Let’s face it, stress is inevitable. Oftentimes, it’s something you’ll encounter every day. But, not all stress is bad! To a degree, stress can even be beneficial. According to UC Berkeley, it keeps you on your toes which can help boost your performance and drive you toward your goals. With that said, it’s important to look out for signs of too much stress and keep your levels in check.
To better understand the why here’s what happens that leads to those frenzied feelings. When stressed, your sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) kicks into gear. Think: accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, maybe even a nervous sweat. After the stressor ends, your parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) takes over. It’s that system that ushers in a sense of calm and allows you to adequately recover from the stressor.
Acute stress in healthy individuals is typically normal and even beneficial. However, if the stressors keep coming and don’t let up, it can turn problematic. We weren’t built to fend off an email inbox that grows by the hour, or long workdays that bleed into late-night hours. As chronic stress builds up, your physical and mental health can suffer.
Ahead, we’re breaking down the warning signs of too much stress and providing you with simple tips to navigate those high-stress situations.
Note: If stress is interfering with your quality of life, don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider. You don’t have to go it alone! And, if you have any concerns, always check in with your doctor to rule out anything else that could be underlying.
5 Signs of Too Much Stress
#1 You’re Tired All The Time
If you feel constantly spent, you may actually be overstressed, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Maybe you’re overscheduled and running from one thing to the next during the day. Or, maybe your mind reels at night (what didn’t I get to today? What do I have to remember to do tomorrow?) keeping you awake in bed. What’s more, these feelings disrupt your Zzz’s: past research shows that stress has been associated with decreases in restorative sleep and more wake-ups during the night.
#2 Headaches Are Happening More Often
When you’re knee-deep in a task, do you tend to push yourself to the extreme (e.g., not allowing breaks)? Or, maybe you see everything as a make-or-break situation. Interestingly, those anxiety-led reactions tend to trigger headaches, according to research in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Stepping back and gaining some perspective on the task can help decrease the chances of a headache.
#3 Your Digestion is Off
Heartburn, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, constipation: what’s your GI woe? These digestive dysfunctions can be signs of too much stress. Remember — stress takes your body out of “rest and digest” mode, which oftentimes results in a sluggish digestive system. So, take this as a sign to check in with your emotions, step away from your computer, and take 10 minutes for lunch.
#4 Increased Heart Rate
During periods of high stress, you may be familiar with that racing heart feeling. An increase in heart rate is a physiological response to stress, including the release of adrenaline. If you find this happening during periods of stress, stop and take a few deep breaths. Harvard Health states that deep abdominal breathing can help slow breathing while also stabilizing blood pressure.
Note that a rapid heart rate can be caused by a number of other underlying conditions, so always check in with your health care provider with any concerns or anything that’s new and usual for your body.
#5 You’re Getting More Sick Than Usual
Feel like you’re constantly under the weather, way more than usual? It may be time to evaluate your stress levels. Research shows that stress can have a negative effect on our immune systems, making us more susceptible to illness. Don’t let stress get you down! Implement some stress-reducing practices into your daily routine during those more stressful seasons of life.
3 Daily Habits to Reduce Stress
Committing to practicing healthy habits will go a long way to turning down the heat on stress. But we know that’s easier said than done, so feel free to inch your way toward these three goals.
Remember: small bits of progress can make a big difference in your ability to process and manage stress.
#1 Prioritize Sleep
There are so many nights when you finally sit down to relax, but you look at the clock, and it’s already time for bed. And while it may be tempting to procrastinate bedtime with a scroll through social media or Netflix binge, you’re better off tucking in instead. Better sleep has been found to buffer the negative mood effects of stress, per a 2017 study. Translation, you’ll be more even-headed and less reactive tomorrow.
#2 Get Moving
Physical activity is one of the best ways to counteract the craziness in your life. Of course, it might feel difficult to fit movement into an always-packed schedule. But it’s worth it. Non-exercisers who encountered a stressful situation reported a bigger dip in mood compared to people who exercise at least once per week. What does that tell you? That you’re more resilient to stress when you carve out a 20-minute weight sesh, power walk with a friend in the morning, or do a 10-minute HIIT workout in your living room between calls. Open up the FitOn app for a library full of FREE workouts that you can take anywhere, anytime.
#3 Take a Breath
When you feel those frenzied feelings welling up, stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. These can be diaphragmatic or belly breaths (where you fill your belly with air with each inhale) or a special breathing technique, such as a box breath or Lion’s breath (YouTube is a great resource for learning these fun breaths.)
Deep breathing triggers your vagus nerve, your body’s calm-down center, helping you to instantaneously shift into a more calmer, I’ve-got-this mindset. Because you do.
Chronic stress affects your body and mind in so many ways. By recognizing the signs that your stress is out-of-control, you can take on the simmer-down strategies that will help you feel like a calmer, happier, and healthier version of yourself.
Looking for a simple place to start? If you haven’t joined our community yet, sign up for free and get access to unlimited free workouts and meditations, to make adding movement and stress-reducing practices into your life simple.