Everyone experiences stress – that’s a fact of life! Stress affects our mind (brain), body and behaviour in different ways. Stress is connected to many major diseases: cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and to conditions such as high blood pressure and faster aging. In fact, research shows that 60-90% of illness is stress-related. It can also ruin our personal and professional relationships - if we don’t manage it in positive ways. Over time, unmanaged stress can lead to anxiety disorders and other forms of mental illness. Learning to recognise the signs of stress is the first step towards healthy stress management.
Signs of Stress
Stress manifests itself through physical, emotional, cognitive (the way we think) and behavioural changes which vary from person to person.
Some physical symptoms of stress are: stomach ulcers, heartburn and other digestive disorders, muscle pain and stiffness, weight gain or weight loss, diarrhoea or constipation, skin breakouts (e.g. hives, eczema, “zits”), nausea, dizziness, headache, backache, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart disease, shallow breathing, frequent colds, poor immune system, asthma, diabetes, PMS, irregular menstrual periods, impotence in men, infertility and stunted growth in children.
Emotional symptoms include: irritability, impatience, short temper, moodiness, depression, restlessness, inability to relax, feeling “on edge”, sense of loneliness and feeling overwhelmed.
Cognitive symptoms include: anxious/racing thoughts, poor judgement, excessive worrying, hypersensitivity (being easily offended/taking offence when none was intended), seeing only the negative side of things/loss of objectivity, forgetfulness, indecisiveness, inability to concentrate, difficulty thinking clearly and anticipating the worse in all situations.
Included among the behavioural symptoms are: using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax, nervous habits (teeth grinding, jaw clenching, nail biting, pacing, shaking legs, tapping foot), procrastination, neglecting responsibilities, sleeping too much or too little, difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep, picking fights with others, isolating yourself from others, eating too much or too little, over-reacting to unexpected problems and overdoing activities (e.g. excessive exercising, shopping). These signs of stress can also be caused by other medical problems so, if you’re experiencing any of them, it’s important to see your family physician first. S/he will help you to determine whether or not your symptoms are stress-related.
There are many ways to manage stress - without drugs - and you will definitely find one, or more, that’s right for you. These include (but are not limited to):