Can You Identify Signs of Stress?
Written by Molly Sherb, PhD, Psychologist
Stress, unfortunately, is a normal part of life. Certain activities trigger physical, mental and emotional responses. However many of us may overlook the severity of stress or are not able to identify when stress is really at play. We asked our psychologist, Molly Sherb, PhD to provide a list of physical signs that may indicate a person is experiencing stress along with breathing techniques to help when one is faced with signs of stress.
When stressful events occur, specific chemical reactions occur in the brain causing blood vessels to constrict and ultimately causing headaches.
During moments of high stress, your heart works harder to pump blood to the various parts of the body that would help you fight or escape the perceived danger. This is your “fight or flight response.” Even though you may not be in physical danger, your physical stress response remains the same regardless of the stressor.
Rapid breathing is your body’s way of quickly maximizing the amount of oxygen the various muscles in your body are receiving in order to “fight” the stressor you are facing. Sometimes physical breathing exercises are helpful in reminding your body that you are not truly in danger.
When you are stressed, certain stress hormones are released into the body that cause your muscles to become tense, helping you prepare to “fight” the perceived threat you are facing.
When you are experiencing stress, your internal body temperature increases and you begin to sweat to help cool you down. The chemical composition of sweat related to stress is different than sweat related to physical exercise, as different sweat glands are activated during moments of high emotional intensity.
Racing thoughts are another aspect of the human stress response in relation to perceived danger. If you are faced with a dangerous situation, your mind must quickly consider all of the options available to keep yourself safe. In a dangerous situation, you do not have the luxury of taking your time to think things through; you must act fast and your mind follows suit. When you are stressed, your mind races in the same way, even when there is no real threat to safety.
Weak Immune System
When you are stressed, your body has a more difficult time keeping you healthy. This is because the stress hormone (Cortisol) reduces the capacity of our immune system to fight infection. This leads to increased risk of illness during moments of high stress.
Crying is the body’s natural way of releasing the stress hormone Cortisol. Tears you cry related to stress and other emotions have a different chemical makeup than tears resulting from physical irritation in the eye. When you cry, you are dispelling stress hormones that have slowly built up in your body over time.
When you experience one of these stress signs, it is helpful to follow the below breathing exercise for your mind and body to calm.
- Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose while counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.
- Pause and gently hold your breath while counting slowly to four. Simply avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds.
- Begin to slowly exhale for 4 seconds.
- Pause and gently hold your breath while counting slowly to four.
- Repeat steps 1 to 4 for at least three minutes, or until calm returns.
- It’s natural for your mind to wander – if it does, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- It takes practice!
- Benefits of mindful breathing can be achieved with as little as five minutes practice per day.
If you are experiencing stress that is disrupting your daily activities or other mental health concerns, we encourage you to schedule a visit with one of our providers to discuss your needs more in depth. Members can contact our Personal Health Navigators by chat through the member portal or by calling 646.819.5100 to schedule.
Not a member yet? Learn more about membership to The Health Center at Hudson Yards.
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