4 Signs of Overwhelming Stress Development & 5 Steps to Help Mitigate Stress
First of all, let me just say that help is available. If you are experiencing unrelenting stress, feelings or thoughts of suicide, or you are just overwhelmed, please call 911 or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’S) Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 (TTY: 1-800-846-8517) or text WalkWIthUS to 66746. There are people who care about YOU. And they are willing to walk beside you during this difficult and uncertain time.
4 Signs of Overwhelming Stress Development & 5 Steps to Help Mitigate Stress
It is a common and well documented phenomenon that stress creates more stress. Most stressors that come into our daily lives are recurrent, and we have developed coping mechanisms that aide us in effectively dealing with them in a such a way that we no longer really consider them to be a stressor. Think of such common stressors as things like driving to and from the office, business meetings, or completing scheduled reports. Add a few unforeseen stressors into the mix: You forgot to get gas the night before and now have to fuel up in order to get to the office, but there is a line of cars three deep just to get to the pumps; Your scheduled meeting has been moved up by 2 hours, and now you have to scramble to get the pamphlets together for your presentation; Your quarterly expense report is incomplete because ‘Roz from accounting’ didn’t get the required documents to you in time. Now, just imagine that all three of these scenarios play out on the same day! You can see how the stress bricks can start stacking up.
Everyone reacts to and deals with stress in different ways. Some individuals are extremely adept at dealing with complex challenges and extremely high stress, others can be less so. Whichever category you define yourself, it is alright. I say it is alright because at some point EVERYONE reaches a point where stress overwhelms them. What are some the signs that we can look for to determine that an overwhelming stress has begun to develop? Let us look at the following four signs.
1. Changes in Eating Patterns. It is important to get adequate nutrition in order for your bodily systems to function properly. Nutrition impacts such systems as blood pressure regulation, digestion, and thinking clearly. All too often we cut corners on the food we eat when pressed for time. Sometimes, we just don’t feel like cooking a healthy meal and throw some prepackaged slop in the microwave and stuff our mouths while sitting in front of the television. This is the foundational stress brick cornerstone that lays the foundation for nearly everything else that follows. When you don’t want to cook something healthy is probably the time when you absolutely should.
2. Changes to Sleep Patterns/Difficulty Falling or Staying Asleep. Many websites and experts deal with these as separate issues. If you think about it, they have the same net result: Increased Stress. Whenever your sleep changes you are less able to deal with everyday stressors, let alone unforeseen ones. Sleep deprivation causes a host of issues: weakened immune system, increases blood pressure, inability to concentrate or think clearly, decreased balance, reduced sexual drive, increased mood changes, increased weight gain, and increased risk for diabetes. Any one of these on its own makes it exponentially more difficult to deal with stress. When you add several, or all, of them, your stress defense system breaks down.
3. Increased Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, or Other Drugs. This is not a treatise on the morality of using any of these products. If you do partake of any of these substances, more power to you. If you recognize the amount, frequency, or type of substance use changes, then those stress bricks may be getting stacked to highly. Again, it is well documented that the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs has an incredibly negative effect on the human body, increasing the risk for a whole host of disease and negative body functions. Again, no judgement here. I enjoy a Whisky as much as the next guy, but I am aware of and accept the associated risks. If a loved one or trusted person has noticed a marked increase in the use of your preferred substance try not to take offense, but recognize it as a sign of increased stress. This is an opportunity to take positive action steps to improve your health.
4. Deteriorating Chronic Health Conditions. As you can see, an increase in any of these conditions can seriously affect preexisting health conditions. An accurate understanding your medical or mental health concerns can go a long way towards reducing the consequences of added stress. Unfortunately, decreasing the quality of food, sleep, exercise, and adding alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs leads to a worsening in decision making. This is where the stress bricks build a stress mansion. One of the surest ways to keep this from happening is to continue the treatment plan set forth by your physician. In so doing, you will help reduce the impact of these added stressors.
So, what can you do if you recognize these signs and symptoms developing in you or someone you love? Let’s look at the five steps:
1. Call Your Healthcare Provider or 911 if Needed. How do you know if you need to call your healthcare provider or 911? If you are unable to complete your regular daily activities for several days due to stress or stress related conditions, then it is time to reach out to a certified professional. There is no judgement, and they may be able to help you see things differently than and in a way you didn’t think possible.
2. Connect with Others. In this day and age, being connected is easier than ever. Smart phones, video conference apps, and computer-based community systems have made the world readily accessible. Reach out to people you trust and tell them how you are really doing. You trust them for a reason. Let them in to your world. Be honest with them and yourself about how things are influencing you.
3. Make Time to Unwind. While social distancing is the call to action lately, it does not mean complete and total isolation. Even though parks, theaters, libraries, and restaurants are closed throughout the country there are plenty of activities in which you can still participate and enjoy. Get outside and get some Vitamin D! Go for a run, hike, or walk. Paint, read, or make music. Pick up that hobby you have always wanted to try, but never had the time. Whatever it is, do something good for yourself.
4. Keep Moving. There are so many people working from home for the first time, and many do not have a viable plan to keep active. It was easy to move while at the office. Getting coffee, going to the printer or fax, and going to the conference room for the meeting were all ways that you moved throughout the day. Now everything is topsy-turvy. It is imperative that you keep moving. Set your alarm to go off at the top of each hour and stretch for 1 minute, take a few laps around the house, or do some calisthenics (squats, jumping jacks, push-ups, or burpees). Studies show that moderately increasing exercise by 30 minutes a day reaps tremendous health benefits.
5. Take Breaks from Social Media, News, and Pandemic Coverage. COVID-19 news and information has completely taken over every media outlet. While it is important to stay informed, it is incredibly stressful to be bombarded with a never-ending onslaught of negative pandemic news. Set intentional times and only go to your trusted news source during these predetermined periods. Remove all update notifications from your various social media feeds and only check them periodically. DO NOT look at any social media or news within an hour of going to bed. Not only does the blue light emanating from the device interrupt your ability to fall asleep, but social media and news outlets increase stress-which can lead to more sleep disturbances. Take control over what you allow into you mind. You know how to find the information. You do not need to have it stream to you 24/7.
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God bless you all, John from True North Candle Forge.
*While I have worked in emergency and trauma medicine in the United States Navy and am still referred to as ‘Doc’, I am not a licensed physician or doctor of any kind. The statements made in this article are not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Much of this information can be found at the Centers for Disease Control website @ https://www.cdc.gov