Is My Stress Real or Imagined?
By Karina Baltazar-Duran, LMFT
Many tips, articles, and social media posts on how to manage our stress scroll across our eyes various times a week (or even days depending on how our mood is that day.) *Siri, how many free meditation apps are there?* Whether it be meditation, seeking support in the form of counseling, or increasing our physical activity levels, there are tons of great resources out there with tips of the trade on how to ride that wave of stress management.
But how do we know when we need those things? We can handle a lot, right? Humans are resilient, right? We can’t take on more than we can handle…can we? The truth is there are many people out there who can handle a lot of stress and still function well (astronauts, surgeons, middle school teachers keeping teenagers engaged in virtual school in the middle of a pandemic.) There are also many people who can’t handle a lot of stress and ignore the signs which can put themselves at risk of burnout and even physical illnesses. These individuals may find themselves relieving stress through drugs and alcohol, avoiding taking care of themselves to the point of panic, or other untreated symptoms of anxiety or depressive mental health disorders.
Below are ways to identify whether you’ve reached your stress limit (cue in yoga videos on YouTube on repeat).
Recognizing physical signs in your body is an important way to identify if untreated stress is impacting your life. Physical symptoms such as chronic pain: (headaches, tension in the shoulders or back), hives/rash/breakouts, decrease in energy “running on fumes”, decrease in immune system (getting sick more often), feelings of panic (rapid heartbeat, heavy breathing, sweating, etc.), increase or decrease in sleep (“this is too much to worry about, time to take a nap”). Physical signs of stress are our body’s alarm telling us we need to take a break (hitting a snooze button every 5 minutes on a Monday morning). Some of us experience these symptoms and think nothing of it, however if these are occurring more often in a short period of time and you find yourself doing less in your life because of them, it’s a good time to get some support.
Identifying differences in your mood is another factor in recognizing whether you need a self-care break or not. Find yourself arguing with your partner more? Are your children and in-laws annoying you more than normal? Have you become snippier with customers and co-workers? Recognizing an increase in irritability with partners, co-workers, and family can help you avoid a disruption in relationships (as if we need that on top of this stress). Do you find yourself quick to cry more recently? Whether it be watching commercials, movies, or reading cards in the Hallmark aisle of the drug store, an increase of “crying spells” is another sign your body may have reached its limit of stress. Are you feeling overwhelmed easily? Do the simplest of things seem difficult or overwhelming? (“I know it’s just a few dishes but does it really matter if they pile up.”) Are you avoiding work, daily tasks, or responsibilities because they seem like too much? Are you shutting people out (“I’m fine”)? Are you not only ignoring the signs but are you ignoring support? An increase in isolation can leave us feeling alone, depressed, and unsupported. Seeking support doesn’t make you weak, it makes you responsible. By identifying potential signs of stress, you’re getting ahead of the game and are more likely to handle future stressors better, because well let’s face it, #life.
It’s common for people to ignore these signs. “Between work and my kids’ school schedule, I barely have anytime for myself.” “It’s fine, this is what I do, sure I don’t see my family a lot but 12-hour workdays are good for the paycheck.” “I can’t take time off; the work won’t get done then.” Sound familiar? The reality is, working on ourselves is hard work. It takes commitment, consistency, and will to look at ourselves and recognize when we need support. It takes stepping back to recognize when it’s too much, as we often don’t see it when it’s become our normal.
Whether you’re a single mother, a high achieving CEO who believes he/she “strives” through stress, a determined college student who’s working to get on the dean’s list again, or a therapist helping clients through their stress; stress, anxiety, and panic don’t discriminate. Stress is inevitable in life; however suffering can be a choice. If we don’t take the time out to give ourselves breaks, how will we truly succeed? How will we be the best we can be for our families? How do we know if we’re being the best version of ourselves? Taking time out for ourselves makes us better parents, better partners, better therapists, and more efficient people.
We are all very resilient and some of us may need guidance to get through these rough times.
Call our Thriveworks team at 281-667-6790 for help in scheduling a session. You can thrive and we can help!