Stressing Out: Definition, Symptoms, & How to Stop
What is stressing out? Discover its symptoms and what you can do to cope with stress and stop stressing yourself out.
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What Does It Mean to Be Stressing Out? (A Definition)
Most people feel stressed out now and then. In fact, stress is how our bodies naturally respond to demanding external conditions. Although we associate stressing out with a modern lifestyle, stress is nothing new. Even our ancestors faced stressful situations once in a while. Let’s travel back in time and imagine a person living in a hunter-gatherer society coming face to face with a deadly predator while picking berries. To survive, this individual would most likely choose between fighting the predator or running away to safety. This type of survival mechanism is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response.
Once triggered, the fight-or-flight response prepares our bodies to overcome a potentially harmful event by increasing our alertness and providing us with a temporary boost in energy (Dhabhar, 2018). Another way to look at a stress response is imagining it to be the emergency plan of our bodies, which reprioritizes bodily functions and shifts our resources toward processes that increase our chances of overcoming the obstacle in our path. However, as with any other emergency response, stress may only be helpful and effective against a short-term hurdle. Therefore, stressing out over an extended period may undermine your well-being.
When you are stressing out, certain life events and situations can pressure and overwhelm you in a way that makes it hard for you to cope with them. Maybe it is the deadlines for your work or school calendar, the pile of bills on your coffee table, or you may be worried about your health or relationships. Regardless of the cause, stressing out can drain your energy and leave you even more frustrated. Hence, recognizing stress symptoms and understanding when they arise may help you manage stress effectively.
Stressing Out Symptoms
When faced with a stressful situation, your body triggers its hard-wired fight-or-flight response by producing several key hormones, including cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine), and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). Suddenly, you may feel your heartbeat and breathing rate increase while your muscles become tense. But what do these hormones have anything to do with such sensations?
Hormones are chemical messengers inside the body that carry signals to other organs and tissues. These signals instruct the cells at their destination to generate specific actions. For instance, adrenaline and noradrenaline instruct the muscle cells in your heart to constrict faster. As a result, your heart starts beating at a higher rate. Similarly, cortisol constricts your blood vessels, which increases your blood pressure (Hamer and Steptoe, 2012).
In the short term, these effects of stress hormones, combined with their other actions, such as elevated blood sugar levels, increase your focus and allow you to move swiftly with greater force. In a perfect world, the levels of these hormones would drop down to their normal levels after the stressful threat has passed. However, if you feel stressed out for a long time, these hormones may linger in your body. This elongated presence of stress hormones might result in your organs working in an emergency mode for much longer than they can handle. Moreover, if this long-term stressing out isn’t managed, it can eventually wreak havoc in some of your tissues.
Stressing Out Effects
In addition to your physical health, stressing out can affect the other aspects of your life as well, including your emotional and behavioral well-being. Yet, every person’s body is unique, and how your body and mind process stress is different than how other people experience and respond to it (McEven, 1998). Nevertheless, certain symptoms are frequently associated with stressing out:
If you’d like to learn more about how stress impacts your body, you may enjoy the video below.
Video: How Stress Affects Your Body
Stressing Out at Work
A job is more than a source of income for many people. Working can help us feel accomplished and mentally stimulated. Unfortunately, however, working is also one of the most common reasons for stressing out, affecting approximately two-thirds of working adults (American Psychological Association, 2021). Employees may feel stressed out when dealing with a heavy workload, inflexible or lengthy work hours, or they may struggle with the lack of a healthy work-life balance.
This is especially true in the digital age with instant messaging and unlimited access to our email accounts resulting in many workers feeling the pressure to be available even after work hours and during days off. Potential health or safety issues and unpleasant working conditions, such as exposure to pollutants or noise, are also associated with work-related stress.
Moreover, many employees have to deal with toxic coworkers and supervisors and unsupportive workplace policies. Also, with the rise of the gig economy and the shrinking pool of full-time positions that offer livable wages and benefit packages, a growing number of workers are worried about job insecurity, lack of career advancement opportunities, and low wages. According to the current estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO), the price tag for work-related stress to the global economy due to productivity loss is around one trillion U.S. dollars per year.
How to stop stressing out at work
Both employers and their employees can take steps toward reducing work-related stress. If you’re an employer, you may consider talking to your employees to determine the causes of stress at your workplace, which can help your company reduce or eliminate workplace stressors via implementing new policies and revising existing procedures and employee responsibilities.
It may be challenging to reduce or eliminate specific stressors for some positions. For instance, a service industry job might require the employees to deal with a constant stream of phone calls, including customer complaints. In such cases, employers can help their workers cope with stressful situations by offering them stress management programs, tools, and support systems.
If you are stressing out about work, you may start by figuring out the source of your stress and try the suggestions at the end of this article if they apply to your situation.
Stressing Out About Money
Money is another stress factor for more than sixty percent of U.S. adults (American Psychological Association, 2021). Over the past few decades, wages for many positions have stagnated despite the increasing cost of living. In addition, recent economic downturns have added to the financial insecurity and stress that many individuals feel, especially for low-income families and recent graduates with college debt. Although many people have financial worries to some degree, stressing out about money becomes a problem when it interferes with your well-being.
If you are stressing out about money, you might want to assess your budget to identify any expenses you can cut or reduce. Not every service or item we purchase is of equal value or importance. Therefore, you might also benefit from prioritizing the expenses in your budget. Avoiding impulse purchases is another strategy that can ease your financial worries. For instance, I do my best only to purchase the items on my shopping list and stay away from stores if I don’t need any of their products.
Finally, another way to relieve your money-related worries is having a support system, which doesn’t mean surrounding yourself with wealthy friends and family. Instead, a support system can help you by sharing resources such as carpooling, picking up your child from school while you work, or simply by reminding you at the store that you don’t need that new shirt.
Stressing Out About School
Although you might enjoy learning about some subjects, others may be difficult or mundane. Add the ever-increasing workload for each subject and the pressure to do well in your assessments and standardized tests then you might have trouble imagining how you will survive another week. You are not alone; school is a significant source of stress for many teens and young adults.
Recent research has identified a rise in stress-related increases in the utilization of mental health services on college campuses (Duffy, Twenge, and Joiner, 2019). Moreover, some students might have difficulties paying attention during classes due to inadequate sleep, whereas students with learning disabilities face additional challenges in the classroom (Geisthardt and Munsch, 1996).
If you are stressing out about school, you may want to discuss your worries with an adult you trust. Some suggestions at the end of this article may also help you cope with school stress.
Stressing Yourself Out
Work, money, and school aren’t the only sources of stress, of course. Many daily activities can cause stress, and not all stressful situations can be avoided. Yet, you may be stressing yourself out even further. A common way you might be stressing yourself out is by worrying about issues you can’t control, focusing on their negative aspects, and imagining the worst outcomes. For instance, getting stuck in traffic used to make me dwell on the worst possible consequences of arriving late to my destination while still sitting in my car. Yet, in most cases, I’d be only a few minutes late, if at all. In other words, worrying while stuck in traffic helped nothing except for stressing me out unnecessarily.
Another way you might be stressing yourself out is by taking on more responsibilities than you can handle. To avoid feeling overwhelmed due to spreading yourself too thin, you might want to consider the time commitments for a new responsibility and the resources you need before accepting it. You can also try asking for help when you can’t manage all items on your calendar.
Why Am I Stressing for No Reason?
If you feel stressed out without any apparent reason, you might be dealing with anxiety, which is a persistent feeling of dread and uneasiness. Stress and anxiety employ nearly identical neurological mechanisms and exhibit similar symptoms (Daviu et al., 2019). But how can you tell if you are stressed out or anxious? Typically, you would feel stressed out because of an external threat or hurdle, such as when you have an argument with your coworker or receive a call from a debt collector. On the other hand, anxiety is your internal reaction to your stress, such as when you spend your weekend ruminating about having to interact with your coworker on Monday or when you avoid answering any phone calls even after you have paid your debt.
Although some level of anxiety from time to time is a normal part of life, persistent or worsening anxiety may impact your life. But there is hope; although some people have a genetic predisposition to be anxious (Daviu et al., 2019), many everyday factors exacerbate anxiety, such as inadequate sleep, lack of social support, and high caffeine intake, among others. Hence, you may reduce or eliminate your anxiety by limiting caffeine, getting adequate sleep, joining a support group, and removing any other factors that might make you feel stressed for no reason.
What to Do When You Are Stressing Out
Not all stress is bad. Stress allows us to push through difficult situations and overcome obstacles. However, when stressing out becomes excessive, it can interfere with your daily activities and your quality of life. Here are a few suggestions you may want to try when you feel stressed out.
Practice Mindfulness and Other Relaxation Activities
Mindfulness allows you to be present in the moment and accept your sensations and feelings without judging them. Research suggests that mindfulness-based therapy is effective against stress, anxiety, and depression (Khoury et al., 2013). Similarly, doing yoga or breathing exercises can help you relax your mind and reduce your heart rate (Perciavalle, 2017). You can practice mindfulness and other relaxing activities on your own or with a friend or choose from various instructional videos and smartphone apps.
Embrace Mother Nature
Many people’s lives are disconnected from nature, contributing to their stress and anxiety. Even brief exposures to a natural environment may boost positive emotions and reduce stress (Nisbet, Zelenski, & Grandpierre, 2019). The good news is, even urban green spaces provide most of the mood-enhancing benefits of nature. So, when you feel stressed out, try spending some time in a natural environment.
Get Adequate Sleep
Lack of sleep is linked to stress and anxiety (Minkel et al., 2012), and getting sufficient sleep may help you fight off stress. If you have trouble falling asleep, you may try limiting your caffeine exposure later in the day, eliminating your screen exposure close to bedtime, and meditating to unwind before going to bed.
Do Something Fun
Hobbies and fun activities can help you shift your focus elsewhere and elevate your mood. By engaging in a hobby, you may be able to channel your energy into improving a skill, learn something new, and use your creativity.
Human bodies are not meant to remain seated all day. Research has linked physical inactivity to stress, and regular physical activity can diminish or reverse its adverse effects (Tsatsoulis and Fountoulakis, 2006). Moreover, exercises that moderately elevate your heart rate also help you fight cardiovascular diseases. If you can’t commit to an exercise plan, you might try taking movement breaks during the day, using a standing desk, or sitting on an exercise ball instead of an office chair.
How to Stop Stressing Out
It is impossible to eliminate all stressors in your life. However, you can stop stressing by shifting how you think about stress and changing how you react to hurdles and stressful situations. The video below presents how to view stress as an ally instead of an enemy and harness your stress response to stop the adverse effects of stressing out.
Video: How to Make Stress Your Friend
Making peace with your body’s stress reactions isn’t the only way to stop stressing out. Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful:
Our minds can pay attention to only one task at a given moment. When you attempt to multitask, you end up switching your attention quickly between distinct tasks. It may ease your mind if you prioritize your tasks and entirely focus on one task at a time.
Being organized allows you to find things you need when you need them. It can also keep you aware of upcoming deadlines, meetings, and tasks, which may help you properly allocate your time and resources and avoid last-minute anxiety over the lack of preparation.
Watch What You Eat and Drink
Caffeine may wake you up and give you a brief energy boost, but consuming too much of it may make you feel irritated and jittery. Similarly, consuming alcohol during stressful times can help us relax in the short term but may add to stressing out later on. Moreover, some of us may be emotional eaters, making poor food choices when stressed out, such as eating an entire tub of ice cream. Given that unhealthy food choices can hurt your waistline, cardiovascular health, and immune system (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2010), eating a balanced diet may help you avoid these health problems.
Foster Real Connections
Humans are inherently social creatures, and most people thrive when they have meaningful, healthy relationships. Therefore, surrounding yourself with supportive people and interacting with them in meaningful ways may ease your stress and anxiety. However, you might want to keep in mind that even though social media platforms allow us to connect with others and keep up with their lives, relying primarily on social media to interact with others might also elevate the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and inadequacy, which in turn may increase your stress levels. It may be hard to shake off social media altogether. Yet, you may still benefit from small steps that would reduce the time and energy you invest in it. For instance, you can limit your social media use by disabling notifications, removing social media apps from your phone, or limiting social media use only to a specific time of the day.
Learn to Say No
If you are like me, you might be inclined to say yes to everything. It took me years to learn that a healthy dose of “no” was the magic touch that would stop me from spreading myself too thin. Having more responsibilities than you can handle is stressful. Declining requests that you won’t be able to manage easily can help you stop stressing out before it begins.
Ask for Help
Sometimes all you need might be a helping hand, a push in the right direction, or a shoulder to lean on to overcome an obstacle and stop stressing out. If you feel that you’re struggling with a task or a stressful situation, try reaching out to someone who can help ease your burden.
Stressing Out Quotes
Articles Related to Stressing Out
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Final Thoughts on Stressing Out
Stress is a natural response to obstacles and helps you overcome them. However, stressing out over a long period can impact your well-being. Even though you can’t eliminate stress entirely, you can change how you react to stressful situations and take steps to eliminate behaviors that aggravate stress and implement healthy habits to diminish the harmful effects of stressing out.