Overt (or obvious) symptoms of stress
Symptoms of stress commonly manifest in terms of physical, mental or emotional discomfort.3
Physical signs include headaches, tiredness, an upset stomach or an inability to sleep well
Mental signs include feeling overwhelmed, being ‘down in the dumps’ and unable to enjoy yourself or switch off
Emotional signs include being irritable, impatient, anxious, nervous, depressed, lonely and feeling like there’s no way out
Deeper (or not so obvious) symptoms of stress
Many times, we tend to avoid dealing with stressors head-on, thinking that avoiding problems will make them go away or stop us from getting anxious. In psychological terms, this is known as avoidance coping a.k.a “What you resist, persists”.
Avoidance coping doesn’t work in the long-term because not dealing with our problems only increases anxiety instead of diminishing it.
We also tend to adopt other not so obvious ways of coping which can be even more detrimental to our health and well-being such as:
Emotional eating or overeating – Turning to food when we are stressed is very common because food helps us feel better in the moment by triggering our brain’s reward system. Often, we end up overeating to numb our feelings so we can avoid thinking about them. This often ends up leading to compulsive or binge eating where we can feel that we don’t have any control over our food choices.
Reliance on substances like alcohol – Similar to food, some of us turn to alcohol or other substances to help us relax in the moment. However, by doing this over and over again, it can easily become an addiction.
Nervous behaviors like chewing nails – Since we are not dealing with stress directly, we end up releasing our nervous energy by biting nails or pinching our skin.
Procrastination – One of the most common consequences of avoidance coping is procrastination which only serves to increase our anxiety and makes us feel even worse than we started with. We end up questioning our motivation, willpower and discipline which can lead to low self-esteem and feeling stuck in life.
Passive aggressiveness – The stress of being stressed makes us irritable and more aggressive than normal as we usually want to be left alone and don’t have patience in dealing with other people or routine tasks during the day. Often, this can lead to us pushing away the people we most love and makes us feel even more lonely and depressed.
Rumination – Some of us keep thinking about the same negative stressors over and over again wondering why this is happening to us and brooding over the circumstances. This sends us even more into a negative spiral and unable to respond to life’s challenges in a proactive way.
Chronic Illnesses – incidences of autoimmune illnesses such as IBS, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis affect about 50 million Americans and is only increasing each year.4 Studies have shown that up to 80% of patients have reported high levels of stress prior to diagnosis leading researchers to hypothesize that increased production of stress-related hormones. This leads to immune dysregulation and cause auto-immune illnesses.5
In a nutshell, not dealing with stress directly leads to what we commonly perceive as self-sabotage – engaging in behaviors seemingly against our own will and feeling a lack of control over our lives.