Fitness Facts: Recognizing stress overload
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
Life is full of new experiences and discoveries, deadlines and demands. For many students, this way of life can cause feelings of anxiety and stress.
Stress isn’t always bad, however. In small doses, it can help motivate you to do your best and perform under pressure. But when you’re living in a perpetual state of emergency, your mind and body can pay the price and you can start to feel out of balance.
Stress is cumulative. Your early signs of stress may include headaches, irritability, nervous stomach or disrupted sleep. Once you learn to recognize your own early warning signs, you will know that these symptoms are your body’s way of telling you to slow down and find a way to de-stress. If you do not heed the warning, your stress and anxiety can continue to build and cause serious disruption emotionally, physically, academically and socially. Stress can impact your relationships, your ability to concentrate or communicate, and it can have a negative effect on your immune system, making you more prone to illness.
The good news is that you can protect yourself by recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
The difference between anxiety and stress
Stress is the normal physical response you have when faced with a challenge.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a different condition altogether and is more similar to constant fear. It often occurs for no identifiable reason. For some people, worry and anxiety can become overwhelming and disrupt their quality of life. Excessive and lasting bouts of worry may reflect an anxiety disorder and will require different treatment.
Common effects of stress
Stress affects every aspect of our lives. You may experience mental, behavioral, physical and emotional symptoms. While these symptoms are common during stressful times, people with anxiety disorders may experience them in absence of a stressful experience.
Here are some effects of stress:
On your body: Headache, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, stomach upset, sleep problems, frequent illness
On your emotions: Anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, sadness or depression, forgetfulness, feeling overwhelmed, insecurity
On your behavior: Over or under eating, angry outbursts, drug/alcohol use, social withdrawal, sleeping too much or too little, relationship conflicts, crying spells, avoidance/procrastination
Stress management is an important skill, and it is worth taking the time to figure out what works best for you. Taking care of your mind and body can go a long way toward managing your stress level and helping restore yourself to balance.
Here are some suggestions:
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a healthy diet. Sugar and processed foods can make stress worse.
- Exercise regularly. Find movement you enjoy that allows you to release tension.
- Learn deep breathing/relaxation
- Pay attention to negative self-talk.
- Practice saying “no” to situations and people that add stress to your life
- Get a massage –aaaah!
- Talk with a friend or someone you trust
- Limit your caffeine intake.
- Avoid using alcohol and drugs in an attempt to relieve stress.
- Manage your time and energy — you can prioritize your “to-do” list based not only on time but on your energy for the task.
- Laugh! Watch a funny movie.
- Take time for relaxation, fun and hobbies. How about music or dance lessons, yoga or crafts?
Students often feel as though they should be able to cope with everything. If excessive worry and stress is impacting the quality of your life, it is time to get help. A mental health clinician or a physician can help you identify a variety of treatment options that can help you find relief.