How do you know that you are stressed? In other words, what are some early warning signs of stress, and what kinds of things might you notice when you experience stress?
Stress is not something easily defined, nor is it something that affects every person the same way. This means that the way stress feels and affects one person might not be the same for other people.
Stress is loosely defined as the body and brain's response to a demand. Those "demands" could be anything and are often referred to as "stressors." Stressors cause stress. That's an important component of stress: it's caused by something. It could be a bee flying close to your head, an upcoming exam, an upcoming interview, a race that you've been training for, a public speaking engagement, and so on. Additionally, your body can experience stress because of a traumatic event or major life change.
It's also important to note that stress is natural. It's not necessarily something to avoid. It's your body's way of preparing for a future ordeal or dealing with a current ordeal. In that regard, stress can actually be good for you. I always tell my health class that stressing about exams isn't necessarily a bad thing. Their stress can focus their efforts and energy levels while they prepare themselves for the upcoming tests.
While some stress is beneficial, chronic stress is overall harmful to health. Chronic stress is stress that is constant and remains even after the stressor is gone. Chronic stress is dangerous because it can weaken the immune system, slow down digestive processes, adversely affect sleep, lead to high blood pressure, and even cause heart disorders. Chronic stress can eventually lead to anxiety disorders and depression. Stress can also lead to psychosomatic symptoms. Things like muscle aches or headaches are common stress indicators.
Chronic stress should be avoided, but that's not necessarily possible; therefore, stress management is key. I teach my health class seven things to help with stress management.
- Identify the cause of the stress. Can the stressor be avoided or dealt with in another way?
- Plan ahead. For example, if you are stressing about exams, plan time to study and prepare. Feeling confident about the outcome can help manage stressful feelings.
- Get adequate sleep. Stress is hard on the body, and sleep helps repair and prepare the body.
- Exercise. This helps process out the adrenaline that stress produces. Additionally, exercise triggers the release of endorphins. Those are important because they are "feel good" hormones. They make you feel better.
- Eat nutritious foods. This helps the body operate at optimal levels.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Meditative breathing exercises are a good example.
- Find social support. Simply talking to people about your feelings can help relieve stress.
I've mentioned some signs and symptoms of stress in the previous paragraphs; however, I'd like to include a bullet point list of some common signs and symptoms of stress. Keep in mind that all of these signs and symptoms are not universal, nor are they all present in every stressful situation.
- Low energy levels
- Digestion problems, which can lead to things like diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Tense muscles and associated aches
- Excessive sweating
- Dry mouth
- Loss of sexual desire
- Frequent colds