Stress — everyone seems to drip it these days. It’s no surprise that feeling like you live in a nonstop tune by Queen and David Bowie can do funny things to your mind.
What are the psychological effects of stress? Recognizing the following eight signs can let you know when to ease off the gas and take a break before you snap.
1. You Lose Patience
The adorable woman in the checkout line ahead of you has a coupon for everything — somewhere in her enormous purse. Then she decides to write out a check laboriously instead of using a card. You emit a sigh so loud, people on the other side of the store can see the frustrated smoke pouring from your ears.
When you have too much to do, and too little time to do it, you grow impatient. Unfortunately, your reactions to minor frustrations create a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum in your body.
Stress already elevates your cortisol and adrenaline levels, and growing angry and impatient increases the supply even more. If you keep piling on the frustration, it could lead to a heart attack. Instead, take a deep breath, and remember — you won’t even recall this temporary irritation in five years.
2. You Lose Concentration and Focus
You used to figure out new computer software with the speed of a toddler mastering an iPhone. Now, you can’t seem to figure out how to do something as simple as changing your email signature.
When you feel chronically stressed, you lose your ability to focus and concentrate, leading to increased frustration. Enter a new flood of stress hormones to add to the angst.
Instead, take a step back and try again — the next day, if need be. Reach out and ask for help. Please don’t worry about looking inept. Everyone struggles occasionally, and it’s more productive to ask a question than waste days on a program you can’t master.
3. You Stop Laughing
Have people started asking, “Where’s your sense of humor?” A wayward snide remark is no cause for concern, but if loved ones keep telling you to smile more, maybe you need to book a vacation, stat. One psychological effect of stress is losing your laughter.
Stress often occurs when you get caught up in a negative thought spiral. Use mindfulness techniques to center yourself in the present and remember whatever crisis you imagine probably isn’t happening in the here and now. Close your eyes and practice 4:4:4 breathing for a minute — inhale for four seconds, hold for four, then exhale just as long.
4. You Jump at Shadows
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition arising after an intensely stressful event or a series of them in complex PTSD. People with this condition often display exaggerated startle responses. For example, women who were victims of sexual assault may react aversely to touch, recoiling from a brush of their hand.
Some researchers now believe that those who have experienced trauma become sensitive to the stress hormone norepinephrine, so much so that small amounts trigger a fear response. From an evolutionary standpoint, this reaction helped early humans learn to recognize previously identified dangers and get out of Dodge quickly. However, such responses can cause problems in modern relationships and even the workplace.
5. You Lose Your Temper
Everyone needs some stress — otherwise, you’d never feel compelled to get out of bed in the morning. However, an excess of this emotion and the accompanying hormonal flood makes you angrier.
Unfortunately, modern life doesn’t let you avoid stress-inducing circumstances such as insufficient funds to cover your needs despite working hard. However, the good news is, you can control other factors, such as what you eat.
Try to avoid foods rich in sugar and caffeine. The former provides ready fuel for stress-hormone production, and the other increases heart rate, which already accelerates under pressure. Likewise, try to stay away from alcohol, as it impacts several neurotransmitter levels and can lead to poor decision making — which lands you in more stressful circumstances.
6. You Withdraw Inward
Some people act out when stressed, while others retreat into their shells. It’s one thing to walk away temporarily when you feel ready to snap. It’s quite another to isolate yourself from the social support you need in high-pressure circumstances.
Take time for yourself to journal or practice yoga, but include social activities in your calendar. If you don’t feel like happy hour with colleagues, perhaps a cup of herbal tea with one trusted friend could make you feel supported.
7. You Can’t Enjoy Yourself
Stress robs the joy from everyday life. Even when you take a break, you can’t enjoy it because you spend all your time dwelling on what you should be doing instead.
One solution is to buy a planner and schedule each day like a mad fiend. Be realistic — include time estimates for each task so that you don’t try to fit 30 hours of work in a 24-hour day.
The most vital component? Ensure you schedule at least 30 minutes each day to do something that you love. It doesn’t matter if it’s yoga or a bubble bath — you can’t pour from an empty pitcher, and self-care is crucial to tackling the rest of your list.
8. You Can’t Rest
Are you tossing and turning each night? One psychological effect of stress is making it impossible to get your Zzz’s.
Please reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex — no schlepping along your laptop to work between the sheets. The blue light can interfere with melatonin, a vital sleep hormone, plus, psychologically, you need a room of one’s own.
Try to adhere to a regular bed-and-wake schedule, even on weekends. If dreamland proves elusive, get up and enjoy a cup of chamomile while reading a book in your favorite lounge chair. You don’t want to reinforce negative associations of sleeplessness with your bed.
Recognize These 8 Psychological Effects of Stress
Excess pressure can do a number on your mental state. Recognizing these eight psychological effects of stress can help you realize when you need a break.