Could you be more stressed than you think? [Photo: Getty]
Stress is a sneaky old thing. More often than not we’re so busy walking around in the foggy angst of modern life we barely even notice that we’re properly stressed. And we sure as hell don’t do anything about it, we just kind of get used to the haze.
“These days, many of us live under chronic stress. But our bodies can’t distinguish between late trains, missed appointments, spiralling debt, infuriating work colleagues, family disputes and the truly life-threatening stress it gears up to challenge. So it reacts exactly the same as it’s always done,” explains Dr Marilyn Glenville.
But though we might not notice the stress, it is still harming us. And letting it go unnoticed can leave us open to a whole heap of long-term problems including putting pressure on our reproductive system, upsetting our digestion, shutting down our immune system, increasing our blood pressure and risk of both stroke and heart attack. Oh and it prematurely ages us too! Yikes!
But much as we might think we’re tuned into our mental wellbeing and would definitely know if we were properly stressed out, we actually might have no idea. Because though our clever little bodies do try to send us subtle signals to alert us to our stressed state, sometimes they’re so subtle, we might just miss them. The thing is though, the quicker you deal with your fiery foe, the better chance you have of halting it and therefore minimising its effects. So it pays to be tuned in to the secret signs you’re more stressed than you think…
You’re having funky dreams
Dreams less about a rendezvous with Ryan Gosling and more being chased by a giant carrot? Yeah, you’re probably stressed. “Crazy dreams can be the result of too many stress hormones in the body. Being stressed can interrupt your normal sleep cycle which may result in strange, upsetting and often confusing dreams,” explains Helen Rutherford, Therapist at www.babylonhealth.com.
“When we have stress dreams you can often wake up feeling exhausted and like you haven’t slept. This can cause severe fatigue making you feel tired all the time.”
You’re addicted to social media
When you’ve had more Insta likes than actual conversations it might be time to consider your stress levels. “Spending increasing amounts of time looking at social media such as Facebook or Twitter is a way of avoiding situations or real-life interactions with others which could increase stress,” explains Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Leon Rozewicz, medical director of the Priory’s hospital in North London. “It is also a way of avoiding thinking about what is happening in your life.”
Your skin keeps breaking out
Everyone has a bad skin day, but stress can definitely up the ante on adult acne. “Stress is a contributor to acne, in particular, the unrelenting day-to-day stress of modern day living; including working long hours, digital dependency, not sleeping well, poor diet and not taking time for ourselves,” explains Dr. Murad, dermatologist and founder of Murad Skincare. “This is what I call Cultural Stress. Stress stimulates the adrenal glands to produce DHEA which causes breakouts and will often show itself as spots/acne from the nose down.”
You’ve got a pain in the neck/back/wherever
And it’s not because you over did it at the gym! “How we’re feeling directly affects how we hold our body. When we’re stressed we tense our muscles, causing our body to seize up. Over time, this can affect the alignment of our body leading to back and joint pain,” explains Tam Johnston, The Mindologist from Fresh Insight Coaching.
“Generally speaking, we have a bodily response to the emotions we are feeling and can store our emotions in our body. So if you experience severe body pain and there are no physical reasons for it, it could well be due to stress.”
You’re micro-managing your partner/kids/work colleagues
“Micro-managing and being over involved in the lives of others is an attempt to get control of your life by managing those around you,” explains Dr Leon Rozewicz. “It is often a ‘displacement’ activity to avoid stress, and it enables you to avoid thinking about your problems.”
You’re suddenly scared of something that’s never bothered you before
They’ve never bothered you before, but a teeny tiny spider scuttles across the floor and it sends you running, screaming out of the room. “General stress can sometimes cause a loss of confidence about things you have never previously worried about, such as new fears of driving on a motorway or unfamiliar roads is quite a common response, probably because of changes in concentration when overloaded with worry,” explains Julia Cole, a senior psychotherapist at Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in Southampton
You’ve become a coach potato
Blown your friends out again? Got a permanent you-shaped imprint on your sofa cushions? Gym kit gathering dust in the corner? “If your head and body is full of stress you’re likely to withdraw from your usual activities, such as social plans, as it can all seem a bit too difficult or overwhelming to deal with,” explains Tam Johnston. “If you ‘want to be alone’ and it’s out of character, this could yet another hidden sign of the underlying stress you’re feeling which affects your mood and coping skills.”
You can’t help over indulging
More than your usual Friday night blow out, we mean. “In an attempt to relax you may find yourself over indulging in food, cigarettes and alcohol,” explains Helen Rutherford. “You may not be aware of over indulging at the time if you are not aware of your stress. This can be your way of subconsciously dealing with your stress.”
You’re overly ‘busy’
"Avoiding boredom at all costs is a sign that a person is addicted to stimulation,” says Dr Helen Johnson is founder of Goddess Acumen. “We are hyper-stimulated in our society and sometimes we can actually be scared to simply sit with ourselves and ‘be’ without finding something to distract us. The constant stimulation is actually making us feel worse but we end up running from silence and quiet because we’re scared to actually feel or experience whatever comes. Usually, it’s the quiet that we need. So - fear of boredom. It’s a sure sign!”
You can’t shake that cold
“Stress can also suppress your immune system,” says Tam Johnston. “So if you keep getting ongoing viruses and you put it down to ‘just being run down’ have a think about whether or not your stress levels could be contributing to this.”
You’ve gone off sex
Another headache? “Chronic stress isn’t the best thing to get you ‘in the mood’ in the bedroom. It zaps your energy levels and puts your mind is into overdrive which can reduce your sexual libido,” Tam Johnston continues. “Whilst it can be a stress reliever for some, for others libido can be diminished. Worse still, guilt or pressure to provide for your partner can lead to ‘performance anxiety’ compounding the causes of stress in your life.”
What to do if you are stressed?
“Sadly, depression, stress and anxiety are bedfellows,” warns Tam Johnston. “The key things is, don’t ignore it thinking it will get better. Take action and look for these signs.”
If you are experiencing stress and anxiety these ten steps to a calmer mind might help:-
Understand and believe that you are in control
Know your trigger points - what causes you to feel overwhelmed?
Maintain a healthy lifestyle and don’t use substances such as nicotine, alcohol and caffeine as coping mechanisms
Use your time wisely, pause to prioritise your day and focus on what matters
Manage expectations – if you over promise and under deliver that will feed your stress. This also applies to expectations you apply to yourself.
Take time out
Focus on the things you can control and accept the things you cannot change
Minimise contact with situations that make it worse
See things differently and focus on how you want them to be
Seek external support if you need to
How can you tell you’re stressed? Let us know @YahooStyleUK