You’re flustered, your chest tightens up, you feel overwhelmed and you snap at the people around you. This is not uncommon for someone experiencing stress. Sometimes it can be difficult understanding stress, and other times you might not even know or recognize that you are stressed. Let’s walk through some emotional and body cues to help identify and understand stress.
Understanding stress, what it is
Quite simply stated, stress is an uncomfortable feeling in a certain situation that may hinder performance. It is your body’s way of responding or reacting to a threatening or demanding situation. Your body can respond to these situations or changes physically, emotionally or mentally. Stress is a part of normal, every day life and, in its positive sense, is there to protect you. However, if stress gets heightened for extended periods of time it may become a hindrance and can affect your health and well-being negatively.
Everyone needs small doses of stress because this is what keeps your body and mind stay focused, alert, responsive and energetic. It can help you get out of a potentially dangerous situation (for example running from a burning building), or help you to rise up and meet a certain challenge (for example studying for an exam to avoid failure). Stress releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which triggers your “fight-or-flight” response.
It is, however, common for stress levels to increase and linger for extended periods of time, which as a result can turn into chronic stress which becomes unhealthy. If you frequently get stressed, and if you dwell on this stress for a long time, your emergency stress system becomes activated and it becomes increasingly difficult to shut off and can cause other serious health issues. These heightened stress levels can lead to suppressed immune and digestive systems, among other things. This in turn can make you more prone to anxiety attacks, depression and other mental health problems. It is therefore important to recognize and maintain healthy stress levels.
Cues that tell you, “you’re stressed”
How then, can we identify potentially stressful situations in order to minimize the negative effects of stress and keep them at a healthy level? One thing about stress is that it can become a very familiar or “normal” feeling because you can easily get used to the feeling, and this could potentially take a heavy toll on you without you even noticing it. If you can understand the warning signs of stress quickly, then you can manage it effectively so that it does not get out of hand and affect you negatively.
Below we will look at some ways we can recognize that we are feeling stressed.
Look at these emotions and then answer the question that follows:
Think back to a time when you were stressed. Which of the emotions did you feel when you were in the stressful situation?
You could feel one or more of these emotions when you are stressed. More often than not, a person would feel any of the following: sad, depressed, sick, angry, annoyed, moody, frustrated, tense, overwhelmed. It is also not uncommon for some people to feel, say: hyper, furious or even bored.
Typically, when I am stressed, I feel the following: At first I would start feeling tense and then quickly overwhelmed. As a result of these feelings, I start to get a little sick, which leads me feeling annoyed and frustrated. I start getting moody and start snapping at people and other situations for no apparent reason. And ultimately that makes me feel depressed which leads back to feeling tense and overwhelmed. It’s almost like an endless cycle of horrible emotions.
Now, it might not be exactly like this for you, but perhaps you feel something similar. Nothing about the “stressful” situation feels pleasant, and you may want to bash your head into your desk, or perhaps just lie in bed with the covers over your head and yell into your pillow at the top of your lungs. And that’s OK. I’m not saying you should harm yourself in any way, I am simply implying that everyone feels and deals with stress in different ways. The important thing to know is that stress is just a series of different emotions due to a certain situation. When we learn how to identify and understand our emotions, we will more easily be able to deal with our stress.
Now we can look at how our body reacts to stress. To understand your body reaction, think about when you feel stressed. What does your body feel or do when you are stressed? Fill in your body or physical reactions that you experience below to get a clearer picture:
Let me show you how I normally feel when stressed (sometimes it may be one, more or all of these):
Again, this may be different to how you feel or what your body experiences, but quite often it’s usually not a pleasant sensation.
Something to keep in mind
Stress manifests itself in different ways, but there are some common symptoms that allow us to recognize if we are experiencing too much stress over a long period. It is important that we are able to recognize these symptoms within our self as well as in those around us. By being able to do so we can seek help and help others. If you feel that you cannot deal with the stressor alone then I would urge you to talk to a professional who can assist you. And remember I am also always here to help where I can
Keep in mind, that stress is not a bad thing, but it is the excess of stress and being in a heightened state that is harmful to our health and well-being.
I hope you found this article useful, and please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.