Stress affecting mental health is an inevitable part of life. We all experience it in some form – whether it’s work deadlines, financial pressures, or relationship issues. While a small amount of stress can actually be beneficial and motivate us, prolonged and chronic stress can severely impact our mental health.
As we move into 2023, it’s important to be aware of the key signs that stress is affecting our mental wellbeing. Spotting these early warning signs can allow us to take action to manage stress before it leads to more serious conditions like anxiety and depression.
Physical symptoms of stress affecting mental health
One of the most common early signs of stress affecting mental health is physical symptoms. When we’re stressed, this triggers our body’s fight-or-flight response.
Adrenaline and cortisol flood the body, causing headaches, muscle tension, stomach issues, and even chest pain is leads to stress affecting mental health.
Pay attention to any unusual aches, pains, or digestive issues, as your body may be trying to get your attention that something is wrong.
Ongoing headaches, back pain, rapid heartbeat, and digestive distress can all signal rising stress levels affecting mental wellbeing.
Feeling constantly drained or fatigued is another red flag. While some tiredness is normal, prolonged low energy, needing a lot of extra sleep, and feeling physically or mentally exhausted are clear markers of high stress.
When we’re stressed for long periods of time, it puts great strain on the body and mind and prevents true rest and recovery. Listen to your body’s need for more rest as a sign to examine stress sources and make time for relaxation. Slowing down and recharging your batteries helps rebalance stressed systems.
One of the most obvious signs of prolonged stress is increased anxiety levels. Racing thoughts, panic attacks, feeling constantly “on edge”, and worrying excessively are all symptoms of anxiety directly fueled by high stress.
Anxiety makes us overestimate threats and dangers, even when there is no real imminent risk. Pay attention if you regularly feel tense, struggle to relax, or have intrusive worrisome thoughts. Managing stress can help reduce anxiety to more manageable levels.
While stress and depression are not the same thing, chronic stress often leads to depression. If you notice feeling low, hopeless, unmotivated, or sad more days than not, your stress levels may be affecting your mental health.
Other symptoms include losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, self-isolation, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and difficulty concentrating. Take these emotional changes seriously as signs you need to re-evaluate sources of stress.
Do you find yourself more irritable, impatient, quick to anger, and “short tempered” lately?
Do you find yourself more irritable, impatient, quick to anger, and “short tempered” lately? High stress limits our ability to manage emotions effectively.
You may snap at loved ones more easily, get agitated by small annoyances, or have less tolerance for obstacles that get in your way. Look for frequently losing your cool, yelling, or having emotional outbursts as clues stress may be taking its toll.
Having difficulty concentrating or remembering things can also indicate overloaded stress responses interfering with mental clarity. You may struggle to focus during work or conversations, find your mind wandering, or feel unable to think clearly.
Forgetfulness might include frequently misplacing items, forgetting appointments or obligations, or blanking on simple words. Tuning out during conversations and “zoning out” in front of screens can also suggest overload.
Watch out for either insomnia – trouble falling or staying asleep – or excessive sleep and wanting to sleep all the time. Stress hormones and ongoing worry disrupt normal sleep-wake cycles and alter healthy sleep architecture. Tossing and turning in bed or having racing thoughts make it tough to fall asleep.
Sleeping excessively or wanting to sleep during the day may happen as your body tries to cope. Changes in sleep are a major warning sign not to ignore.
Many turn to unhealthy habits like smoking, excessive drinking, comfort eating, or online addictions to cope with high stress, only fueling damage. Watch for relying on caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, gambling, porn, social media obsession, or compulsive behaviors like over-shopping.
These provide just temporary escape and won’t help long-term. Address the roots of stress rather than numbing pain with damaging vices.
When we’re stressed, it’s common to withdraw from friends and family and avoid interacting socially. You may turn down invitations, decline calls, or not reach out to others because feeling overwhelmed.
Look out for increased isolation from your support network as a sign you need help. Reaching out and spending time with loved ones are vital stress buffers, so don’t isolate further.
Stress often leads to feeling depleted, fatigued, and too worn out for adequate self-care. You may neglect movement, healthy food, regular medical care, hygiene, or stop taking time for yourself.
Watch for patterns like lack of exercise, eating junk food, ignoring preventive healthcare, not showering, or no longer doing small pleasures like hobbies. Meeting your basic needs is essential when handling high stress.
Stress can cloud thinking and lead to cognitive distortions where we view situations and ourselves in exaggerated negative ways. Signs include all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing, fortune telling, jumping to conclusions without evidence, and catastrophizing small issues.
These distorted thought patterns make stress worse. Be mindful of irrational thoughts fueling stress.
Explosive emotional outbursts or breakdowns signal overwhelmed stress reactions. Crying spells, uncharacteristic rage, unpredictable mood swings, and emotional flooding suggest you’ve hit your stress limit.
Healthy strategies for processing emotions get disrupted when we’re in chronic stress mode. Make time to vent these feelings safely and get support.
A major sign your stress is severe is when you have feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or being “trapped.” You may perceive insurmountable obstacles in all areas of life and believe nothing you do will improve things.
These overly pessimistic beliefs indicate depleted mental resources that make stressors appear unmanageable. Reframe thinking and be open to support.
Dreading everyday tasks
Each day comes with many minor annoyances like cleaning, errands, chores, and admin. Excessive stress leads to dread toward basic daily tasks, even small ones.
You may compulsively procrastinate or avoid activities that seem unbearable when overwhelmed, which only increases negative feelings. Accept where you’re at and be gentler with yourself.
Stress can diminish our job performance in noticeable ways. Signs include arriving late, missing deadlines, decreased output or errors, interpersonal problems, low engagement, procrastination, calling in sick often, or even quitting suddenly.
Lagging work performance is often a sign of chronic stress, and addressing it benefits both employees and employers.
Do you feel directionless, like everyday activities lack meaning? Stress and life pressures can cause us to lose touch with priorities, values, and sense of purpose.
Notice if you’re just going through the motions without feeling motivated or engaged. Reconnecting to purpose is vital for meaning, happiness, and reducing stress’s effects.
Psychosomatic “aches and pains” are strongly linked to stress. These include tensed muscles, back pain, headaches, stomach issues, worsening of chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, and generalized discomfort.
High cortisol and inflammation in the body from stress sensitize pain receptors and central nervous system hyperarousal amplifies our pain perceptions.
Do you feel wound up, on edge, unable to relax or “turn off your brain”? Restlessness refers to an unsettled state where one feels agitated, tense, wired, jumpy, or keyed up.
It’s a hallmark sign of excess stress hormones like adrenaline flooding the body. Calming practices like meditation help us find stillness when our system is revved.
Some turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with high stress, risking addiction. Watch for frequently drinking to intoxication, using illicit drugs, misusing prescription meds, or combining substances like alcohol and sleeping pills.
While it may seem substances offer temporary relief, they end up exacerbating stress and related mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
In extreme cases, prolonged severe stress can lead to thoughts of death or self harm. If you experience any suicidal thoughts or feelings, take it very seriously and reach out for immediate professional mental health support.
Coping strategies, lifestyle changes, therapy, and sometimes medication, can help get stress to levels you can manage safely.
As 2023 unfolds, make it a priority to tune into signs your stress may be affecting your mental wellbeing and get ahead of it. The sooner you recognize symptoms, the quicker you can take steps to reduce sources of stress or build better coping skills.
With some focus on your mental health, you can minimize stress’s impacts and live healthier and happier even amidst life’s pressures. Reach out for professional support if you have concerns about prolonged stress or emerging mental health symptoms. Your mental wellbeing is too important to neglect.