Emotional Stress: Warning Signs, Management, When to Get Help
What is emotional stress?
Stress is a normal reaction to the pressures of everyday life. Worry, fear, anger, sadness and other emotions are also all normal emotional responses. They are all part of life. However, if the stress that underlies these emotions interferes with your ability to do the things you want or need to do, this stress has become unhealthy.
What are the warning signs and symptoms of emotional stress?
Symptoms of emotional stress can be both physical, mental and behavioral.
Physical symptoms include:
- Heaviness in your chest, increased heart rate or chest pain.
- Shoulder, neck or back pain; general body aches and pains.
- Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw.
- Shortness of breath.
- Feeling tired, anxious, depressed.
- Losing or gaining weight; changes in your eating habits.
- Sleeping more or less than usual.
- Gastrointestinal problems including upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation.
- Sexual difficulties.
Mental or behavioral symptoms include:
- Being more emotional than usual.
- Feeling overwhelmed or on edge.
- Trouble keeping track of things or remembering.
- Trouble making decisions, solving problems, concentrating, getting your work done.
- Using alcohol or drugs to relieve your emotional stress.
How can I better cope with emotional stress?
There are many techniques that can be tried to help you better manage your emotional stress. Try one or more of the following:
Take some time to relax: Take some time to care for yourself. Even if you can devote only five to 15 minutes a few times a day to relax, take a break from reality. What activity helps you relax? Some ideas include:
- Read a book.
- Download and listen to a “calm” app (sounds of nature, rain) on your computer or phone.
- Take a walk. Practice yoga.
- Listen to music, sing along to a song or dance to music.
- Enjoy a soothing bath.
- Sit in silence with your eyes closed.
- Light a scented candle.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is learning how to focus your attention and become more aware. You can learn to feel the physical changes in your body that happen in response to your changing emotions. Understanding this mind-body connection is the first step in learning how to better manage your stress and how emotions affect your body. Mindfulness can also help you focus your mind on the immediate – what can I do to bring my mind and body to a place of calmness. If you can figure out what helps you feel more calm and relaxed in that moment, you know you’ve figured out one of your stress triggers and what works to manage it.
Distract your mind and focus on something else: Focus your mind on something other than what’s causing your stress. Do something fun. Watch a funny movie, play a game, engage in a favorite hobby (paint, draw, take pictures of nature, play with your pet). Volunteer for an activity to help others. Do something with people you enjoy.
Try journaling: Journaling is the practice of writing down your thoughts and feelings so you can understand them more clearly. It is a method that encourages you to slow down, pay attention, and think about what is going on in your life – and your feelings and reactions to these happenings. Since journaling can reveal your innermost thoughts, it can reveal your emotional stress triggers. You can identify and then replace negative thoughts and feelings with behaviors that are more positive. Journaling is a healthy and positive way to face your emotions. When you confront your emotions, healing or change can begin.
Practice meditation: Meditation is another way to actively redirect your thoughts. By choosing what you think about, such as positive thoughts or warm, comforting memories, you can manage your emotions and reduce your emotional stress.
When should I get help for my emotional stress?
If you have any of the symptoms of emotional stress and have tried one or more of the remedies discussed in this article and haven’t found relief, seek professional help. If you feel overwhelmed and can’t manage your emotions and stresses on your own, seek the help of a professional. Don’t stay “frozen” or feeling like you’re holding your breath waiting for your feelings to be over. If you are stuck in a rut and can’t get yourself out, seek professional help.
Counselors and mental health therapists are trained professionals who can find ways to help you cope, reduce the effects of emotional stress, help you feel better and become more functional in your day-to-day activities.
If you or a loved one have thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They are available 24 hours/day, seven days a week.
What else can I do to help myself better manage emotional stress?
In terms of your general health, which affects your ability to manage and cope with stress, you need to take care of yourself the best that you can.
- Get quality sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Relax before bedtime with a soothing bath, some reading time or warm cup of chamomile tea. Learn other ways to sleep better.
- Maintain a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Connect with others. Keep in touch with people who can help support you, both practically and emotionally. Ask for help from family, friends or religious or community groups you are associated with.