Life with A Stress Disorder: 5 Signs of Serious Stress
All of us have stress in our lives. We have our moments, and we all deal with them in our ways. But, there is a fine line between having stress and having a stress disorder. By definition, a stress disorder is something persistent that cannot be addressed without medical or psychological intervention.
That’s not to say a stress disorder cannot be lived with. There are millions of people every day who live with stress disorders. The key is knowing your condition, knowing how to treat it, managing it, and knowing the signs when your stress levels are reaching a tipping point. There are multiple signs to look for when you are managing a stress disorder. Recognizing these signs is critical to maintaining a healthy balance and treating your stress disorder.
When your body is under a constant or chaotic state of stress, it will react physically. There are various symptoms that can manifest. For young adults, acne is one of the most common signs of stress. The oily glands (called sebaceous glands) that feed into zit production are part of the human immune system. When your body is stressed, the immune system reacts. The oily secretions that cause acne are increased, thereby increasing the level of acne.
Overloads in stress can also cause headaches. Just as the immune system will affect other organ systems, stress will cause cardiovascular issues, like raises in blood pressure, that can create headaches. Stress also causes the body’s muscular system to tense up – fight or flight response – and this can cause tension headaches for those with stress disorders.
The constant state of fight or flight can also lead to muscle soreness and overall body aches. The adrenaline released by the survival response causes the muscles to tense up, preparing for a fight, or preparing to flee. Think about it this way: if you were constantly exercising, without stopping to rest, your muscles and joints would wear out rather quickly. Uncontrolled stress reactions lead to this kind of muscle overuse.
You also have the potential to experience sweats and chills during bouts of high stress. The gland that controls your body temperature is affected by the flood of adrenaline caused by stress. You can be sweating and fatigued one moment, chilly and shaking the next. The adrenaline is affecting the gland’s ability to control your internal temperature settings.
All of these physical symptoms can affect not only your day to day living, but also how you sleep.
For those with stress disorders, overwhelming stress can cause problems with sleep patterns. This can go either way. A person could be sleeping too much, or a person could suffer from chronic insomnia. If your body is overwhelmed, it may simply shut down and say, “I need to sleep as long as possible.” Don’t fight it. If you’re simply exhausted, a good night’s sleep is one of the best cures.
When you sleep, your body goes into a state of total relaxation. This allows your body to repair itself from the day’s activities. Every day we lose cells, fluids, and blood to everyday living. When we sleep, our bone marrow produces new blood cells, our skin sloughs off dead skin cells, and our mind is awash in fresh cerebrospinal fluid that removes dead cells and impurities. This maintenance is essential to healthy living and interruptions in sleep deprive us of very necessary renewal.
On the other hand, insomnia can be far worse. Not being able to sleep can lead people with stress disorders to try things like sleeping pills, alcohol, or illegal drugs to get to sleep – anything to help them shut their eyes. None of these are good ideas. There are some natural remedies, like Melatonin, that are safe for helping you get to sleep.
Another thing you can do is just accept that you aren’t going to sleep and find something to occupy the hours. Pick out your favorite movie, pop some popcorn, and enjoy a midnight showing at home. If you have homework to do, work on it. If you have a great book to read, read it. If all else fails, clean your house or do some exercise.
The worst thing you can do when you have insomnia is to just lay in bed, staring into the darkness. This will actually increase the odds that you won’t fall asleep because your stress levels will increase. It’s a vicious cycle: you want to sleep, you can’t sleep, you start thinking about why you can’t sleep, you get tired, but you can’t sleep.
Stress disorders that interrupt sleep take a real toll on the body and when the signs of heightened stress appear, you need to take the time to care for yourself. And that includes eating healthy.
Changes in Appetite
Some people self-medicate with food when stress gets out of control. They may overeat or change from a healthy diet to one of junk food and sweets. There’s a reason for this. High fat, high carbohydrate diets help produce serotonin and dopamine in the brain – feel-good chemicals. It’s like getting a natural high from food. The problem is, this type of eating is not really helping.
While the carbs and sugars and fats may taste good and give you a temporary high, the aftereffects are simply not worth it. Just as you can get a hangover from drinking too much alcohol, you will crash off a massive carbo load. When the carbohydrates have been burned, your energy level plummets and you can easily fall into a sleepy state. It’s kind of like flooding the engine of a car. Feed it too much gas and it cannot run. It will have to drain the excess before it can start again. That’s what happens to your digestive system when you abuse it.
When the appetite changes, your digestive system gets put on alert. If you normally eat very healthy, a sudden change in how much you eat and what you eat will put a strain on your belly and gut. This can lead to an upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, or just a general sense of not feeling well. This lack of well-being will only create further problems with a stress disorder.
If you find that you are eating in an unhealthy fashion but don’t seem to care too much about it, it might be time for some self-examination. Take the time to look at your days and see if you are exhibiting any emotional signs of stress.
While physical signs are much more likely to get our attention when dealing with stress and stress disorders, the emotional signs are harder to recognize in ourselves. Most often, the emotional signs are noticed by those around us. It can start with something as simple as a lack of energy or malaise.
When someone suddenly begins to just sit around and stops engaging with the world, this is a sign that stress could be overwhelming him or her. The key word here is suddenly. Everyone has tiring days every now and again. When the sitting around becomes chronic and happens all at once, there is cause for concern.
A patient with a stress disorder may also suddenly have trouble making decisions, lose track of things, or be more overtly emotional. Normally, we make hundreds of decisions every day, from what we want for breakfast to what time we are going to bed. Most of these decisions are subconsciously made because they are habit.
Excess stress will add hormones to the bloodstream that can fragment your thinking. The fight or flight mode will cause you to overthink even the simplest of decisions, making it harder for you to carry on with daily living. If you are known as a person who has it all together most of the time, these changes in your emotional state will put everyone around you on alert. Don’t ignore these signs of stress.
Another way stress manifests itself is by feeling like you are constantly on edge. Every little thing gets on your nerves and you could become explosive emotionally. This is a critical issue. This is most often when people with stress disorders start using alcohol or drugs to relieve stress. This is the last thing you want to do.
Alcohol, particularly, is a depressant that can complicate your condition – it will never help it. Patients who use alcohol to “mellow out” are only hurting themselves. If you have reached the point of reaching for a bottle to drown out stress, contact your doctor or therapist immediately for help.
Your doctor or therapist will have the best chance in helping you pinpoint what triggers are activating your stress disorder. They can also help you recognize psychological signs that you are under undue amounts of stress.
Some of the toughest signs and symptoms to deal with when you have a stress disorder are psychological. These are signs that often the hardest to recognize and most often require treatment by a medical professional. These types of symptoms are usually negative and can drive you to do unsafe things.
These signs can range from an incessant bad mood with dark overtones (no desire to express joy or love), to what are called intrusion symptoms—uncontrolled and troubling memories of a trauma or disturbing dreams. When you cannot seem to shake traumatic memories or are constantly waking up from vivid nightmares, you need to speak up. Living in this panicked state is not good for your health. Each of these are signs that you need to speak to a mental health professional immediately.
Stress disorders can also create dissociative symptoms— most often manifesting as looking in from the outside or being in a constant mental haze. These symptoms of stress are particularly dangerous because they can affect how we navigate the world – including driving, dealing with others, taking our medications, and doing our jobs.
It could be easy to be distracted while you are driving because thoughts are racing through your head. You could be in a meeting at work and be completely oblivious to what is being said. You could be performing a task with tools and injure yourself. You could forget to take your medications and have to be hospitalized for treatment. And though it’s not likely, if you are in a dissociative state, you could hurt someone you love if they catch you off guard.
Another cluster of stress signals is what’s called avoidance. Patients will avoid thinking about memories, feelings, places, or people associated with a past trauma or negative events that have led to the stress disorder. When avoidance occurs, the patient is not dealing with the negative aspects of his or her condition and this can lead to a mental health or physical health breakdown requiring treatment.
The most frightening psychological symptom of stress is suicidal ideation related to depression. If you have been dealing with stress non-stop, you have started acting out of character, you can’t sleep, you are eating junk food, and you can’t focus on anything, it will easily overwhelm you. It is when everything has piled up and nothing seems like it will ever be right again that thoughts of suicide may creep in.
If you start to experience these thoughts, drop what you are doing and get help immediately. Don’t brush off these thoughts. Once they begin to manifest, they can quickly steamroll you into a dangerous situation.
It is crucial that patients with stress disorders are always aware of the signs that their condition could be getting out of control. Knowing the physical, emotional, and psychological signs are key to managing the disorder and avoiding any setbacks in your treatment plan.
If you notice signs or symptoms, take them seriously. Don’t brush off a bad mood – track it. If it goes away normally, move on. If it persists, call your medical provider. If you start drinking more than usual, and someone points it out, call your providers immediately. If you can’t sleep for days at a time, don’t self-medicate; call your doctor. The best way to manage your stress disorder is to keep yourself informed and receive professional treatment on a regular basis.