Defined by Healthline as "a state of mental or emotional strain caused by adverse circumstances", stress is an incredibly common issue that many people face. In fact, a Southern Cross study found that almost 60% of Kiwis are stressed at least once a week - with financial and work related issues affecting our younger Kiwis, while their older counterparts are more likely to be stressed out about health.
That's a staggering percentage of Kiwis struggling with stress on a regular basis, and that's not including stress induced by the negative effects of living in New Zealand throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, it's really important for Kiwis to be self aware and well educated around what stress looks like, how it can manifest throughout a normal day, and how to know when it's time to pump the breaks and let your mind and body rest.
We've put together this blog to outline the key signs that you might be feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and hopefully help out anyone who might be struggling to recognise when it's time to prioritise their mental health and take a break.
Let us know what you think, or if there are any symptoms you experience that we've missed!
What is stress?
Stress is your body reacting to harmful situations (whether they're very real or even perceived in your mind), that make you feel challenged, exhausted and overwhelmed. It's actually a chemical reaction that occurs in your body known as "fight or flight". Typically, your heart rate increases, your muscles tighten and your blood pressure rises. This is your body letting you know that everything is becoming difficult to manage and that you might need to work on whatever is causing your stress.
Stress Symptom #1: You're Losing Sleep
The first symptom to be aware of is an irregular sleeping pattern due to worrying.
Often, people who are stressed struggle to fall asleep and wake up throughout the night as their mind thinks about the things that are causing them stress. However, a disrupted sleep pattern doesn't just mean you're losing sleep - you might instead feel constantly tired and like you need to nap more often.
Typically, stress hormones increase in the late afternoon and early evening when you'd usually be getting ready for bed, making it even harder to fall asleep if you're feeling stressed. This is particularly problematic as a poor sleep cycle will mean you're even more tired the next day and will find it increasingly hard to function during the day.
If you're finding that you're feeling exhausted and your sleep cycle has been significantly altered, it's likely that stress could be the underlying cause and it could be time to give yourself a little space to recover.
Stress Symptom #2: You're Feeling Irritable
Are you constantly finding yourself snapping at people around you and having little tolerance for things that usually wouldn't bother you?
Don't worry - it's fairly common for this to happen when people feel stressed and it's not your fault at all. When you're stressed your body releases hormones; one of which, is cortisol. This has the effect of altering your mood and energy level, making you feel more irritable and less relaxed about what's happening around you.
Unfortunately this symptom tends to manifest itself in the form of being snappy to people around you that you care about and don't have any intention of being irritable towards, which can affect relationships negatively and generally make coping with the things that are worrying you feel insurmountable.
If you're finding that you're losing your temper a little too quickly, and people around you are telling you that your mood has changed, this is a tell-tale sign that your stress levels are taking over.
Stress Symptom #3: You're Feeling Unwell, Often
Physically, the body's reaction to stress can be quite acutely noticeable. For example, it's not uncommon for people struggling with stress to experience headaches, an upset stomach, chest pain, or even a dry mouth and clenched jaw. Actually, the physical effects of stress can sometimes be more noticeable than the emotional ones.
You've probably heard people say before; "your body must be run down" - and they'd be right! Stress can take a toll on your immune system and can cause increased susceptibility to infections, meaning you're much more likely to catch a cold and struggle with sniffles and tiredness if you're dealing with stress.
In fact, in Chinese Public Health Study, 61 older adults were injected with the flu vaccine. Interestingly, those with chronic stress were found to have a weakened immune response to the vaccine, indicating that stress may be associated with decreased immunity.
The bottom line? If you can't seem to shake that cold and keep picking up whatever virus is going around at the time your underlying problem could, once again, be stress.
Stress Symptom #4: You're Over-eating or Under-eating
Have you ever found yourself reaching for the snacks and visiting the fridge a little too often? Or even the opposite, and losing your appetite entirely? There's a good reason why.
A very common behavioural response to stress is to find an unhealthy food that will satisfy your need to be comforted. You've probably heard of 'comfort foods' before, otherwise known as emotional eating.
What's perhaps most interesting though, is that once stress begins to set in and the nervous system sends triggers to your adrenal glands to pump adrenaline (remember, fight or flight), you might find that you lose your appetite entirely. If this stress continues and doesn't dissipate, colitis is released in your body which forces the opposite response - an increase of appetite.
"One study of college students found that 81% reported that they experienced changes in appetite when they were stressed out. Of these, 62% had an increase in appetite, while 38% experienced a decrease." - Nutrition Research Journal
If you're finding that you're unable to regulate your appetite and go from one extreme of no appetite, to the other, constant hunger, it's likely that this is your bodies natural response to stress and it's time to look into taking a step back to rest.
Stress Symptom #5: You Don't Really Want to Socialise
Often when people feel stressed, it's accompanied with a sudden lack of desire to connect with friends and family. You might just feel 'too tried' or like you just 'need to be by yourself' for a short while. If you find yourself skipping activities that you'd usually enjoy and withdrawing a little, this is a telltale sign that your stress might be becoming a little too overwhelming.
What's interesting to note, is that social withdrawal is actually the exact opposite of what people who are experiencing stress, anxiety and depression need.
"Social isolation typically serves to worsen the illness and how we feel. Social withdrawal amplifies the brain's stress response. Social contact helps put the brakes on it." - Stephen Ilardi, PhD
Humans are a social species, and we need our social networks to survive (family, tribes, community) - we're biologically programmed to depend on each other. If you're finding like you're losing motivation to keep up that sense of contentedness, alongside other symptoms, it's likely that stress is an underlying issue.
What to do if you're stressed?
If these symptoms are feeling a little too familiar, it could be time to take a break from the every day stresses of life. This could mean taking a step back from responsibilities, time off work if employment is the cause of stress, or simply just talking to someone about how you're feeling.
There are some really excellent resources here, which will help you to get back on track and feeling relaxed and in control. We'd definitely recommend checking them out!
Did you know that cleaning can actually help to reduce stress?
Yup - it's true! At Rug Doctor, we're a big advocate of a 'healthy home, healthy mind' lifestyle, and we know how much clutter can make people feel on edge, and how habitual cleaning can actually act as a really satisfying session of meditation. Amazing, huh?
If you'd like to give it a try, grab our personalised cleaning guide below. It'll include all the helpful tips and tricks you need, tailored to your home, habits and problem areas.