Stress is not something that creeps up on you and like a jack in the box says, "Surprise!" For most of us, we have an idea of what causes us stress. And also for most of us, we generally try to ignore it or push it away. But what happens when we cannot do that anymore? When our proverbial cup is full. What are the warning signs?
Headaches. Now if you are like me, I rarely get headaches. It wasn't until I was dealing with my un-diagnosed post traumatic stress that I started experiencing headaches. If you are experiencing an increase in headaches and are not clinically diagnosed with migraines, and all of a sudden you are starting to experience headaches and it's outside your norm to, then you could be experiencing too much stress.
Memory issues. A lot of my law enforcement friends who have post traumatic stress (PTS) experience memory issues. Simply having high levels of stress can cause memory issues.
Chronic pain. This is something that will creep up on you slowly and then all of a sudden it's a struggle to get out of bed everyday. You may find yourself complaining of specific joint pain. That may lead to irritability, anger and frustration. Because if you're in pain all the time, it sure can make you one angry bird. And irritable. If you're finding yourself getting really irritable, angry, your frustration levels very low, it could be a buildup of unresolved stress.
Frequent sickness. This is a big one that most people overlook. When we are stressed out our bodies cannot recover. When defenses are low, our body's reactions to germs and stuff that a healthy person would be able to ward off, becomes a problem. Your body has an inability to fight infection adequately, an therefore we may get sick a lot.
Decreased energy & insomnia. How sucky is it to have that alarm clock go off ? You find you have no energy because you didn't sleep well. Then you have to make it through the day and you're just like, "Oh my gosh." And you have to concentrate in meetings. And then you start hitting the caffeine and the energy drinks. You start hitting everything that will just kick off a cascade of symptoms just so you can make it through the day. And then what do you do when you get home? Eat a crappy dinner or go through the drive thru. Then flop down on the couch and maybe we fall asleep or we fall asleep and then wake up. So now we are not sleeping well which may lead to the next thing...
Chronic fatigue. When you get to this level, it's because your body has stayed at that heightened level of stress, burning through your cortisol (stress hormone). It's a hormone that is released naturally to deal with stress. But if you stay at a heightened level of stress for too long, you can literally burn through your cortisol, which means your body is completely out of whack and, and your other hormones have to kick in to help you deal with the imbalance. It's not something you notice, you can't feel it. So when your body can't make cortisol anymore adrenaline takes over. Adrenaline is only supposed to be released when we are in fight or flight. It's not supposed to be released for regular stress. But when your stress remains unchecked and your body is unable to produce cortisol eventually you may injure your adrenal system. I've been there, and done that. It leads to chronic fatigue where no matter what you do, your body literally cannot, recover. The solution to adrenal fatigue is complicated and requires medical intervention.
Digestive issues. And there are a lot. Sudden irritable bowel, diarrhea or the opposite. When we feel stress, cortisol kicks in, we're less hungry. And then when the stress lowers we may find ourselves shoveling in the food. Or, we become stress eaters. If you are finding this happening all of a sudden, time to check your stress level.
Depression and anxiety. Been there, done this too. This is when stress has reached its max and we stay there and we have not asked for help or gotten treatment or have effective coping mechanisms and we burned through our cortisol or operating purely on adrenaline. By the time we get to depression and anxiety, we have got such stress we may not recognize which way to proceed. It can lead to heart issues. The rate and the incidents of cardiovascular issues in our first responders is absolutely skyrocketing. It's bad enough that we have suicide rates that are just out of control. But now, studies show that we have increased levels of heart disease, even from folks that have no family history.
This list is not exhaustive. There are more symptoms and more warning signs. Why are we not paying attention to these warning signs? It's time to get real with yourself. Do you have one of these or multiple of these things going on? If you're in need of resources, please reach out. Ask a friend, ask a mentor. Comment on this or contact me through the website. If you need help, ask. There's no shame in asking. No shame, no stigma, no judgment. The most important thing is for you to get back to living your most productive life because you deserve it.