We live in a world where stress is almost unavoidable. Because technology creates the expectation that we make ourselves available to others 24 hours a day, balancing our commitments and coping with stress in healthy ways can seem impossible. Caught in a constant to-do list, we seldom make the time to evaluate the toll that fear, worry, and distress can take on our bodies and minds. How do you know when you’re under too much stress?

Everyone has their own unique stress response, so it’s vital to examine your physiological, behavioral, and psychological responses to the strain of life’s demands. Let’s take a look at a few common signs that you are under too much stress.

Signs You’re Under Too Much Stress

Physiological Signs

  • Chronic pain
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Clenching your jaw or fists
  • High blood pressure

Behavioral Signs

  • Increased use of substances (including nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and illegal drugs)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Overeating and undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Exercising less often

Psychological signs

  • Sadness or depression
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
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If you are experiencing any of these signs you may want to take action to reduce stress today. Here are some simple but revealing questions you can ask yourself to pinpoint areas for improvement or change. Asking the right questions can identify what improvements you can make to feel more relaxed and in control of your health.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Who’s in my support network?
Everyone should have people in their life who are positive influences, support providers, and role models for healthy living. They can be friends, family members, mentors, spiritual leaders, colleagues, and mental health professionals.

What activities do I enjoy?
Your work might be enjoyable, but everyone needs hobbies that aren’t about competition or personal accomplishment. What helps ease your worries and makes you more mindful about your body? These activities might include reading, dancing, gardening, board games, crafts, etc.

What are my sleep habits?
If you’re getting roughly 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, you’ll be able to think more clearly, boost your immune system, and concentrate better on work and relationships.  A simple step such as turning off screens an hour before bed can make a huge difference in your sleep quality.

Am I saying “no” to unnecessary tasks?
Ideally you should be able to pass on tasks that demand too much of you, aren’t your responsibility, or don’t fall in line with your personal values and objectives. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at your schedule and to-do list, and see what can be delegated or removed completely.

Am I organized? Start to declutter your life. When you can manage tasks with an accurate schedule and prioritized to-do list, you reduce the unnecessary anxiety that can accompany a cluttered and confusing agenda.

When and how do I practice relaxation?
Taking time to relax can be as simple as reading a book, taking a walk, or listening to music. Maybe you need to spend a few minutes taking some deep breaths every day, or perhaps yoga or meditation can provide the needed time for tuning into your body.

Do I know professionals who can help?
A yearly physical can help you evaluate the impact of stress and generate solutions. Mental health professionals also can provide valuable insights about your behavioral and emotional health and help you create a plan for a well-balanced life. A therapist can teach you how to relieve stress through various techniques.

If you feel overwhelmed by a self-assessment and aren’t sure where to start, address your immediate physical concerns.  Healthy eating, exercise, and professional consultation can have a significant impact. But don’t  feel like you have to make all these major changes overnight. Starting small, perhaps by carving out space for relaxation and turning off technology earlier at night, can help you build momentum.

As you begin to make changes, be sure to pay attention to what reduces your stress, and don’t hesitate to take notes. Not every relaxation technique works for everyone. Consider using a journal or a phone app to track the effectiveness of your strategies and generate motivation. Finally, change can also be more exciting when you share the journey, so consider recruiting a friend as an accountability buddy. Together you can encourage each other to tackle stress and prioritize your physical and mental health.

Real change starts with asking good questions and playing detective with your mind and body. Start taking notes and begin conversations with people who can help. Stress may always play a role in your life, but it doesn’t have to be the villain in your story.  With the right mindset, you can regain control over your mind and body.

Last Updated: Feb 13, 2018