The impact of stress is well-known but often overlooked or ignored, and it could be negatively affecting you to a great degree without you even realizing it.

Too much stress can have serious implications and cause imbalances in your physical health, your emotional and mental wellbeing, your energy levels, and even spiritually (your connection to what brings meaning to your life).

Do you have a problem with stress?

Do you think you have a problem with stress in your life? If you’re anything like I used to be, you probably justify your stress as the normal challenges that occur at work and personally. Often people downplay the seriousness of it, and ignore what stress can become if not addressed right away.

Pay attention to the physical, emotional and mental signs your body is giving you

I recommend you check in with your body to see if there really is a problem. How do you feel when you’re feeling stress or under pressure? Do you start holding your breath or does your breathing become shallow and rapid?

I experience many challenging people and situations during my corporate HR career. During these times, I distinctly remember a burning, and tightening in my stomach, like a knot was forming in there. And sometimes that tight feeling would start climbing up to my chest and face where I could feel my face becoming hot and blood pressure rising. Talk about my body sending signals.

Another thing to consider is how much stress do you have, and are you managing this stress well. Is it happening on a regular basis? Is it going away within minutes, or lingering for hours, days or weeks in the form of physical, mental/emotional or energetic issues.  

Here are some telltale signs of too much stress becoming unbalanced and unmanageable.

Physical signs may include:

  • Upset stomach;
  • Burning stomach or indigestion;
  • Pounding heart;
  • Serious cravings for food/sugar, nicotine, alcohol or other substances or activities to “numb out” or “take the edge off”;
  • Headaches or migraines;
  • Back pain, many times inexplicable or chronic;
  • Other body aches and pain;
  • Low energy, always feeling tired;
  • Immune system is weak, getting sick frequently;
  • Sleep problems (too little, exhausted upon waking, waking up during the night and unable to get back to sleep).

 Mental / emotional signs may include:

  • Feeling anxious or in a panic, often;
  • Mental fog, unclear thinking;
  • Difficultly concentrating;
  • Confidence problems, feeling off your game;
  • Angry often, usually snapping at others, very little patience;
  • Feeling overwhelmed or like things are out of control;
  • Unable to turn off work once home or when trying to fall asleep.

These are warning signs. They are your body trying to get your attention, warning you to take action.

If downplayed or ignored for too long, they can impact your energy levels to the point where you’re always feeling run down, unmotivated and unhealthy.

Like you, I’ve been there many times in my professional career, attempting to manage a high-pressure, demanding business environment with all the personal challenges life throws at us.

My stress seemed manageable; but, on two separate occasions throughout my corporate career, after ignoring some of the signs listed above while trying to be strong and push through it, my body took over and put the brakes on.

My stress became chronic. I developed a serious health crisis that made me take action to address and alleviate the stress at work and in my personal life. With the proper support and focus, and taking action against the root cause of my health crisis – the chronic stress – I was able to successfully get past it on both occasions.  

Why you should care – the long-term issues of chronic stress

The really bad type of stress is chronic stress. It is when distress continues for a prolonged period of time, typically 21 days or longer. It can be shorter or longer depending on the stressor and how much you can tolerate.

This long-term activation of the stress-response system – and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones – can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.

It can put you at an increased risk of physical and mental/emotional health problems including diseases, chronic health conditions, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety. You can read and learn more about the different types of stress, including chronic stress, and how to prevent it here: A Moment of Silence for Your Chronic Stress.

What you can do about your stress

There are numerous strategies and tools you can use to counterbalance your stress. Think of it like taking a proactive “time out” from work and other stressful activities in order to minimize the stress-induced symptoms that may follow.

Two things in particular are very useful: 1) getting and staying active and 2) finding a support network.

Daily activity and exercise is the ultimate stress buster. It strengthens the physical body as well as helps to release those feel good chemicals affecting our moods and wellbeing. Go for a walk with your dog, take a break from your computer and walk around the office, or dance around to some favorite song. Just move, every day.

A support network helps you stay connected to others and nourishes your spiritual side.  Make a list of people in your personal life and professional life who you like and trust and can confidentially share challenges and concerns and then brainstorm solutions.   

Here are three additional resources with other options for you to consider and use to prevent or lessen the impact of stress regardless of the cause.  

  • Do have a hard time letting go of thoughts about work or personal worries, to the point where it prevents you from falling asleep easily or wakes you up at night? Restful and rejuvenating sleep is the ultimate tonic to building your defenses against stress’s unwanted side-effects, like a low immune system or brain fog. Read more about stress and sleep and try the suggestions here: Too Stressed to Sleep? Here Are 3 Things to Try.
  • Do you need help getting centered and focused for the day ahead, so you’re in the best possible shape to handle any challenge that may come your way? Mornings set the tone for the rest of your day. That’s why most successful people have an intentional routine where they take care of their top priorities before the demands from work and others begins. Done consistently, it impacts your health and wellbeing and keeps your stress levels manageable. Read about options for morning routines here: Connect to Success – Every Day for Best Results­­
  • Being prepared and organized is a proactive way to repel the stress in situations. You can organize what’s going on inside, namely your thoughts, beliefs, and ideas in your mind. And you can also organize your physical space to release the things weighing you down, increase your energy flow and make room for new opportunities. Read and learn more about how to get more organized here: How to Take Back Control: First, Get Organized

Stress and spirituality

Spirituality has many definitions, but essentially it’s a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. It’s not necessarily a specific belief system or religion, but comes from your connection with yourself, with others and with your purpose or meaning in life.

Some people find spirituality in religious services, church membership, prayer, belief in God or a higher power. For many, spirituality is found in nature, art, music, writing, gardening, animals or spending time with others that you connect with (community).

However you define spirituality, know that it has numerous benefits for stress relief and overall mental wellbeing. Having a sense of purpose and defining what’s most important allows you to focus less on the unimportant things and eliminate stress.

The belief that there’s a higher power allows you to realize you’re not responsible for everything that happens and you can surrender that “control”.   

Cultivating more spirituality into your life brings more peace and calm and helps you cope with stress better.

In closing, it’s worth the effort

It takes some effort to manage constant sources of stress, or to reduce your chronic stress and become a more balanced person, but take it from me, it’s so worth it. It took almost 2 years for me to find the right help and support during my first health crisis.

My main message for you is to not let your stress get out of control, and get the help and support you need to manage as soon as possible. Make it a priority before it’s too late.

Try using the tools and strategies suggested above. And if you’re struggling on your own, find a professional who can provide the guidance, support and accountability to aid in your success.