Trying to keep up with life’s demands and expectations can be overwhelming under normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic and the disruption it has caused in daily life and holiday plans.
How do you know if your stress level is too high? Here’s how to tell, and what you can do.
What does stress look like?
“Stress can manifest in many different forms,” says Julie Manuel, MSEd, psychotherapist and clinical program manager of Kettering Behavioral Medicine Center. “One of the biggest signs of stress is irritability, like being short with family members.”
Not having enough energy to complete daily tasks like work or exercise, and somatic symptoms like nausea and tension headaches can all be signs of chronic stress.
High stress levels can be a huge factor in physical illnesses such as chronic migraine headaches and can develop into nausea, ulcers, or constant overeating. Sometimes stress can even present as flu-like muscle aches.
“Sometimes we mistake symptoms for a cold or flu when actually we’re overly stressed, overly worked, burned out, and just need a break,” Julie explains.
How to take a break
One of the biggest keys to preventing chronic stress, says Julie, is practicing regular self-care.
While some people associate self-care with bubble baths and face masks, self-care is actually just about identifying what activities help you relax and take better care of yourself.
“Self-care could be reading a book, taking a mental health day off of work, or exercising,” says Julie. Or it might be calling a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
“The number one best self-care practice for you is simply the one you are going to do.”
Preventing chronic stress
Julie notes that one key to preventing burnout is learning to set healthy boundaries.
“Often, we want to be our best and exceed expectations,” she says. “But we need to be able to set firm limits and boundaries, so we don’t work ourselves to the point where we’re overly stressed.”
It’s important to note that saying “no” now doesn’t mean saying “no” forever. “You can do it all, but not all at once, and maybe not right now,” says Julie.
Saying “no” respectfully doesn’t mean you’re saying “never” to a particular task or activity. Setting healthy limits is about making your mental health a priority so that you can approach life with realistic expectations and boundaries.
When to seek help
If you feel like your symptoms of stress are unmanageable, Julie advises seeking help from a doctor or therapist.
“Doctors and therapists can help you navigate and unpack the stress in your life,” says Julie. “Arm yourself with the right tools. It’s OK to ask for help.”