Purpose Wellbeing

Recognizing Signs of Stress and Tips to Manage It

The physical and emotional toll of stress can sneak up on you before you realize what’s happening. Read through this challenge to learn how to recognize ways stress may be affecting you, and tips for managing increased stress before it becomes unbearable.

The Challenge

Burnout and workplace stress are on the rise, with women among the most affected. In addition to feeling overwhelmed and anxious, stress can affect your body in physical ways that you might not initially realize are stress-related. The good news is there are ways you can combat an increase in stress before it becomes too much to bear. Read through the challenge below to learn more about how stress can affect your body and ways to manage it.

I didn’t realize how much the stress of my current job was getting to me until I felt like I was coming unhinged. Almost every conversation I was having seemed awkward. I had a mini-meltdown over an email I’d sent that was super basic – I was simply trying to schedule a meeting, but it sent me into a tailspin over whether I was smart enough to do my job. I didn’t understand what was going on. I am a strong, confident woman! Why was I falling to pieces over every minor thing? It turns out what I was experiencing was an increase in anxiety due to job-related stress. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming: I wasn’t sleeping very well (the bed is hard and the pillows are lumpy!), my drinking increased (I was trying to connect with my coworkers!), and I’d fallen out of my exercise routine (recall the socializing to try to connect with coworkers…). Finally, I realized I needed help handling what I was going through. I found a therapist who specialized in stress and anxiety, and she quickly helped me see where things started getting off-track and gave me tools to correct it in the future.

Warning signs
There were several “warning signs” that the stress was getting to me that, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have written off as something else.

  • Feeling tired or drained. As my anxiety started spiking, my sleep quality took a nosedive. This became a vicious cycle; because I wasn’t sleeping well, I was worn down and more susceptible to increased anxiety. Because I was tired, I was making mistakes at work that were then weighing on my mind all day. Intrusive/anxious thoughts were interfering with my ability to fall asleep at night or were waking me up at 4 and 5 AM. I shrugged this off as having an uncomfortable mattress, but I realize now the stress was interrupting my sleep cycle.

  • Increased bouts of crying. I felt like I was crying a lot. Something seemingly minor would trigger me to the point where I would sob for hours over…nothing (like the email scheduling a meeting). Looking back, this makes sense, as crying can be an emotional response to increased stress levels. If you feel like you’re crying a lot more than usual, this can be your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.

There are other physical symptoms of stress that can serve as a warning sign that your stress levels have increased, but these were the two main ones that I experienced. You know your body best, so listen to what it’s trying to say. 

How to Manage Stress
Fortunately, if you’re experiencing increased stress, there are many ways you counteract this.

  • Exercise, eat right, and get more sleep. This always seems to be the solution, doesn’t it? The reality is that when we’re experiencing increased stress levels, we neglect our basic needs. In my case, in addition to the interrupted sleep patterns, I fell out of my regular exercise routine. When I finally started to pull myself together, those first few workouts felt like a miracle – my mood before and after a work out was like night and day. If you’re feeling overly stressed, try scheduling reminders to workout every few days (and stick to it!).

  • Step away from the wine. Yep, I said it. You may be tempted to turn towards alcohol to help you cope with your daily stress, but it’s playing a trick on you. In my case, making a conscious effort to limit drinking to Friday and Saturday nights (and only a few drinks during those times) while I got my stress levels under control worked wonders. I was more clear-headed and able to process my emotions surrounding what was triggering my anxiety (while also not adding fuel to the “what did I say last night that was really dumb?” fire). The increased alcohol consumption was also playing a role in disrupting my sleep cycle, so cutting back on alcohol consumption helped me get my sleep back on track.

  • Get professional help. Never be afraid to talk to a therapist. They are there to help you and can offer advice on ways to cope with increased stress and work through any issues that may be the source of the problem. In my situation, I turned to a therapist for help, and after the first time I talked with her I immediately felt relief. She validated the feelings that were the source of my stress, which in and of itself started to bring down my stress levels (part of what was bothering me was feeling like I shouldn’t be feeling this stressed, so hearing that it was normal was incredibly helpful). She also gave me some tools for stopping the stress from leading to anxiety, which have been incredibly helpful. 

Let’s Get Together: If you suspect work or general life stress might be getting to you, grab a Sister or friend and ask her to talk about it. An outside perspective may be able to help you see things more clearly, and realize it might be time to talk to a professional. Consider asking a Sister to be a reliable contact for you to call when you feel overwhelmed and need a calming presence.


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