How Do I Know If I Am Stressed Out

How do you know if you have high anxiety or stress?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed, stressed out, uncontrollably nervous or anxious about an upcoming event or a series of events that you can’t quite get a handle on? Do you ever just want to skip a day because you just don’t know if you will be able to survive it? Do you need to go to a quiet dark room and close the door just to try to catch your breath? These are all feelings that we have when our lives become too chaotic to handle. The everyday fast paced lifestyle that most Americans live can be at the root of the chaos. Activities like; work deadlines, school competitions, kid’s sports events, church events and social events all add up to create that busy lifestyle. The economics of running a household in today’s society boxes us into a busy lifestyle full of stress and fatigue, leaving us feeling helpless with nowhere to turn.

The high demands in today’s lifestyle may be so great that it is difficult to slow down and take a deep breath. It seems to force us to operate in a panic mode. Decisions are rushed and oft times there are unnecessary mistakes made causing more anxiety and stress. It seems to be a never ending cycle that builds and builds until we feel that all that exists in life is STRESS! You aren’t alone, if you feel that stress has taken your life over, it happens to the best of us. In fact, if you’re lying awake at night feeling angry or fatigued because of stress you’re in the majority according to a nationwide report recently released by the American Psychological Association. Anxieties about the economy are not only affecting Wall Street, but also 8 out of 10 of us, “the main street Americans”. It’s more than likely than not that you are in the 80% of Americans that are stressed out. It could be that your stress is related to the recent turn in the economy and household budgeting issues. “Your stress could also be related to other sources that cause anxiety like work, or issues related to raising children”, says Dr. Katherine Nordal, the association’s executive director for professional practice.

There are a significant number of people reporting physical signs and symptoms of stress: muscle tension, headache and difficulty falling asleep. Stress warning signs are like bells ringing and the majority of people in every walk of life from coast to coast in the United States can hear them. One of the interesting things is while some Americans think they’re managing their stress well they were reporting physical symptoms like achy muscles, chronic headaches or the inability get a full night’s rest. The presence of these physical symptoms of stress should tell us that; even though we might think that we’re managing our stress, it is possible that we’re not. The reality might be that the stress exists but we’re not acknowledging it or we are suppressing it. Long term stress can have effects on our health and well being. Stress can lead to severe depression, chronic fatigue and several other life changing illnesses.

Effects of Stress

When a person encounters a threat, his or her body gets geared up to handle it with the ‘fight or flight’ response. During this response certain functional changes occur in the body. These changes persist until the threat has been eliminated or there is no feeling of anxiety/ danger that exists. When the threat no longer exists, the body returns to normal. These immediate, temporary effects are the short term effects of stress. This is a physiological response seen in all people exposed to stress. The ‘fight or flight’ response initiates the following physical effects;

  • Diversion of the blood from less vital to more vital organs
  • Increase in the heart rate
  • Increase in the blood pressure
  • Increase in the respiratory rate
  • Breakdown of glycogen stores in liver and muscle
  • Formation of more glucose from non carbohydrate substances
  • Release of adrenaline
  • Hyper-focused thought patterns

Long Term Effects of Stress

  • Chronic headache
  • Mood swings, anxiety disorder(s)
  • Substance abuse
  • Short or long term memory loss
  • Heart attack or stroke due to increased blood pressure
  • Severe unhealthy weight loss or weight gain
  • Allergies becoming more prevalent
  • Decreased sexual drive.
  • Sleeplessness
  • Deep Depression

During the ‘fight or flight’ response a person becomes more athletic and also acutely aware of the surroundings that he or she is in. During extreme conditions (i.e. ac car accident) some people have reported feeling like everything is in slow motion. These functional adjustments are made to support acritical reaction to a dangerous situation. Our body is designed to handle the ‘fight or flight’ response in short bursts not over extended periods of time or in a consistently repetitive patterns. Long term exposure to extreme stress is responsible for the effects on the body that manifest themselves with an array of signs and symptoms.

Is there such a thing as good stress?

YES! Believe it or not there are some positive effects that stress can have in your life. When we think of stress most people think of that feeling that we get when we are overworked at our jobs or the feeling of helplessness that we get when our kids need us to be involved in more of their events than we can get to. There are good types of stress that can actually be healthy for your mind and your body. Stress can actually help a person to feel alive, be creative and appreciate joy and happiness. One examplepositive type of stress is the response we get when we are challenged. The response can be positive and can even boost self awareness, self confidence and level of alertness. Those reactions to stress will all contribute to a better performance.

Types of Stress

Eustress

Our lives can be impacted by different types of stress. The first of these is eustress which is the type of positive stress. Eustress is a word consisting of two parts. The prefix derives from the Greek eu meaning either “well” or “good”. When attached to the word “stress”, it literally means “good stress”. It was first used in 1975 by Dr. Hans Seyle. Eustress is the type of stress that people feel when meeting or engaging in a challenge like coming in first place in a race, getting a promotion at a job, watching a suspenseful or horror movie, falling in love, getting married, or during childbirth. People also experience eustress when they ride a roller-coaster or purchase something significant, like as a new car. People who exercise can feel eustress during a particularly hard work out as well.

Distress

Distress is what most people think of when they think of stress. Distress involves anxiety and inspires a lack of confidence. Distress and its can inhibit performance. Distress has negative implications like lack of appetite or lack of confidence, and in extreme cases depression or insomnia. Distress is the worst enemy of a productive lifestyle.

Both eustress and distress are taxing on the body especially the immune and nervous systems. It’s interesting that the body can’ttell the differencebetween distress and eustress. If we are constantly exposed to unhealthy amounts of stress, good or bad, over long periods of time the physical effects will be the same.

There are exercises to release the built up stress and alleviate the anxiety. The effectiveness of the exercises really depends on how we deal with the change(s) that has caused the stress and anxiety in the first place. All of the same physical reactions are present in both forms of stress. The difference with distress is what individuals feel when they are frustrated, fearful or have unresolved anger. When too much of this stress is present it results in extreme anxiety and shows up in the form of irritability and the inability to cope with normal everyday situations.

We need some stress in our lives to motivate us. With that in mind it could be considered unhealthy to be under-stressed. It is also unhealthy to be over-stressed for very obvious reasons. The absence of stress can affect performance, health and well being just as much as the existence of too much stress. For example an athlete who is competing needs a little stress to optimize his performance. The lack of any stresscan actually lower the athlete’s performance. The ‘fight or flight’ reaction that an athlete depends on actually helps to maximize their performances. The same can be said for our jobs and home life if no stress exists there could be a lack of motivation to give our best performance. That could lead to apathy and eventually to the beginnings of depression.Conversely too much stress can cause nervousness reactions and ultimately poor performancelAs you can see some stress, whether good or bad, will enhance performance and create motivation but too much stress or not enough stress can take the motivation or the ability to deliver the best performance away.

Under-stressed

When people don’t have enough positive or negative stress in their lives they fail to feel anything. This state can be compared to being numb. When your mouth has been numbed by a dentist you can apply pressure with your fingers to your cheek or lips and you know that the pressure is there but there is no real sense of feeling, we don’t know whether the finger is hot or cold, wet or dry. In the same way that there is no feeling of hot or cold to your lips there is no feeling of happiness or anger, accomplishment or disappointment to your life. We actually become somewhat numb to the external stimulants and internal feelings that motivate us to actually do something. With a healthy amount of stress in our lives we become motivated to start or finish a task and interact with other people a little better. Boredom and hopelessness are two effects of being under-stressed. Depression is a disease that can attach its roots here. Be careful about wishing to have no stress in your life, you just might get exactly what you asked for…

Over-stressed

Too much stress whether it is eustress or distress is referred to as over-stressed. This is what people feel after pushing themselves too hard for an upcoming deadline. This is when people don’t have the time to sit back and think creatively and most of the focus is only on dealing with immediate issues. This is the trap that most people want to wish themselves out of. Too much stress and anxiety can make people irrational and impetuous when it comes to making decisions. Too much stress places people in panic mode so that rather than truly weighing out all of the options to make good solid choices we rush through the process just to get another annoying issue out of the way. The really unfortunate thing about this is that the whole process repeats it’s self. As we make rushed decisions we chance making mistakes. Those mistakes cause more anxiety and take time to fix. As you can see the cycle will continue until we find a way to break free.

So how do we sum all of this information up simply? “By focusing on the good news.” The good news is that not all stress is bad, that some stress, either eustress or distress, needs to exist in our lives in order for us to function. When experiencing; anxiety, worry, fear, pain or anger we know to classify these feelings as distress and know these feelings are all normal and should be dealt with as we feel them so as to release the pressure being built up on the inside. Remember the pressure cooker? Many discoveries and creative solutions that people come up with will be the result of a healthy amount of stress. A healthy amount of stress can help a person to learn new job skills, cope with life changes, react to a threatening or dangerous situation and deal with lifestyle changes. Basically a healthy amount of stress is something that produces good and useful results.

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