Is Your Stress Normal?


Many people wonder if the amount of stress they are experiencing is “normal”. They look to the person next to them and think “hmm, that guy looks pretty happy…am happy enough? Should I be more worried about the fact that I’m not as happy as that guy?” Before they know it, they begin to stress about stress.

The truth is, stress is an inevitable part of human life. And it can indeed serve a healthy function when it motivates us to work toward important goals or avoid dangerous situations. The tricky thing is that this healthy stress (eustress) can turns to unhealthy stress (distress and suffering) almost imperceptibly. So how do we know when our stress is no longer “normal?”

The thing to remember is that distress occurs over a duration of time, when a continuous amount of stress is experienced with no periods of relaxation or reprieve. This negative stress builds and builds, eventually throwing our equilibrium into an out-of-sync state and causing a variety of emotional, mental and physical symptoms.

  • Emotional signs of distress: decreased motivation, low frustration tolerance, feelings of hopelessness, short temper
  • Mental signs of distress: decreased focus and concentration, racing thoughts, difficulty retaining or recalling information, feeling “out of it”
  • Physical signs of distress: exhaustion, general muscle tension and pain (headache, stomachache, muscle pain), increased or decreased appetite, disrupted sleep

 

How to prevent emotional distress

Remember, experiencing some level of stress in your day-to-day life is inevitable and generally harmless. The important thing is monitoring symptoms and taking preemptive steps to manage that stress before it turns to burnout (once you’re in an emotionally exhausted state, it will be more difficult to bounce back.

Listed below are key strategies to implement today and continually practice:
    • accept what you cannot control. Acknowledge negative experiences instead of avoiding or ruminating on them (read more here and here)
    • manage time effectively by setting realistic goals and expectations (read more here)
    • set boundaries by saying “no” to obligations that will create excess stress
    • express feelings and opinions instead of holding them inside
    • practice self-compassion (read more here)

An important take away is to remember that regardless of whether it’s “rational” or “irrational”, any stress or distress that you feel is valid.  The last thing you want to do is compare yourself with others who seem (keyword: seem) to have things “more together” than you. In fact, worrying about how you stack up to others will likely create unnecessary anxiety that will just create distress, if it wasn’t already there to begin with. 

Now more than ever, you serve to be light in spirit and mind. Similar to how staying physically healthy can help you better fight off illness, strengthening coping skills and mental well-being will foster your ability to tolerate distress and persevere though challenging times.
– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC