You're going to encounter stress — whether it's at work, in your relationship, or in life in general — and that's OK. We all need a small amount of stress to motivate us, and propel us forward. But it is possible to have too much stress, especially if you don't know how to handle it well.
The good news, though, is that there's plenty of ways to reel it all back in. "One way to manage stress is to recognize first and foremost what are the triggers of your stress," Brittany Freeman Jean-Louis, MS, LPC, founder of A Freeman's Place Counseling, tells Bustle. "Once you are able to figure out triggers you are able to manage them better in the moment they arise."
To manage them, it's all about adopting coping skills, as well as healthy outlets for your stress. "Examples of coping skills include: going for a walk, journaling, reading, talking to a friend, deep breathing, etc.," Jean-Louis says. "Another helpful coping skill is the use of mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply learning how to stay in the present moment."
With these stress-reducing skills at your fingertips, you'll be better equipped to deal with your stress, so it'll be less likely to effect your wellbeing. Here are a few unhealthy habits and signs you may not be handling stress well — plus what to do about them.
1. Going On Spending Sprees
It's perfectly fine to treat yourself to nice things. But if you shop every time you're stressed out, it's not only a sign you're not handling it well, but it can easily cause financial troubles — which leads to even more stress in the long run.
"Spending excessively can increase your stress from the financial restraints of spending money you may not have," Lakiesha Russell, MS, LPC, tells Bustle. "You feel you are filling a void." But once the bills roll in, you may realize it wasn't the best way to deal with your emotions.
Shopping definitely feels good in the moment, but it's much better for your wallet to de-stress in other ways, such as by talking to a friend, family member, or your partner. Forming connections with others is much more fulfilling, and it doesn't cost a thing.
2. Feeling Irritable All The Time
Don't sweat it if you're feeling irritable every now and again. That's a normal part of life, and it happens to the best of us. Do, however, consider how stress may be playing a role if you're cranky and upset 24/7.
"Often a telltale sign of being stressed is mood swings," Jean-Louis says. "Stressors are uncontrollable and unpredictable which can have a huge impact on our daily moods. Irritability comes out of frustration due to the inability to manage certain stressors that may make us feel completely out of control."
In this instance, one of the best ways to get your stress out — and feel like you're regaining control — is through exercise. Whether it's taking a yoga class, riding your bike, or simply walking around the block, you're bound to feel better.
3. Not Being Able To Focus
If you're under a lot of stress, it may explain why you haven't been able to focus. "With those stressors at the forefront of our minds, we can have a hard time focusing on what is in front of us," Jean-Louis says. "We focus more on the stressors than normal daily functioning, which can cause us to feel scattered and not grounded."
So if you're feeling fuzzy at work, or like you can't concentrate in school, it may be a sign you're under more stress than you think. And that you need to deal with it ASAP.
4. Lying Awake For Hours On End
If you're experiencing sleep troubles, it can be a sign you're not handling your stress very well. "This can come in the form of either trouble falling asleep or staying asleep," Emily Griffin, MA, LCPC, tells Bustle.
And the annoying thing is, the longer it goes on, the worse you're likely to feel. "If the individual does not prioritize sleep, or implement ways to decrease their stress to get more sleep, this can lead to developing a more intense mental health concern or even physical health issues," Griffin says.
So make it a priority to get better sleep, whether that means establishing a soothing nighttime routine, or even speaking with a therapist about tips for de-stressing, so you can more easily drift off to sleep.
5. Taking It Out On Others
While nobody can be in a good mood 100 percent of the time, it may be a sign you're not handling stress well if you're in the habit of lashing out at others.
"This could be your coworkers, your [friends], or even your [partner] who get the brunt of your stress when you’re not in a good emotional space," licensed marriage and family therapist, Heidi McBain, MA, tells Bustle.
Stress isn't healthy for you, but it can also be damaging to your relationships. So the sooner you can find ways to manage it, the better.
6. Denying That You're Stressed
"In our society where productivity is glorified, people are very likely to deny that they are overwhelmed and stressed," Griffin says. But that can be problematic, as it leaves little room for self-care.
Griffin says it's not only OK to take a break, but healthy to do so. The best thing to do is take a deep breath, admit that you're too stressed, and take a step back for a while so that you can decompress.
7. Biting Your Nails
If you're in the habit of constantly biting off your fingernails, or picking at your skin, it may be a sign you're under a lot of stress, and need to find a better outlet.
One way to do it? "Instead of handling your stress in a negative way, try to handle your stress in a positive way," therapist Katie Leikam, LCSW, LISW-CP, BC-TMH, tells Bustle. "Some positive ways include focusing on your strengths. You could even make a pros and cons list of being stressed. You will probably find that the pros of being stressed don't outweigh the cons."
You might also want to get your nervous energy out in the form of exercise. Nail biting and skin picking can be tough habits to break, but it'll be way easier if you're not as stressed.
8. Feeling Overwhelmed 24/7
If you're not getting stress out of your system, you may eventually get to the point where you experience "excessive crying or crying spells," Janika Joyner, LCSW, tells Bustle, which is a result of "bottling emotions and not having time to release through processing."
While crying it out is a great place to start, it may also be a good idea to speak with a therapist. They can teach you ways to handle your stress, so it doesn't get the point where you're breaking down every day.
9. Carrying Stress In your Shoulders
Stress can also play out in the form of physical ailments, which are often your body's way of telling you that something needs to change.
Take upper neck, shoulder, and back pain for instance, which often comes about when you're all tensed up from stress. "Tightening of the muscles could be a result of constant stress and lack of appropriate relaxation," Joyner says. "One may consider chiropractic care to assist adjusting the spine to promote better health."
By taking great care of your health, seeing a therapist, exercising, talking with friends — or whatever else helps you to decompress — you can effectively deal with stress, before it gets out of hand.