How do you know when you're stressed?
January 30, 2020 10:15 AM   Subscribe

How do you recognize stress in yourself?

Looking back one consistent takeaway from xmas holidays, every year, is that I'm super stressed before the holidays. In fact once I take a few days off, I sometimes see that the period leading to time off has been stressful, but that's not always the case (ie I wasn't stressed).

I made some regretful decisions last year that I can reasonably tie to stress. I'd like to to recognize that stress is mounting and address it. The first step is to measure it. How?

I've meditated regularly for a couple of years now, and it's helped tremendously. One of the signs in me that I'm getting stressed is that I meditate less.

I'm also experimenting with eliminating caffeine.

I exercise regulary. I'm also dealing with my stressors directly (eg work stress).

I'm making all these changes, but I dont have a reliable stress measure. What would the hive mind recommend?
posted by aeighty to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I have a neck/headache that pops up worse when I’m stressed. I crave more unhealthy stuff. Then I feel more talkative or wake up with anxious thoughts.
posted by catspajammies at 10:19 AM on January 30, 2020

For me it's irritability, specifically with other people. Behaviors that I would normally roll my eyes at or brush off when I have a handle on my stress levels become things that really irritate me and tend to have a compounding effect--I get irritated by one thing, then I'm already irritated so it's harder to brush off the next thing, and then I'm just cranky for days at a time.

When I notice myself thinking things like "god, what do they want from me NOW" then I know it's time to take a step back and cocoon for a bit and refocus on my self-care routine.
posted by stellaluna at 10:26 AM on January 30, 2020 [15 favorites]

My signposts that I'm stressed:
- The very first sign of stress for me is feeling like I can't take a deep breath, or that my belly feels taut or constrained... like, inhaling and letting my belly expand takes conscious effort and feels weird. But it's worth doing because it's actually a really quick and effective way to re-ground yourself and slightly dissipate stress!
- Sign number two is chewing or ripping at my fingernails. Within minutes of feeling stress, I might chew off all 10 nails.

In a longer-term period of high stress:
- I find myself constantly holding my phone in my hand, as though I'm begging it for an alert to help distract me.
- Every time I try to start work, I get a massive wave of restlessness / needing to pee / hunger / thirst - anything to get away from the project
- I don't want to shower or brush my teeth
- I feel too hot or too cold a lot
- It's really hard for me to choose when to go to sleep- I'll stay up super late and pass out with my clothes still on
- Getting out of bed in the morning feels like I'm stuck in tar
- I make rash decisions to purchase or discard things.
- I mull over minor decisions for hours (researching dumb stuff like, which phone case to purchase?) and then just back away, undecided and task incomplete.
- I pick fights with loved ones, displacing my anxiety into unjustified annoyance with others
- I suddenly find that it takes a lot of energy to say "thank you" to people, or express kind pleasantries, like "Hey your presentation was amazing!" or "Congratulations on your thing!"
- In stores, I find myself avoiding looking the customer service reps in the eye
- Mildly annoying noises or textures make me feel like my skin wants to jump off my body and run away
- I get a weirdly strong urge to meddle in other people's dramas or join internet arguments!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:27 AM on January 30, 2020 [26 favorites]

A zit on my face when I don't usually get them.
posted by umbú at 10:28 AM on January 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mostly, I feel stress in my body. My jaw aches from being clenched too tight. My neck and upper back ache from my shoulders staying too hunched for too long. My head hurts. I feel like I can't catch my breath, even though I'm just sitting there. I look older, because my face is drawn and my forehead is in a permanent frown, apparently even when I'm asleep.

Internally, I also notice that I'm stressed when my focus is shot. I want any distraction, but I can't focus even on distractions.
posted by rue72 at 10:33 AM on January 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm going through a period of stress right now because a loved one is in the hospital and I am preparing to travel to see them. I've noticed my typical stress responses starting up:

-trouble sleeping
-racing heart, fluttering feeling in my chest and at the bottom of my throat
-craving sweets and empty carbs
-being less patient with other people, little things becoming magnified in my mind, being very irritable
-lots of jaw clenching--I wake up with a sore jaw despite the night guard that I wear every night
-upset stomach
-acid reflux worsening
-having a permafrown even though I don't realize it (as in, I will realize I'm frowning as I am trying to go to sleep; I wake up with my brows furrowed and my mouth pursed)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:44 AM on January 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

For me, it's aphthous ulcers. As soon as those hot, hateful little things appear in my mouth, I know it's time to Finally Deal With The Thing(s) Causing The Ulcers.

I have a series of other symptoms, which are relatively easy to ignore or blame on other more mundane factors. Such as, "my neck hurts because I've been staring at a monitor for too long, " or "I'm getting headaches because of the fluorescent lighting at work."

But as soon as the ulcers appear, I know that's the signal to slow down and start paying attention to that thing that's been slowly reaching a boiling point in my consciousness.
posted by the matching mole at 10:50 AM on January 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

My singing voice is one of the first things to go when I'm tense.
posted by mskyle at 10:51 AM on January 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

My shoulders are up by my ears when I'm stressed. And i sleep even less than usual.
posted by wellred at 10:54 AM on January 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Generally feeling less happy more frequently (which takes some actual reflection for me - "Did I feel overall happy or unhappy today?").

I get more aggro when I'm driving.
posted by blueberrypuffin at 10:55 AM on January 30, 2020

When I go from normal levels of stress to high levels of stress, I clench my hands while I sleep. When I wake up my fingers are sore.
posted by kimberussell at 10:56 AM on January 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

My misophonia acts up when I'm stressed. Suddenly small sounds (especially mouth sounds, or cutlery on plate sounds) enrage me.
posted by Zumbador at 11:11 AM on January 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

- Nightmares especially ones literally about the thing I am stressed about, not even a fantastical metaphor version.
- Meditating is more challenging and feels like it takes forever (i do only 10 mins daily)
- Crying at pretty mundane daily annoyances e.g. breaking a glass
posted by internet of pillows at 11:22 AM on January 30, 2020

- I don’t suffer from acid reflux in general but when stressed I get a persistent cough due to acid at the back of my throat
- lack of patience
- tension in various parts of my body, not helped by long hrs staring at a laptop for work. Specifically my lower back ceases up and starts to spasm and I can barely move. And my neck and shoulders are tense and painful when I wake up, not caused by my sleep setup
- excess consumption of coffee
- dull tension headaches, often triggered by lack of sleep
- also extra sensitive skin and outbreaks, especially if stress is compounded by lack of sleep
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:41 AM on January 30, 2020

I find it really hard to make any decision when I’m stressed. Once I stood in the grocery store aisle for 15 minutes agonizing over which ice cream to buy before I realized that I was under too much stress.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:52 AM on January 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Like people above I have some indicators, eg get lost easily and lose my already poor directional sense. I think these indicators vary a lot per person. In addition to physical signs, changes in self talk are another sign: eg, I just can't... I personally am thinking of journaling more to help identify my early signs as right now I am mainly keyed in to my crisis-near signals.
posted by typecloud at 12:05 PM on January 30, 2020

People upthread have mentioned every physical symptom I have, but the one thing that helps me notice it in the moment is my fitness tracker, of all things. It tracks my sleep and heart rate (not super precise but gets the gist of things well) and seeing that my heart rate is spiking from anxiety gives me reassurance that I am having a real reaction and somehow makes it easier to calm myself. Also, I can see when I am having restless sleep which gives me a reminder to work on sleep hygiene and self care.

There's something about having the data presented to me that brings me out of my anxious head and makes it easier to address the problem. It's also "fun" (looking for silver linings there) to see the physical response that is a panic attack show up on my hr monitor. It's almost like it legitimizes my feelings so I can move forward and work on them.
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 12:12 PM on January 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

When I feel stressed, I clench my jaw, grind my teeth in my sleep, and crave snacky sweet foods. Also sometimes my eyelid starts twitching.
posted by matildaben at 12:26 PM on January 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah you just have to pay attention to your body so that you notice when something changes. One stress thing I get is that it doesn't feel good to think about eating. I know this is unusual because thinking about when the next food is coming is my favorite thing. But when I'm stressed I find eating to be distracting and tedious.
posted by bleep at 1:08 PM on January 30, 2020

- My libido dies
- I eat more junk ford
- I stop going for walks
- I cancel all my voluntary socializing
- I don't read novels and I don't watch my favourite TV-shows, because I'm not in the right frame of mind for anything that requires extended attention
- I feel constantly behind on everything
- I find it hard to enjoy my breaks, because I'm a) too exhausted to use them for anything but vegging out, and b) constantly fretting about having to go back to work, knowing how behind I'm on everything
- I stop doing things I associated with relaxing (like taking a bath instead of a shower), because I just know I wouldn't find them relaxing right now anyway; my life gets reduced to three modes: sleeping, working, distracting myself from working
- I go to bed too late and find it hard to fall asleep
- I get sloppy and make more errors than usual
- I get irriated very easily and snap at anyone who distracts me from my task
- I feel more vulnerable than usual, like you could knock me down with a feather
- I feel like holding my breath while diving, and the moment when the stress ends feels like coming up for air

I usually notice at the "cancel all my voluntary socializing"-stage and try to counter-act by minimizing the "fretting about being behind on work" part, by reminding myself that I'm doing as much as I can, and that's all anyone can require. That helps with the sleeping at least. (But it only works now that I've reached a level of experience, where I feel confident to judge what "doing as much as I can" means for me personally).

The second thing that helps is reminding myself that that the reason for my stress is probably temporary : New tasks take me longer than they should because I still lack routine; once I have the routine, I will be more efficient. We are understaffed now, but my boss is already scheduling job interviews. We will meet the deadline and have a couple of slow days at the office again. I might have overbooked myself, but I will eventually meet my obligations and then be more mindful of my limited capacities before taking on new ones. Thinking about the endpoint for the stressful period and envisioning all the fun things I will finally get to do again then, usually helps me to get out of the "snap at innocent bystanders"-mood.
posted by sohalt at 1:11 PM on January 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Disclaimer: I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder so my day to day lived experience is one of just ongoing mild-to-moderate stress. However, here's what I feel when I am REALLY venturing into bad territory.

I feel like blood has been drained from my body.

I frown more.

Making eye contact is almost completely impossible.

My need to hide from people and tasks is heightened.

I feel like I am running on fumes.

I forget to drink water.

I am tired enough to go to bed as soon as I get home, but ruminate for so long that I don't end up going to sleep until after midnight.

I zone out and can only focus on very small tasks.

I wring my hands till they hurt.

But the worst symptom of all is that I mess with my face until it bleeds (I have trichilotomania and dermatillomania.) I recognize that is extreme and probably not applicable to you.

Wishing you peace.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 1:39 PM on January 30, 2020

When I am stressed:

- I have much less tolerance for the company of other people. The amount of personal space I need to feel comfortable increases. Other people's noises bother me more and their requests and ideas seem less reasonable. I find myself yelling at the air for people to leave me alone when I get a new text notification

- I am less able to concentrate on things I normally enjoy. Instead of reading a book or watching a show I like or working on a knitting project, I find myself mindlessly refreshing the same four websites.

- I have weird food preferences anyway, but when I'm stressed the number of foods that seem at appealing goes way down.
posted by darchildre at 1:50 PM on January 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Right now, I can tell my stress levels have shot up (though I don't know why) because I'm ruminating obsessively on one panicky thought after another. My house is going to collapse! I'm terrible at my job! If I go to the cinema I'll bring bedbugs home with me! I'm going to be made redundant! My house is going to collapse! Round and round I go, with another worry looming large as soon as the current one starts to recede, so that I never really get a break.

Alongside that, I'm more avoidant of people - can't face socialising with anyone but my closest friends; want to hide away at home at the weekend instead of going out and doing interesting distracting things that would make me feel better, because even casual encounters with neighbours or train ticket inspectors or baristas feel like too much to cope with.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:29 PM on January 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

My jaw gets sore (I'm a teeth clencher). I get awoken by nightmares. I find myself having a drink after work more days than not.
posted by capricorn at 5:58 PM on January 30, 2020

- Tired more often
- Irritable and more prone to getting angry or having outbursts over smallish irritants
- Don't feel like I have time for or can motivate myself to do active things or things to relax other than watch TV
- Become less sociable/see my friends less
- Fall back on crappy coping mechanisms - ie like people have said, eat junk food, stay up later than usual, oftentimes wake up earlier because my body has not completely relaxed.
- Room/living quarters get messier
- Bite nails
- More prone to crying

In periods of extreme stress: insomnia, heart palpitations, occasional shortness of breath, intermittent eye twitch.
posted by knownfossils at 6:00 PM on January 30, 2020

Lots of little physical ones but the big embarrassing one is that I start wanting to yell at other drivers, especially for driving slowly/dawdling. That feeling of "HEY, BUDDY" is a clear sign that I'm getting way too into optimizing things and wanting to just be free and untrammeled.

I was briefly using a meditation app that asked how your body felt and if any feelings came up while you were meditating. "The feeling of wanting to cry and wail" out of the blue with no idea where it came from was never a good sign. You might try something similar to learn your own feelings and signals better.
posted by Lady Li at 12:00 AM on January 31, 2020

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