7 Red Flags That May Mean You're Under More Stress Than You Realize

by Caroline Burke

Stress is a freaking bummer. We all know what it feels like, and we're all on the same page about how sh*tty it feels. But when that tension begins to hurt your relationships and affect your well-being, it might mean there are some stress red flags that you just can't ignore anymore.

When you think about the world we live in, where you can always be reached by phone, and you're expected to answer emails from underneath your bed covers, it's no wonder why our national stress level is the highest it's been in 10 years, according to a recent poll by the American Psychological Association.

Stress happens; you can't avoid it entirely. But the hardest part about this is that it can often feel totally out of your control. When you have four different deadlines approaching at work, or your in-laws just sent you a link to the apartment right next to yours and said they're thinking about making a deposit, it can feel like your happiness and sanity are far beyond reach.

Although you can't necessarily stop your life from being stressful, you can certainly be more vigilant about recognizing your stress red flags. If you're more aware and in tune with your stress levels, it's easier to know when you need to stop everything, take a breath, and do whatever relaxes you. Whether it's a massage, a long run, or a day with your phone turned off, your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Here are seven red flags that mean you're too stressed out, and you need to slow it down a little.

You Have Sudden Angry Outbursts

Most types of anger are founded in a form of stress or anxiety. You're worried about a deadline, or a relationship in your life, and because you feel like it's out of your control, you react with rage.

If you're responding to friends and family in a less than friendly way lately, it might be a sign you're on stress overload.

Your Eating Habits Are Falling Apart

Over-eating and under-eating are both very common symptoms of chronic stress. Taking time to think about what you're putting into your body is a great way to slow down and take control of a small, but important aspect of your life.

You're Exhausted, But Can't Seem To Fall Asleep

Everyone's been here: You crawl into bed at 9 p.m., stoked about getting a potential 12 hours of sleep, but then suddenly it's 1 a.m., and you're halfway into the first season of a new Netflix show.

It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes exhaustion can actually make it difficult to rest. This is what scientists call "sleep debt." It's when you don't get enough sleep, which then increases stress on your body, which then leads to a release of adrenaline as a way to help you function, ultimately leaving you struggling to fall asleep.

The solution? Turn all your digital screens off. It's much easier for your brain to decompress without a TV or an Instagram feed to distract it.

Your Memory Is Totally Shot

There's a reason why you feel like you start to lose your mind when you're extremely stressed. Stress hormones work as interference to the part of your brain that creates and retains important memories. In the same way, stress can actually prevent you from accessing memories that you have retained. This is why someone can ask for your phone number, and you can draw a blank for a few seconds, even though you know it by heart.

When this happens, take a deep breath and try to clear your mind, or at least focus on your breathing. This should help you regain focus on the task at hand.

Your Immune System Is Crashing

You know how it seems like you always come down with the flu at the worst possible time? That's because stress levels are directly correlated with your body and its ability to keep you healthy.

Here's how it works: Stress hormones can lower the efficacy of your immune system by repressing your number of lymphocytes, which are super important in fighting infections in the body.

People suffering from stress often turn to unhealthy coping habits, like eating crappy foods, smoking, or drinking — all of which make you susceptible to a nasty bug, or more long-term health issues with your heart or blood flow.

The solution? Meditate, go to yoga, or tell your boss you're on overload. Do what you have to do to find the time to take a break, both for you and your body's sake.

You Never Seem To Be In The Mood For Sex Anymore

It's a total catch-22: Sex is an excellent way to relieve stress, but when you're feeling stressed, you're less likely to want to roll around in the sheets with your bae.

Although it tends to be a more prevalent problem for men (hello, erectile dysfunction), women's hormone levels are significantly affected by high stress levels. Think of it as seesaw: When your "stress drive" goes up, your sex drive plummets to the ground.

You're Using Alcohol And Other Substances As A Way To Relax

The connection between stress and substance abuse is maybe the clearest one of all. Alcohol and drugs may make you feel good, but they also make you feel less — at least, less of the parts of your life that concern you.

In fact, there's evidence that stress is the number one cause of relapse for addictions. If alcohol seems like it's becoming a go-to stress reliever for you, try to mix it up a little. Go for a run, catch up with a friend, or take a bubble bath instead when stress runs high.

If relying on alcohol for stress relief becomes a consistent, major struggle for you, be sure to seek professional medical help to get the treatment you deserve.