Take a moment – when you have one – and try to inventory the particular stress load that you're carrying. And while you're reflecting on your own personal sources of stress, keep in mind that it doesn't come about just from the negative aspects of life. Any change to your environment, both internally and externally, can create stress.
For example, an illness in the family, financial difficulties, relationship problems or problems on the job can cause understandable and even expected stress. But at the same time, so can a job promotion, marriage, starting or going back to school or the birth of a new baby.
And the thing is, having stress enter your life is not always bad. In smaller, more manageable doses, it can even help you perform better under pressure and motivate you to do your best. Sometimes a little stress may be what's necessary to make you stand and deliver, hit the brakes fast enough, gain the extra strength you need or simply stay focused better. But when the emergency switch is always on, there's a good chance you're going to pay the price.
How much of a price is it? It depends. Stress affects different people in different ways. Some people roll with the punches better than others. Some people even seem to thrive on the challenges of a higher-stress lifestyle – although there's not a lot of research on the long-term results for the adrenalin junkies that we all come into contact with from time to time.
In general, the ability to tolerate stress depends on a number of factors that include your emotional intelligence, the strength and overall quality of your relationships support circle, your ability to communicate effectively, your general outlook on life and even your genetic makeup. But unless you have all those factors working in your favor and also have a little luck on your side, long-term exposure to stress can lead to in a wide range of physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral warning signs and symptoms, including the ones listed below:
- Chronic headaches, backaches, or chest pain
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety or depression
- Memory problem
- Eating too much or too little
- Suppressed immune system
- Skin conditions
- Infertility (contributes to)
- Speeding up the aging process
- Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
- Inability to concentrate
- Temper flare-ups
- Muscle spasms and pain
- Poor digestion including reflux
- Shortness of breath
- Crying spells
The more signs and symptoms you notice in yourself, the closer you may be to stress overload. And that means it's time to look at managing the stress in your life. Sometimes you can eliminate your stressors, such as cutting back on a hectic schedule or getting out of a bad relationship. But we also must learn to deal with a certain amount of stress that's unavoidable.
Read Dealing with Stress Doesn't Have to be Stressful for some low-tech, low-cost or free strategies for stress reduction and management. If these techniques don't help, it may be time to seek professional help through resources that include Carebridge (Riverside's employee assistance program partner) or your primary care physician.
- See list of Resources
And there's always the chance that the signs and symptoms of stress that you may be experiencing may be caused by other psychological and medical problems. In that case, your doctor can help you determine whether or not your symptoms are stress-related. And in all cases, if you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled, overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the stressors in your life it's time to take action to bring yourself back into better balance.
Your body and your mind will benefit from the efforts you make to reduce the unhealthy effects of stress. And so will the people you work with, share a life with and love.
Click here to go to the home page of the April 2012 Get Healthy e-newsletter.