Longer days; more work; less vacation; later retirement…do any of these sound familiar?
The truth is that most people are dealing with one or more of these situations in their life. In addition, most people believe that they are underpaid and overextended in their working lives. Combining the pressures of work with having to manage a hectic personal schedule can mean a very stressful existence.
Here are 9 signs you’re overstressed (and how to relax):
1. You become more anxious
Anxiety and stress are two sides of the same coin. Where one is present, the other one will be as well. Physical symptoms of anxiety often include muscle tension, rapid breathing, fast heartbeat, sweating, dizziness and fatigue.
Constant feelings of anxiety can result in an anxiety disorder such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD). As a consequence, the anxiety manifests itself as uncontrollable worrying about bad things that may happen.
Practicing stress-management and relaxation techniques can help in dealing with the anxiety that results from stress. In some instances, you may want to seek help from a mental wellness professional who can counsel you on how to counteract the presence of anxiety in your life. There are also safe medications available if you and your doctor decide on that option.
2. You become more impatient
Constantly dealing with stressful situations can also reduce your patience level. Having a disposition of impatience can increase the damage that these stresses cause.
People who become more impatient will experience physical signs such as muscle tension, hand clenching and shallow breathing. Mental processes can also be affected, causing more irritability, anxiousness and impulsiveness.
If you experience symptoms of impatience, you need to find the true cause, or “trigger.” Make a list of things that are causing you to experience impatience and avoid or minimize your contact with these triggers.
Being aware of your breath, practicing mini-meditations, and exercise can assist with improving your patience and tolerance levels.
3. You lose your temper more quickly
When experiencing a stressful situation, your mental capacities diminish. As a result, you are more impulsive and it is easier to lose your temper. When you lose your temper, your anger overwhelms you and results in trouble communicating, and you often end up saying things that you later regret.
When you lose your cool, nothing good comes out of it. It will make you feel worse, make your situation worse, and cause additional problems that you’ll have to fix later. Try to think twice before allowing anger to control you and the situation by thinking about the consequences.
Walk away, breathe slowly, or take a quick break…losing your temper is not worth the negative consequences.
4. You forget things more often
Do you notice that when you’re stressed, it’s easier to forget things? You misplace your keys, forget important events, and fail to remember to complete work needing to be done.
This happens because stress has a negative impact on memory. According to neuroscientists and other experts, stress influences the part of the brain that processes information and is responsible for memorization. More specifically, the electrical signals in the brain that are associated with the formation of factual memories weaken when emotions (such as stress) strengthen.
The next time that you are under stress, remember that your brain’s default response is to enhance the emotional aspect, diminishing the ability to think logically. Remembering that your mental capacities diminish as a result will change your response; allowing you to more easily form memories in the brain.
5. You lose your focus more
Stress occupies your mind with worry and distracts you from the focus required to manage everyday life. When this happens, productivity worsens and we feel little control over our mental processes.
According to a study done by Harvard University, this lack of feeling in control can lead to obsessive thinking, further inhibiting our ability to focus when it is needed. Self-induced stress is often the root cause of our inability to focus on what needs to be done.
One highlight of the Harvard study is very noteworthy. When we attempt to suppress our negative thoughts by “willing” away these contemplations, it only serves to make the thoughts more prevalent. The remedy for this is to allow these thoughts to simply fade away without any conscious effort. Doing so will allow us to focus our brains on what is in front of us instead of our impulses.
Practices such as single-tasking and minimizing distractions can dramatically help with focus.
6. You procrastinate more
Procrastination negatively affects both your career and your personal life. The inability to concentrate on what needs to be done results in feeling overwhelmed, resentful and guilty.
When stressed, it is very difficult to work productively. When we feel unproductive, we have a tendency to not want to work. This is when procrastination becomes a coping mechanism to deal with the stress. However, this mechanism is counterproductive because we often fail to meet our obligations…resulting in more stress.
Dr. Neil Fiore, author of the book The Now Habit suggests that making scheduled time for enjoyment can be an effective way to overcome procrastination. This means scheduling in advance the amount of time that is spent on entertainment, exercise, family time, hobbies, and social activities. This serves as a reminder to enjoy ourselves and that we don’t have to procrastinate on work to do so.
7. You solve problems slower
As mentioned, stress has a negative impact on our brains. When stressed, our brains release the stress hormone norepinephrine, leading to a state of increased arousal. This arousal inhibits our ability to access the mental resources necessary to think flexibility, which affects our ability to solve problems.
Of course, avoiding the situations that inhibit our ability to think flexibly and practicing relaxation techniques are the natural ways to counteract this problem. As with most other symptoms of stress, it may also be wise to seek some kind of medical assistance.
8. You have more negative thoughts
Negative thoughts and a pessimistic outlook are telltale signs of being stressed out. This is a direct result of the chemical changes in the brain when we experience stress. This is commonsensical, yet we often fail to effectively manage reoccurring negative thoughts.
There are two solutions for this problem: not dwelling on negative thoughts and positive thinking.
As we’ve mentioned in prior articles, negative thoughts are automatic. These negative thoughts reflect a condition (stress in this case), but do not correlate with who you truly are as a person. Don’t allow you thoughts to sabotage you by dwelling on them. Don’t acknowledge their presence and just let them simply fade away.
Positive thinking simply means that you deal with stressful situations in a more positive way. To practice positive thinking, begin with self-talk – the unspoken thoughts that seem to run constantly through your head. This is important, as the manner in which you communicate with yourself affects your thinking, emotions, and self-esteem.
By learning to practice affirmations and rewarding yourself for a job well done will increase your positive self-talk. Other things that can do to increase positive self-talk include reading more, being creative, spending time around positive people, having fun, and setting goals. It may indeed take some time to realize the benefits of positive self-talk, but it will happen if you are patient.
9. You experience sickness and pain more often
Stress has a negative effect on your body because it causes the body to release more hormones, suppresses the immune system, and produces tension in the head and body.
When your brain releases more hormones (such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine) it can produce tension headaches and migraines. The National Institutes of Health have reported that people who practice relaxation and stress-management techniques reduce their number of headaches by as much as 35 to 50 percent.
Stress also causes tension, which triggers the sympathetic nervous system to reduce blood flow to the muscles. Back aches and pains are often the result, as are muscle spasms. Further, people experiencing stress have a tendency to tense their neck and shoulder muscles which makes the back and other areas of the body vulnerable to pain. In this case, it helps to be aware of your posture and avoid stressful situations.
The immune system is also suppressed when stress is prevalent. As a result, we are more likely to become sick. Individuals who experience frequent stress are much more vulnerable to illnesses such as colds and the flu. Avoiding stress whenever possible, and taking supplements such as Vitamin C or a multivitamin may protect against this vulnerability.
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