For many people, stress is a part of everyday life. Whether it is because of your job, family obligations, is triggered by a mental health issue such as anxiety or a phobia, stress can be bad for your health physically and emotionally. Here are some signs your stress is too high, and what to do about it.

Is Stress a Mental Illness?

Experiencing stress does not automatically mean you have a mental illness. Stress is a normal hormonal response to changes and threats or stressors in your environment. In the natural world, stress helps animals stay alert and ready to respond to danger. But that kind of stress passes quickly when the danger does.

Prolonged or chronic stress can occur when stressors in your environment never go away. Stress becomes a problem when that heightened state of alertness continues to trigger without a chance to relax. When that happens, it can negatively affect your body and your mental and emotional state. Without treatment and adequate stress management, chronic stress can cause long-term physical health problems, and even shorten your lifespan.

Get Help Reducing Stress Today.

Talk to a psychotherapist about ways to cope when your stress is too high.

Red Flags for a High Stress Level

There are many signs and symptoms that can alert you when your stress level is too high. Being mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and physical symptoms can warn you when you need to take a step back, make changes, or reset to reduce your stress level and keep yourself healthy.

Mental and Emotional Stress Warning Signs

Stress can affect the way you think, feel, and react to the world around you. It may make it harder to make rational decisions, keep up with your responsibilities, maintain healthy relationships, or avoid harmful substances like drugs or alcohol. Here are some mental and emotional signs your stress level is too high:

  • Feeling angry, irritable or restless
  • Increased depression or anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Overwhelm
  • Lacking focus or motivation
  • Insomnia or feeling tired all the time
  • Worry and racing thoughts
  • Memory issues
  • Poor decision making
  • Impulsive choices
  • Intrusive thoughts

For many people it is easier to recognize these warning signs than it is to realize that they are stressed. If you or someone close to you perceives one of these mental or emotional changes, you may want to examine what is causing you stress.

Physical Signs Your Stress is Too High

Because stress causes hormonal changes in your body, there are many physical symptoms that can warn you your stress level is elevated. These are some things to watch out for when stress manifests in your physical health:

  • Muscle pain or tension in your neck, chest, or stomach
  • Headaches, including migraines
  • Dizziness or shaking
  • Digestive issues including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
  • Changes in your sex drive
  • Painful menstrual periods (in women)
  • Reduced sperm production (in men)
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system (frequent minor illnesses)

Generally, these symptoms will pass when the environmental stressor goes away (such as when you are running late and then get where you are going). But in chronic stress conditions, these physical symptoms can persist, and can result in more permanent health consequences.

It is important to remember that physical symptoms may also relate to physical illnesses or conditions. If you are experiencing physical symptoms of stress, you should speak to your doctor to rule out other causes and to treat the longer-term physical effects.

What to Do if Your Stress is Too High

No one can live an entirely stress-free life, but some people experience far more stress than others. Fortunately, there are things you can do every day to help prevent and relieve stress:

  • Use physical exercise to quiet the “fight-flight-or-freeze” hormones in your system.
  • Build in time for daily reflection. Focus on your accomplishments, rather than your to-do list.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Accept that there are things in life you can’t control, and try not to worry about them.
  • Say no to excessive responsibilities.
  • Pull back from obligations when you feel stressed or overwhelmed.
  • Set reasonable goals for your day, week, and month, prioritizing what matters most.
  • Engage in relaxation activities, such as meditation, breathing exercises, or yoga.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and avoid binge eating or skipping meals because of stress.
  • Stay connected to friends and family who make you happy and provide emotional support.

It is important to remember that you don’t have to handle your stress alone. Talk to someone, either a confidant or a psychotherapist, about what is causing you stress. Relying on your support structure can help you see your issues more objectively, put things in perspective, and reduce your stress level.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps adults, teens and children with the mental and emotional consequences of chronic stress and other mental health concerns. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.