How Does it Feel?
Describing the symptoms of the stress response is easy. Everyone recognizes at once the heart-pounding adrenaline surge they feel when a stressor has presented itself. But describing the physical symptoms of the cumulative effects of stress is somewhat trickier. For one thing, people have different levels of success at addressing, responding to and recovering from stress. Secondly, the physical symptoms can begin in any of the many areas of the body that are affected by the stress response. If your digestive system has been thrown into low gear by stress too frequently, the result may feel like a slight upset stomach before turning into painful hyperacidity or even an ulcer. Headaches and feelings of fatigue can come from many sources, but those derived from stress might be resolved with stress-management techniques.
Your Mood and Habits
Feelings of anxiety, sadness, and general malaise are even harder to pin to stress. Everyone feels negative emotions sometimes. If you have had many challenges at work or home, and start experiencing negative feelings more frequently, that could be a red flag that stress is altering your mood. The same goes for any changes in behavior that come on suddenly after you have been stressed out. Watch for a big departure from your usual routine. It could indicate that your body is trying to combat the effects of stress, and you should pay attention to those warning signs. If your use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs increases, or you feel like avoiding social situations, be careful about chalking it up to a temporary phase or a lark. You may be able to feel more like your old self if you identify the root cause as stress, and take steps to manage it better.
Do you think you may have some fallout from stress, but you just aren't sure? Don't miss our self-assessment in Chapter 13. It's a simple tool to get a quick idea of whether stress has been more pronounced in your life lately. There are other assessments, too. But if you have any symptoms whose origins are unclear, always check in with your physician and let him or her know what has been going on in your life. The longer stress-relate symptoms go unchecked, the more likely it is that they will become serious.