Everyone experiences stress in their life. But have you wondered if your feelings of anxiety or sadness are more than just stress? Knowing the signs can be helpful to getting the help you need. In this post, you’ll find a checklist therapists use to assess if you are more than just stressed.

Sign #1:  Not Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep is important for our bodies and minds to recharge and operate at peak performance.  The optimal amount of sleep for an adult 18-64 years old is 7 to 9 hours each night. If you don’t get enough sleep, you operate at a less efficient level and incur a “sleep debt.” This type of debt, however, is not that easily paid off. Your body does not recover from say, six hours of sleep, with an extra six hours the next day. To recover, the body takes a few nights of consistent sleep.

If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, you may be incurring sleep debt. Consequently, you become physically, cognitively, and emotionally impaired.

Also, how you feel at night when you are not sleeping is important. If you are feeling more stressed, anxious or depressed at night, or if you feel that you can’t shut off the thoughts in your head, then you might benefit from some extra coping strategies.

Sign #2:  Increased Alcohol or Drug Use

A glass of wine (or two) can help you decompress at the end of a long day. But, is it becoming hard to get through the day, or an evening, without a drink or a puff to take the edge off? Increased alcohol or drug use can be a sign that you are struggling with more than just stress.

One way to monitor your stress is to notice when you are looking forward to that glass at an earlier time earlier than usual. Physical symptoms such as dehydration or headaches are also good signs of abuse. When these occur regularly, you may be dealing with more than just stress. 

Sign #3:  Isolating Yourself

It is understandable that, from time-to-time, you need to get away from people to relax. For introverts, spending some alone time is how they recharge their batteries. It becomes a problem when you isolate yourself from others all or most of the time. This is especially true if you reduce or eliminate contact with those who are close to you and care deeply for you.

One way to determine if “alone time” is at a healthy level is to notice if you draw energy from it. If your avoidance of others is a way to decompress, and prepares you for more social interaction later, you may just need a break. But if you are spending more time alone than you used to, and you feel that your batteries are still not becoming recharged, then the isolation could be a means of avoiding another issue. It could also point towards one of the most common symptoms of depression: failing to gain pleasure out of activities that you used to enjoy (or loss of interest).

Sign #4:  Loss of Interest

Did you have something that you were passionate about, such as a sport or hobby, but that interest has faded? Sometimes we move on to other activities that interest us more.  Other times,  this may be another warning sign of depression. In fact, it’s one of the most common symptoms.

Most people who have depression experience a decrease of pleasure doing activities that they used to enjoy. You can get back to find happiness in the simple things in life!

Sign #5:  Risk-Taking Behavior

Do you need to feel a thrill in order to feel alive?  You might be getting tired of activities that you used to enjoy. If you feel that you need something more “intense” to get the same level of satisfaction, and if this leads you to unhealthy risk taking behavior, you might be waving a red flag.

Of course, there can be healthy risk-taking behavior like doing something that is outside your comfort zone.  Risk-taking behavior that results in a sign of something more than stress involves a feeling of “I don’t care about the consequences.” Some examples include drinking and driving, unsafe sex with new partners, or drug use.

If you find yourself doing these things, ask yourself why. Your actions may be a way of coping with something much deeper. 

Sign #6:  Eating Problems

When you feel stressed, do you reach for food to soothe yourself? Do you avoid food as much as possible because the thought of eating is too stressful? Everyone’s appetite responds to stress differently. Food, especially your favorite kind, can stimulate your brain to produce dopamine. This neurotransmitter allows you to experience pleasure. One way the brain responds to stress is to push you toward an activity that produces dopamine. Consuming foods high in sugar, carbs or sodium is one of the easiest ways for the brain to accomplish a quick boost.

On other hand, your body can also respond in the exact opposite way. The excessive stress tells the brain that you need to focus on finding solutions to a perceived problem. Your mind may see eating as distractor from this quest, and push it down the list of priorities. If you experience elevated anxiety, you may be replacing a healthy and balanced sense of caution with unhealthy mental rumination. Your worries move your mind to a fight-or-flight state while neglecting self-care.

Sign #7:  Lack of Concentration

Have trouble staying focused? Not being able to concentrate or having a foggy memory could be signs of depression or anxiety. Depression often shows up as a lack of energy and motivation, making efforts to focus harder than usual. Anxiety, on the other hand, can show up as a more heightened state that focuses on your worries. Much so, that it’s actually hard not to focus on what makes you anxious.

If you are noticing that your difficulty with focus and concentration is coming in the way of completing daily tasks, you may be recognizing a red flag.

You may respond to this realization by making greater efforts to concentrate, therefore putting even more stress on yourself. But, it is often more helpful to give your mind some rest, instead of added pressure.

Activities such as taking several breaths with focus on long exhalations, or more focused activities such as yoga or meditation can give you some relief. Just a few minutes of active mindful breathing can restore focus and concentration. When practiced regularly, mindfulness (a practice that focuses on the breath) can help you control what you want to focus on, and what you prefer to let go.

Sign #8:  Feeling Grumpy

Stress can leave you in a grumpy mood. But, if you are always feeling irritable, that can also be a sign of depression.

Society makes anger more acceptable than other, more vulnerable feelings. Raising your voice at someone that mistreated you feels safer than crying in front of someone that hurt you. When you feel weak you may unconsciously switch your perspective to a feeling that makes you feel stronger. You can observe this in animals that feel threatened, and as a result make themselves look bigger and more aggressive. It’s a very useful defense mechanism, and has helped our species survive for millions of years. But, all in good measure.

Anger is a very useful feeling because it elicits change in yourself and people around you. But, it blocks you from feeling better if you are using it at a time when a different feeling needs to be expressed. Being in a constant state of irritability prevents you from seeing the good in the world and finding solutions to your stress.

Sign #9:  Avoiding Certain Situations

It can be tempting to avoid certain situations because they stress you out. For instance:

  • Not wanting to touch particular objects because they are “dirty.”
  • Staying away from crowded places, either inside or outside.
  • Preferring not to fly in an airplane for fear that something bad will happen.
  • Having to perform rituals that help soothe you.

Even though these actions seem to help you avoid stressful situations, they could be signs of  anxiety. When your avoiding-behavior prevents you from positive experiences, then it may be a good time to address the rationale behind your actions. Don’t miss out on opportunities for growth and happiness!

Sign #10:  Having Negative Thoughts

Stress can certainly cause negative thinking. But if those thoughts drift towards thoughts of hurting yourself or suicide, then there’s a much deeper problem. Seek out help immediately. Interestingly, when you experience these thoughts, you see them as “rational,” and may not challenge them. But there is no valid reason, ever, that you deserve to be hurt or even worse, die. Suicidal ideation often starts with a thought that feels like a soft but clear whisper. It may tell you that others will be better of without you, or that you can’t take your suffering anymore.

Though you may struggle with finding hope, know that suicidal thoughts pass when you talk about them with others. Find a friend, family member or colleague and share your thoughts. They can help you find an experienced counselor to help you.


What you can do next

There will always be stressful situations to navigate in life. Even so, stress shouldn’t get to the point where it has a drastic effect on you. When stress changes the way you relate to others around you, and to yourself, it’s important that you pay attention. Most importantly, get the support you need to allow you to take back your life. You can feel more in control, and less stressed, and life can feel much better than this.

Contact us to set an appointment with one of our counselors at LaunchPad Counseling. You can also sign up online, and we will give you a call to schedule an appointment time. We love to help people feel better and enjoy life!