By Mandy Parsons
We all encounter stress in our daily lives. Whether it’s from pressures at work, relationship dynamics, financial strain, or health challenges, stress is an inevitable part of the human experience.
But let’s be clear: All stress isn’t bad. Some mental tension can boost our productivity and motivate us to achieve goals or make necessary changes, both personally and professionally.
But what about stress in excess? Is it healthy for our minds and bodies to remain in a constant state of fight-or-flight? Reading this you may be wondering, Am I under too much stress? How can you know how much stress is too much? These are questions only you can answer. However, the following information may be helpful in determining whether excess stress is affecting your health.
Stress’ Impact on Your Mind and Body
According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, moderate stress can have some benefits such as increased alertness, performance, and improved memory. Also, by nature, some individuals are better able to navigate stressful situations with fewer negative consequences.
But what about those of us who don’t handle stress well and become easily overwhelmed, or even debilitated, by too much stress? The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that there is a connection between increased levels of perceived stress and long-term cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease. This connection has been corroborated by other medical sources like the National Library of Medicine, who published a study linking chronic psychological distress to late-life dementia.
In addition to decreased cognitive function, prolonged stress can affect us psychologically as well. The UK’s Mental Health Foundation discovered that 51% of adults who felt stressed reported feeling depressed, and 61% felt anxious.
Furthermore, chronic stress often leads to physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease, digestive issues, fluctuations in weight, a suppressed immune system, and sleep disturbances, among other concerns.
How Much Stress Is Too Much?
How do you know when stress is too much? Although stress tolerance varies from person to person, here are some signs you may be suffering from stress overload:
- Body Aches and Pains
Do you experience persistent headaches, chest pain, or muscle tension that cannot be attributed to other underlying factors like age or a previous injury?
- Appetite Changes
Are you overeating to cope with stress in your life? Or, conversely, have you noticed a significant loss of appetite due to stress?
- Changes in Libido
Have you suddenly lost interest in sex? Are you distracted or preoccupied to the point of being unable to relax or enjoy sexual intimacy?
- Decreased Energy
Do you constantly feel tired or depleted for no apparent reason? Is your sleep disrupted or are you battling insomnia, making it difficult to remain alert during waking hours?
- Anxiety or Depression
Have you noticed an uncharacteristic change in your mood? What about increased heart rate or sweating? Do you struggle with feelings of sadness or hopelessness because of inescapable stress?
These are only a few symptoms of excessive stress. Moreover, many of the above can be caused by reasons other than stress, so it’s important to evaluate when and why these changes began.
Tips to Help Reduce Stress
If you suffer from unhealthy stress, it’s not too late to improve your situation. How you respond to stress can determine your future physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Experts suggest considering whether you can eliminate the biggest sources of stress in your life. That may mean finding a new work opportunity or shutting down toxic relationships. Asking for help when you need it and delegating tasks when appropriate can also make a huge difference. And don’t forget to take advantage of the mental health screening at your next doctor’s visit to see what kind of information it can offer.
In addition, consider the following tips for better managing your stress:
- Prioritize daily exercise and physical activity
- Practice deep breathing, mediation, or visualization exercises to keep you in a good mental space
- Take a break from the news or electronic devices
- Engage in a hobby regularly to allow yourself a diversion from stress
- Eat healthy foods and get enough sleep
- Avoid numbing out with food, alcohol, or substances
- Make time for family and friends
- Recognize when you need professional help
Meeting with a doctor, therapist, or other mental health professional may help you to identify the cause of your stress and create a personalized treatment plan.
We’re Here for You
If stress is affecting your health or quality of life, we are here to help. Onward is committed to supporting Meadows Behavior Healthcare Alumni with ongoing resources and community. Reach out today to let us come alongside you in your wellness journey with whatever you need.