Stress is a bitch.
It creeps up on you like a dark cloud, making it impossible to work, eat or sleep.
The body is hardwired to react to stress and protect you from impending danger.
This was vital in times wrought with life-threatening elements, like famine and wildlife. But clearly your body hasn’t adjusted, and it doesn’t realize your boss isn’t actually going to kill you.
When you have an upcoming deadline or an impending crisis, it treats these situations as real threats. This causes alarms to go off in your body and jump-starts the stress response.
Normally, the body resets itself after the perceived threat has vanished.
But when stressors are constant and your psyche constantly feels under fire, you run the risk of entering a state of chronic stress.
Chronic stress is bad for so many reasons. It puts you at risk for heart problems, sleep problems, anxiety and depression, making it extremely vital for you to keep your stress levels in check.
Watch out for these six warning signs of chronic, dangerous stress:
1. Panic Attacks
You know the feeling. You feel like you're juggling 10 balls, and at any minute, they’re going to come crashing down on your face.
Stop these racing thoughts with deep breathing.
Go hide in the bathroom, at your desk or in a conference room. Place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest, while you breathe deeply in through your nose and out your mouth.
Focus entirely on your breathing. Repeat until you feel a deep state of zen.
2. Racing Thoughts
Anxiety is a symptom of stress. This can cause you to experience racing thoughts, and you completely lose focus.
Put down your phone (seriously) and step away from the computer. Make a list of the top five things you want to accomplish that day.
Breaking tasks down can instill confidence in your ability and make projects appear much more manageable.
3. Tightness In Your Muscles And Joints
Do you clench your jaw or tighten up your shoulders at the thought of that upcoming deadline?
Stress causes our bodies to be on high alert.
Relax with some progressive muscle relaxation. Moving from your head down to your feet, clench each body part tightly for five seconds and release.
You will feel more at ease afterward, and ready to take on the day.
4. Stomach Ache And Heartburn
If you're in the bathroom literally every 10 minutes at work, this could be because of your stress levels.
Anxiety and worry can upset the balance of digestion. In some people, it slows down digestion and causes bloated, painful constipation.
In others, it speeds it up and causes those frequent trips to the bathroom.
Stress can also lead to that burning feeling in your stomach or esophagus, which is known as heartburn.
Managing your stress is the best, but for a quick fix, sip on a drink containing ginger.
It has been known to calm stomach aches and has a number of other amazing benefits.
Sleeplessness is extremely common among individuals with high stress levels.
Often, people get in their beds to try to go to sleep, but they experience racing thoughts and restless legs.
According to The Chicago Tribune, this may be caused by technology in the bedroom. The blue light from your smartphone and computer screen suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that helps us sleep.
Screens also disrupt the circadian rhythms that control our sleep-wake cycles.
Kick your technology out of bed and catch some extra zzz’s.
6. Weight Gain
According to the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Southern California, “the immediate response to stress can be a temporary loss of appetite. For some people, chronic stress can be tied to an increase in appetite and stress-induced weight gain.”
Whenever we feel threatened, our body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help us in situations of danger and distress.
But unfortunately, your body doesn’t know the difference between a lion chasing after you and that paper you have due next week.
Because of this, your body still responds to stress with the hormonal sign that you need to replenish your nutritional stores.
This is why you crave pizza every time you get stressed out (and send Domino's that pizza emoji).
Stress is real, and it affects us in so many ways.
The next time you feel overwhelmed, listen to your body.
The hunger, insomnia and panic attacks aren’t just in your head.