It’s no secret that the past year has been stressful. A global pandemic, city-wide lockdowns, and rampant unemployment have added more weight to those already struggling. Whatever is behind your stress, it’s safe to say that it impacts every facet of your life. We’ve previously discussed ways to cope with ongoing pressure; today, we’ll explore the key emotional signs of stress.
Look Out for These Emotional Signs of Stress
The first clue that you’re getting overwhelmed is irritability. When you’re irritable, the tiniest thing can set you off – even if it wouldn’t usually bother you. Think of this emotional state as a rubber band stretched to its limit; even the smallest touch can release anger and outrage.
Why do we become irritable under stress? It’s a product of tension, say researchers. When someone is coping with a major life event, for example, they may find it difficult to regulate their emotions. That tension also makes it challenging to tolerate missteps from the people around them.
It’s common to get frustrated from time to time, but if you find yourself in a chronically sour mood, it may be time to examine the reasons behind your feelings.
2. Memory Problems
Scientists have also found that stress can trigger memory problems. When in a strained state, the brain struggles to encode (form) short-term memories. The process of storing these memories is also impacted.
This is why eye-witness testimony is considered unreliable. Those who were under duress may strongly believe that they remember every detail, but there is no guarantee that this is the case. Emotional signs of stress often include sudden lapses in memory.
Recent findings concerning stress and memory include:
- Stress can impede encoding: the initial formation of memories.
- The exhaustion that results from chronic stress can lead to cognitive impairment. Memory issues can be detected three years later, even after the exhaustion has been resolved.
- Increased levels of cortisol aren’t directly related to the effects of stress on memory.
This means that even if you are more hormonally responsive than the next person, you won’t necessarily suffer from memory loss more severely than they do.
3. Mood Swings and Emotionality
Shifting moods are commonly associated with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and BPD (borderline personality disorder). However, they can also arise after stressful life events. Problems with your relationships, career, finances, or family can trigger a higher level of emotionality than you’re used to.
It should be noted that mood swings can also be attributed to substance abuse. When psychoactive substances are used to manage stress, they can actually result in greater emotional difficulty as time goes on.
4. Difficulty Concentrating
Stress is distracting. If you’re preoccupied by thoughts of work at home (“When was that deadline?”) or vice versa (“What did she mean by that?”), you’re unlikely to focus on the task at hand. Additionally, we’re often peppered by countless tiny distractions throughout the day: dinging notifications, spur-of-the-moment conversations, and unplanned meetings are just a few of the things that can leave us feeling frazzled. If you’re overwhelmed and unable to check tasks off your list, you may be chronically stressed.
The last emotional sign of stress is depression. A persistent low mood is associated with high stress levels. One study found that both acute and chronic stress contributed to higher rates of depression among female participants. Another found that those who reported higher stress levels were also more likely to be depressed. Those with this symptom should seek help immediately.
Coping with Emotional Stress
Fortunately, there are ways that you can successfully manage your stress levels. The first step is to up your emotional intelligence. By getting in touch with your feelings, you can start identifying the things that are stressing you out. Start by writing out a list of all the things that are contributing to your emotional signs of stress. You can always categorize these – are they mostly related to your work? Your personal life? Narrowing down the causes can help you to start addressing problem areas. Reflect on these factors to start moving forward.
Next, find ways to de-stress in your day-to-day life. Some of our top recommendations include:
Do a Digital Detox
The American Psychological Association has found that those who constantly check their online profiles, emails, and texts are more stressed than their tech-disconnected peers. Set aside time without devices and choose a set of relaxing activities to replace them.
Try These Everyday Mindfulness Exercises
We’ve all heard about the benefits of mindfulness, but you don’t have to be an expert or yogi to participate. Click here for everyday techniques that are a bit more accessible, including body scanning, mindful seeing, and self-compassion.
Let Your Brain Recuperate
If your thoughts are racing, you’re not alone. What is behind this? We’re used to juggling multiple inputs at once; if you find yourself scrolling through social media while also watching TV, you’re probably not really relaxing. Take some time to walk in nature, practice yoga, engage in self-care, or nap – anything that gives your brain a chance to rest.
If you find yourself struggling to stay on task, you may feel anxious. Don’t respond to stress by working yourself harder. That’s a sure way to make the situation worse. Instead, focus on unwinding in your own way. If do-it-yourself methods aren’t working, consider seeking professional help.
When It’s Time to Get Help
In the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, we begin by admitting that our lives have become unmanageable. If you’ve noticed the emotional signs of stress in yourself, it may be time to get help. Speaking with a therapist or career coach is a great way to reprioritize with guidance – they can help you to decide what is important and what is not.
If you have begun to misuse drugs and alcohol to cope with stress, or if you have developed depression or anxiety as a result of chronic stress, treatment is available. Lakeside-Milam provides accredited addiction and mental health services in Washington state. Contact us for more information.