Are You Under Too Much Stress? Symptoms, Treatment And Tips

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you’re experiencing a high level of stress, you might believe that stress is coming at you from all directions, feel like you’re losing control, or that you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. These thoughts are common in those experiencing mental burnout and severe chronic stress. 

Not all stress is problematic. Stress is a normal part of life, and the body is equipped with a stress response system to keep you safe in times of danger or risk. However, there can be a significant difference between coping with the occasional stressful situation and regularly feeling overwhelmed with chronic stress.

Learning how to identify what stress looks like and where it comes from can help you learn to cope when it arises. You’re not alone; many stress management techniques exist to combat these impacts. 

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You can manage problematic stress

What is stress?

Stress is a natural response to internal and external changes and threats. Not all stress affects you negatively. When stressed, hormones flood your body, your muscles tighten, and your fight-or-flight response kicks in. If you’re in a dangerous situation, like facing a dangerous animal, the stress response could save your life, giving you the energy to flee or fight back. 

However, many people aren’t facing life-or-death situations daily. Instead, they may be coping with financial stress, challenges in the workplace, complicated relationships, and health concerns. Once stress levels increase, it can take hours for them to return to normal, as there is no release of the energy used to defend you. If you experience stress regularly, it can have a serious impact on your physical and mental health.

What are the symptoms of stress?

Stress can show up in unique ways for everyone. However, there are a few common symptoms that you may recognize if you experience chronic stress, including but not limited to the following mental and physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping 
  • Overwhelm 
  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or chronic pain
  • Chest pain
  • Low sexual desire
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Cognitive symptoms like difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue or exhaustion

Chronic stress

Stress doesn’t only impact mental and emotional symptoms—it can affect your physical health. Chronic stress has been linked with some serious health problems like high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease. Stress is also associated with heart attacks and other cardiovascular episodes. And, stress makes it physically more difficult to get enough sleep, which can make you more susceptible to a host of other physical and mental health problems.

Stress can cause behavioral symptoms as well. You may notice that you are more irritable with others because your stress causes you to struggle with patience. You may constantly think about a stressful situation that leaves you on edge or causes you to struggle to finish a task at work. This can contribute to low self esteem or other challenges.

If you try to ignore your stress instead of addressing it, it may continue to grow and cause new stressors to arise. For this reason, it can be essential to have relaxation exercises and other coping techniques on hand to control your nervous system. 

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Stress management tips

It’s normal to feel stressed from time to time, and there are many ways people manage stress in their daily lives. If one method doesn’t work, another might. Try not to give up and remind yourself that stress is a physical process as much as an emotional one. For this reason, it is possible that controlling your nervous system can completely reduce the stress you experience. Below are a few techniques to try. 

Identify the causes of your stress 

If you don’t know why stress is occurring, it can be difficult to take steps to address it. Take time to inventory the events in your life. Are there certain parts of the day when you feel more stressed than others? Look at what’s happening around you to determine possible inciting events. You don’t have to take action immediately. Just list the events and consider them for the future.  

Participate in relaxing activities 

If life is busy and you feel you’re running from morning until night, you may not be making time to relax and recharge. Take time to unwind each day and partake in the activities that relax you and bring you enjoyment. 

Self-care can look different for everyone. You might try reading a book, playing basketball, taking a hot bubble bath, or going for a run. If you’ve been neglecting this area for a long time, it may be difficult to remember what you enjoy doing. Keep trying different activities until you find what works best for you.

Adjust your calendar

You might experience significant stress because you struggle with time management skills. Maybe you feel overwhelmed at work, but you’re spending a lot of time on social media instead of accomplishing tasks. Contrarily, perhaps you struggle to correctly estimate the time it takes you to do a task.

Spending time tracking how long tasks take you to complete can be helpful. Once you have this information, you can plan your day more accurately instead of trying to accomplish more than reasonable.

It can also be beneficial to cut back on how much you schedule. Even if the activities on your calendar are fun, you might become stressed and overwhelmed if you pack them on top of each other. Take time to prioritize your tasks to see what needs immediate attention and what can be left for the next day. However, be careful not to procrastinate, as well. 

Take a break

If you’re under too much stress, your body may request a break from your routine. You might decide to take a sick day off from work or turn your phone off for the weekend to unplug for a few days.  Practicing deep breathing or taking a peaceful walk could help you reenergize. Finding a way to remove yourself from what is causing you stress can help you rest and recharge.

Journal

Taking time to journal your thoughts and emotions can help you unwind and relieve stress while gaining a new perspective on what is causing you stress. Putting your thoughts down on paper can help you let go of the stress associated with them, as studies indicate journaling is an effective form of expressive writing for improving mental health and wellness. You can journal when stress arises or make it a daily practice. 

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You can manage problematic stress

Talk to a therapist

If you’re living with chronic stress or if you think you may have an anxiety disorder, it may be helpful to talk with a therapist. A therapist can help you work through where your stress is coming from, spot unhealthy habits, and help you learn coping strategies to better manage your stress. 

If you’ve been avoiding therapy due to the stress of adding more responsibilities to your schedule, you can also consider working with a therapist online through a platform like BetterHelp. Online therapy allows you to have your sessions from anywhere convenient for you, saving you the time of driving back and forth and helping you feel more comfortable.

Research shows that online therapy is effective at relieving stress, as well. One review showed that online therapy can significantly reduce the impact of stress and resulted in a 50% improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and many other conditions. 

Takeaway

These are a few ways you can relieve stress in your life. While it may be normal to experience stress occasionally, it can leave you physically and mentally exhausted to struggle with it regularly. Take time to explore what tips and strategies work best for you. If you continue struggling with your stress, consider contacting a licensed therapist for further guidance and support.
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