Do I have stress overload?
- I am having problems with my memory.
- I feel irritable, short-tempered.
- I feel overwhelmed.
- I regularly get sick.
- I use alcohol, drugs to relax
Stress is a normal psychological and physical response to life’s demands
In our fast-paced and demanding world we all get stressed. Some triggers like financial, job or relationship problems are easy to identify but daily demands such as a poor work/life balance or even happy events like a job promotion or the birth of a child can also trigger stress.
Our brains are hardwired to protect us and give us signals when we are in physical or psychological danger. If the brain perceives a threat, it releases hormones to prepare us. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response and it helps to protect us. However, if we are always on high alert physically and emotionally, it may damage our health, our relationships and quality of life.
Signs and symptoms of stress overload
While stress is a normal response to the complex demands of life, certain signals and symptoms may indicate that stress is not being managed effectively.
Signs of stress overload include:
- Chronic worry.
- Negative self-talk.
- Unrealistic expectations/perfectionism.
- Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility.
- Physical illness.
- All-or-nothing attitude.
- Major life changes (positive and negative).
- Work or school.
- Relationship difficulties.
- Financial problems.
- Being too busy.
- Children and family.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress
Stress won’t disappear from our life but with practice we can build resiliency into our lifestyle, manage our stress levels and increase our ability to cope with challenges.
Remember that the signs and symptoms of stress overload can also be caused by other psychological or medical problems. People who suffer from major or chronic health issues – both mental and physical – often report high levels of stress.
If you notice the warning signs of stress overload, book an appointment with your GP to help determine if your symptoms are stress-related.
If high levels of stress continue and are interfering with your enjoyment of life, consider seeking support from psychologists who can help you learn to identify and better manage stress.
Everyone in my family is stressed, it’s just what we’re like…
Everyone has stress in their life as it is part of healthy warning system built into our bodies. Some of us we are more prone to stress overload due to our genes, our families and/or our personality styles.
We can all learn to identify and better manage stressors in ways, which will be specific to each person.
Sometimes the label itself is part of the problem – we may say, ‘I’ve always been stressed’ or, ‘it’s just our family style’ and start to believe this as fact when it is really only a belief. Reaching out to others and creating a better life balance helps us shift our perspective.
However, for many of us the ‘story’ is much deeper and there is benefit in seeing a psychologist to help us gain new tools and perspectives on how stress can be managed.
The writing groups I run are another way to help you ‘reframe’ old, unhelpful stories about yourself.
Stress is what keeps me ‘on edge’ and successful. I am afraid if I reduce it, my performance will suffer.
In fact, the reverse is true. For most of us, continuing to to ‘keep ourselves on edge’ will result in burnout, ill health and destroyed relationships. To perform well in all aspects of our life we need to manage the fight-flight response and not be driven by it.
The foundation for improving performance in work, life or relationships is to keep a healthy balance – sleep and exercise more, eat well, connect meaningfully with others, meditate and reduce alcohol and drug intake. However we define success, we need to respect and care for our mind-body health so we can adapt to the persistent level of demands that life places on us.
I thought only people with major mental health problems went to a psychologist. Stress is just a fact of life isn’t it?
Yes, stress is a fact of life but to live a life with stress overload is to endanger our health and our relationships.
People go to psychologists for many reasons and not all have major mental health issues. Many are seeking a better, more meaningful and happier way to live and relieve stress, grief, anxiety and depression.
Like so many other things in life, it is sometimes more effective to seek help earlier as soon as symptoms are first noticed. GPs and psychologists are part of the team that will help you with your particular situation and needs.
You can live a balanced less stressful life