- Making you see difficult situations as threatening
- Reducing your enjoyment and making you feel bad
- Making it difficult for you to concentrate or to deal with distraction
- Leaving you anxious, frustrated or mad
- Making you feel rejected, unable to laugh, afraid of free time, unable to work, and not willing to discuss your problems with others
Physical and Mental Signs of Long-term Stress
Long-term stress or stress that is occurring over long periods of time can have an even greater effect on your body and mind. Long-term stress can affect your body by:
- Changing your appetite (making you eat either less or more)
- Changing your sleep habits (either causing you to sleep too much or not letting you sleep enough)
- Encouraging 'nervous' behavior such as twitching, fiddling, talking too much, nail biting, teeth grinding, pacing, and other repetitive habits
- Causing you to catch colds or the flu more often and causing other illnesses such as asthma, headaches, stomach problems, skin problems, and other aches and pains
- Affecting your sex life and performance
- Making you feel constantly tired and worn out
Long-term stress can also have serious effects on your mental health and behavior. If you are under stress for long periods of time, you may find that you have difficulty thinking clearly, dealing with problems, or even handling day-to-day situations as simple as shaving, picking up clothes or arriving somewhere on time. Some mental signs of long-term stress include:
- Worrying and feeling anxious (which can sometimes lead to anxiety disorder and panic attacks)
- Feeling out of control, overwhelmed, confused, and/or unable to make decisions
- Experiencing mood changes such as depression, frustration, anger, helplessness, irritability, defensiveness, irrationality, overreaction, or impatience and restlessness
- Increasing dependence on food, cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs
- Neglecting important things in life such as work, school, and even personal appearance
- Developing irrational fears of things such as physical illnesses, natural disasters like thunderstorms and earthquakes, and even being terrified of ordinary situations like heights or small spaces
While occasionally experiencing one or two of the above symptoms may not be cause for concern (everyone has a few nervous habits and difficulties in their lives!), having a number of these symptoms may mean you are under more stress than you think. But realizing you are under stress is the first step in learning to deal with stress. We recommend you take our stress test then read on to learn more about dealing with stress.
Next: Take the Stress Test: Are You Stressed?