Whether it’s home life, work, relationships or a seemingly never-ending to-do list, there are all sorts of things that can stress us out every day.
The recent announcement of a second lockdown in the UK has likely incited feelings of stress for many residents across the country, though even seemingly insignificant or trivial things can also weigh on our mind, consciously or subconsciously, causing us worry that impacts our mood.
Stress isn’t a mental health problem in itself, but Rosie Weatherley, Information Content Manager for the charity Mind, told UNILAD excessive or unmanageable stress can affect your physical and mental health, and lead to issues such as depression or anxiety.
Indicators of stress come in all shapes and sizes, but many of them are easy to miss if you’re not familiar with them. Today, November 4, marks Stress Awareness Day.
1. You’re feeling irritable or impatient
It’s natural to get frustrated if someone is late to a meeting or snap at a loved one when you’re tired, but more consistent feelings of impatience or irritability may be an indicator of stress, especially if there seems to be no real cause for your short temper.
You might find yourself getting overly worked up about little things like, for lack of a better analogy, spilt milk, or feeling restless and unable to relax. To help deal with this kind of stress it can be effective to practise breathing or mindfulness exercises, or attempting to picture yourself somewhere serene.
2. You’re finding it hard to make decisions
Every day is filled with decisions, from as little as what to have for breakfast to taking the leap with a new job or relationship. Many of these choices are often made without much thought, but if you suddenly find yourself struggling to settle on one thing or another it might be because your mind is preoccupied with one issue that’s causing concern.
Regretting the choice to have cornflakes probably won’t impact your life that much, but if it’s a big decision itself that’s causing the stress it may be worth taking some time to yourself in which you can take smaller choices out of the equation and focus on the matter at hand, before it starts impacting other aspects of your life.
3. Biting your nails
If you’re just biting your nails in lieu of cutting them then this probably doesn’t apply to you, but starting to attack your previously cared-for fingertips is a change in behaviour that could definitely indicate stress.
The thing about biting your nails is that it’s very easy to do subconsciously, particularly if you’re distracted with watching TV or scrolling on your phone. You might not notice what you’re doing at first, but attempting to recognise signs like this can go a long way towards helping you identify when you’re stressed out about something.
4. Picking your skin
Similarly to biting your nails, picking at your skin is a way of preoccupying your hands while your mind is elsewhere – probably on whatever is stressing you out. These two behaviours go hand in hand with feeling restless, and indicate that you’ll likely to be unable to really concentrate until you face the source of stress.
Rosie from Mind recommends physical activity, preferably outdoors, to help cope with stress, as well as spending time in nature. Taking time to get outside and exercise is particularly important in lockdown, as it can help restore a sense of normality and remind you that there’s life beyond the walls of your home.
5. Clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth
Like slouching in your chair or hunching up your shoulders, clenching your jaw is one of those things that you don’t notice you’re doing until you actively make the decision to stop.
You might notice your jaw is aching from where you’ve been holding the tension and feel a sense of relief when you relax, but you’re unable to pinpoint exactly when you started doing it.
Clenching or grinding your teeth can also occur in your sleep, which unfortunately is out of our control. However, it is an indicator of stress, so attempting to figure out what’s making you anxious will help prevent you from subconsciously, or even unconsciously, gritting your teeth and making your jaw suffer.
6. You’re unable to concentrate
You might be sitting in front of the TV or flicking through Instagram when you suddenly ‘come to’ and realise you’ve no idea what just happened in front of your eyes. You might find your mind wandering at work, or find yourself zoning out of conversations with friends or family.
It’s possible that whatever’s being said just isn’t that interesting, but it’s also possible that your mind keeps pulling you back to an issue that’s yet to be dealt with.
Rosie recommends making adjustments to how you organise your time, to help you feel more in control of tasks and better able to cope with pressure. Making lists, tackling one thing at a time and finding the best time of day to complete certain tasks can all have a positive impact.
7. You’re over- or under-eating
This isn’t so much a case of being unable to resist one more biscuit – we are fast approaching Christmas, after all. However, if you find yourself constantly eating, or perhaps feeling like you can’t face the thought of another bite despite not having had that much, it could suggest your mind has taken control of your stomach and is wreaking havoc on your appetite.
Being physically healthy goes hand in hand with being mentally healthy, so it’s important to eat nutritious meals that can fuel your body and allow you to face any tough challenges. Engaging in physical activity will also increase your appetite, as well as helping to clear your mind.
i eat when im stressed or anxious
also me: snacking most of today
— 𝔡𝔢𝔳𝔦𝔩𝔦𝔰𝔥 (@devilgorl) November 2, 2020
8. You feel nervous or afraid
It’s a feeling I like to describe as ‘nervous tummy’; when you’ve got that feeling of worry or dread in your stomach but you can’t quite pinpoint why. It indicates something is worrying you, and can prompt other indicators of stress, such as a lack of appetite or difficulty concentrating.
The feeling can prevent you from enjoying yourself, so attempting to tackle the source of it is a worthwhile task. Practising breathing exercises can help eradicate feelings of nervousness, as can setting time aside for breaks from stressful situations.
9. You’re struggling to fall asleep, or find yourself waking up throughout the night
It’s a tale as old as time; you hop into bed, feeling sleepy and ready to embrace a night of rest, and just as your head hits the pillow you’re suddenly inundated with thoughts about tasks you need to accomplish, messages you’ve forgotten to reply to and every embarrassing thing you’ve ever done in your life.
In turn, you start to feel anxious about getting enough sleep, adding another worry to the list already parading through your mind. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling tired and unable to concentrate, subsequently impacting your day-to-day life and causing more issues to fret over.
Rosie told UNILAD that listening to music can distract people from worrying thoughts, so putting on a soothing playlist while trying to rest may help calm your mind. Making a list of tasks you need to accomplish can also help organise your thoughts, allowing them to feel less overwhelming.
10. You’re suffering with headaches
Headaches can be caused by a number of factors, so it can be easy to overlook one caused by stress. However, it’s important to remember they are an indicator of underlying worry.
Your head may feel tight, or you might find your face aching as you furrow your brows while trying to concentrate. The feelings could be caused by attempts to think about multiple things at once, or thinking deeply about one issue that’s troubling you.
Alternatively, it may seem as if all your thoughts are whizzing around at once and you can’t settle on one, leading to a feeling of burden. Practising mindfulness and making sure not to do too much at once can go a long way in helping to organise your thoughts and make you feel more in control of the tasks ahead.
All ten of these feelings and behaviours can easily be ignored or attributed to other factors, but acknowledging that you may be stressed out can go a long way in helping you face and deal with the issue.
Rosie reiterated the benefits of trying to identify the cause of stress and seeing if you can better manage the pressure, which in turn can help eradicate the feeling.
She told UNILAD:
There will be some things that you can’t change but others you might be able to take more control over. If stress is work-related, speak to your manager or supervisor about how you’re feeling.
From time management skills to improving how you communicate with those you feel are putting unreasonable demands on you, there are plenty of small steps you can take to help alleviate the causes of stress.
Rosie advised to speak to your doctor if you’re feeling overwhelmed, if your day to day life or relationships are being affected, or you’re having long-lasting or consistent, difficult feelings.
Doctors are able to talk you through the support that’s available to you, while Rosie recommended visiting Mind for its guide on how to prepare for appointments on mental health.
Recognising indicators of stress is the first step to dealing with it, so if you start to display any of these behaviours it may be worth trying to take some time for yourself to focus on any unresolved issues that may be gnawing away beneath the surface.