Everyone must cope with stress to one degree or another in their lives. Perhaps it’s when you are trying to get the kids ready for school while also prepping for your workday. Or you are facing a job loss and the stress that comes from lost income and stability.
But what happens when stress does become a more persistent problem?
This is otherwise known as chronic stress. It’s the kind of stress that is pervasive in your life and just doesn’t seem to go away. If left unaddressed, this chronic stress can cause significant problems that affect your quality of life.
So, how do you know if you’re dealing with occasional stress or if chronic stress has crept into your life?
Here are eight telltale symptoms of chronic stress.
1. Inability to Concentrate or Stay Focused
One reason why stress can become a problem is that it can interfere with focus or concentration. And there are likely many tasks you need to be able to focus on throughout any given day, such as cooking meals, driving, budgeting and other home clerical duties, work, and much more.
But you can’t concentrate when you are stressed. The reason is simple. It’s because your thought process is directed more towards what’s causing the stress (or trigger) than what you are doing in the here-and-now.
Another telltale symptom of stress is fatigue. Why? After all, stress is all mental, right? Not true. In fact, one way that stress impacts your entire body is through fatigue.
Stress eats up more energy and is a drain on your body’s resources. The energy you are spending ruminating about what is stressing you out could be put to other uses. However, you can’t do that because the cause of your stress is unresolved. Thus, you feel fatigued and drained of all your energy.
Headaches can also be caused by stress. Tension headaches, for example, are the result of muscles in your head contracting when you feel stress or tension. Maybe you notice that when you feel tense, you tighten your fists. The same thing happens in your head, resulting in headaches.
Migraines, a more serious form of headaches, often occur because of changes to chemicals in the brain due to exposure to stress.
4. Muscle Tension
As mentioned above, headaches are often caused by muscle tension. This tension is just as likely to occur in other muscle groups in your body. In fact, people are known to “carry” their stress or anxiety with them in certain muscles. For example, someone might have pain in their upper back because that’s where they hold their stress.
5. Sleep Problems and Disturbances
Sleep is very important for health. Yet, stress makes it very difficult to get a good night’s rest. You may have trouble falling asleep, or you keep waking up in the middle of the night. That’s because in order to fall asleep, you need to feel relaxed, even comforted.
However, it’s very hard to get to a state of comfort and relaxation when you are struggling with stress. Your mind is not in “the zone” for falling asleep as you may still be thinking about what is stressing you out. Moreover, consistent lack of sleep not only contributes to your stress but also to symptoms such as difficulty concentrating and fatigue.
6. Changes in Sex Drive
The impact of stress can be so severe that it interferes with your sex drive. The reason why is due to hormone production. Testosterone and estrogen are important for sexual desire. Plus, during sex your body releases endorphins which contribute to you feeling less stressed.
However, when you are always stressed-out, the result is that your body makes cortisol—a stress hormone. If you struggle with stress all the time, then those cortisol levels will begin to interfere with the production of hormones related to your sex drive.
Have you ever felt a little cranky or irritable? Do you know why? It was because, in the moment, you were thinking of something negative.
Maybe it was when the delivery service messed up your order. Or you realized that you had a project due that slipped your mind. If these instances caused temporary irritability or grumpiness, imagine the irritation chronic stressors can cause in your life.
8. Gastrointestinal Problems
You might be surprised to know that there is a neurophysical connection between your stomach and your brain. Thus, when you experience stress, you might feel it in your stomach. With chronic stress, this could lead to serious gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers or even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
If you have been experiencing any or all of the above-mentioned symptoms for an extended time (not just a few days), then it’s time to get help. Not treating chronic stress symptoms will only cause more problems and negatively impacts your health and well-being. The solution is working with a psychotherapist experienced in counseling and stress management. I invite you to contact us to find out more, 256-686-9195.