Signs that Mental Stress is Wearing You Down Internally

Stress is how our body responds to threat. However, in the modern world, mental and emotional stress have become part of our everyday life. It sneaks into our life like an unwanted stalker, builds up a mountain of problems, and stays forever if left unnoticed.

According to the American Institute of Stress, 73% of people experience stress that affects their mental health.

Stress can be good (called ‘eustress’) or bad (called ‘distress’), just like two sides of the same coin. Good stress can help us achieve our life goals. However, if we are exposed to prolonged distress, it can result in long-term health issues.

Stress curve vector illustration. Flat BW labeled performance level graphic. Healthy performance analysis with underload, optimum, overload and burnout scale. Fatigue, exhaustion and breakdown diagram
Stress in the right amounts can actually serve us well to get work done

Hence, it's more than necessary to reflect on our thoughts and behaviour and look for the subtle signals of mental stress so that we don't slip into chronic or long-term stress.

We have listed some emotional, behavioural, and cognitive symptoms of mental stress so you can self-check to see if you are experiencing ‘bad stress’.

Emotional symptoms of mental stress

We all know that stress affects our well-being. But sometimes its effects aren’t as visible as the physical or outward symptoms of stress. We must be aware of the psychological symptoms and signs of mental stress. Let us read about them.

1. Mood swings

Mood swings can seem completely normal. But if the mood swings are unpredictable or happening more often than not, it could be a sign of long-term stress. A study conducted in 2014 has shown that various social, emotional, and physical triggers cause mood swings.

Red and white triangular road sign with warning of a Mood Swings Ahead concept against a partly cloudy sky background

One of the biggest reasons for mood swings is hormonal imbalance. When we are exposed to long-term stress, the body releases cortisol and other stress hormones that disrupt the body's normal processes which impact our mood.

2. Feeling overwhelmed

When you feel overwhelmed, it feels all-consuming. We may feel lost and unable to react. Or we may lose the ability to think or feel properly, which may affect our personal and professional lives.

This is more common than we think. But if you feel overwhelmed all the time, it may be a sign of chronic stress.

3. Restlessness and irritation

Do you find yourself restless and irritated all the time? This too could be a sign of chronic stress.

We all know that stress is unpleasant. Our body goes into survival mode when in stress and releases cortisol and other stress hormones which disrupt the normal functioning of the body and make us feel restless.

In the prehistoric era, being in stress meant being in physical danger. But that’s not the case any more. There is hardly any threat of predators attacking us these days. However, the human body’s reaction to stress remains the same. Stress brings out the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body and prevents it from relaxing. This leads to us feeling restless and irritated.

The typical response of the body and its organs to stress

4. Low self-esteem

Stress and low self-esteem are interconnected. They feed off one another most of the time.

When we are stressed, we are unable to think right; our productivity declines and we fail to manage our day-to-day tasks. This can make us feel like we are not accomplishing anything and that we are incapable of doing things. This further leads to feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt, which is nothing but low self-esteem.

Lack of self-esteem decreases efficiency and productivity and makes us exposed to even more stress; this leads to a vicious cycle

5. Isolation and loneliness

Most of us enjoy our ‘me-time’ or want to be alone once in a while. But it is entirely different from wanting to be left alone most of the time. Stress can lead to social withdrawal, where we isolate ourselves from our friends and family.

If we find ourselves staying away from people or avoiding activities that we usually enjoy doing, it may be a signal of chronic stress.

Cognitive symptoms of mental stress

Stress also affects our cognitive abilities. If we experience that we are forgetting things often or struggling with simple decisions, it is likely that our body is experiencing cognitive symptoms of stress.

1. Constant worrying

Sometimes situations cause us to worry in life. However, excessive and constant worrying can be a signal of stress and anxiety.

Many of us also have the incorrect feeling that worrying can solve the problem.

Situations such as a job interview or an important meeting can be potentially stressful. A little worry may be helpful to ensure that we do not become too relaxed and take things for granted. However, excessive worrying has adverse effects on the mind. Thinking about a situation beyond a point can trigger excessive worrying and stress, and make it difficult to think clearly and focus on reality.

2. Forgetting things

Too much mental pressure and stress take a toll on memory. As we become busy in our life, it gets hard to keep track of everything. But, forgetting things also can be a sign of stress.

A young girl sitting at her desk confused because she has forgotten something because of stress.

When we are stressed, we often find ourselves struggling to focus on a single task. There are times when we set out to do something, but forget after a few seconds. This happens because we have too much in our heads.

Similarly, when we are stressed, a major part of our mind is preoccupied with stressful thoughts, making us forget simple or basic things. So the next time a lot is going on and you notice yourself forgetting things frequently, ask yourself if it is the impact of stress and try to calm yourself down.

3. Struggling to make decisions

When you have a lot on your mind, making simple decisions becomes hard. Whether it is deciding what to have for lunch, or taking important decisions like applying for a job; everything becomes confusing.

This may not feel directly related to stress, but a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science showed that stress influences one's decision-making process and ability. In fact, stress also prevents us from thinking about the outcome of individual decisions. So, when we feel indecisive, it may also be a result of stress.

4. Loss of motivation

If we find ourselves less motivated to do the things we love, it might be a sign of stress.

woman using smartphone with meter indicator :Low Motivation

During chronic stress, our brain releases the stress hormones adrenal glucocorticoid and serotonin, which mess with the brain's ability to feel emotions. This can lead to chronic stress and depression and reduced motivation and enthusiasm.

Behavioral symptoms of mental stress

If stress influences our emotions and cognition, it is natural that our behaviour and lifestyle also get impacted. Though the signs are subtler compared to the other symptoms, stress can cause behavioural changes affecting one's personal and professional life. Here are a few common symptoms.

1. Weight gain

It is a proven fact that stress impacts our appetite. And in the long term, overeating, commonly known as ‘stress eating’, can result in weight gain.

We may not even realize when we start overeating. But our digestive system is closely linked to our mental health. And overeating and weight gain are subtle signs of chronic stress.

2. Procrastination and avoiding responsibility (Absenteeism)

Stress affects our lifestyle in profound ways. When we suffer from chronic stress, we are likely to put work on hold and procrastinate. When we do this, we leave more things undone and it becomes overwhelming after a point, thus leading to more stress.

Procrastination, laziness. Putting things off until tomorrow, later. To-do list for today postponed until tomorrow owing to stress

If left unaddressed, absenteeism can affect both personal and professional life. So if we find ourselves procrastinating a lot, remember that it may be a sign of stress and can expose us to even more stress.

3. Taking substances

Chilling on the weekends, drinking cocktails with friends, or drinking once in a while is okay. But if we find ourselves relying on alcohol or drugs to escape reality and relieve stress, then it indicates a problem.

Consuming alcohol or substances is one of the most commonly-used coping mechanisms. Though we might feel relieved and relaxed at the moment of consumption, it might lead to dangerous addictions, leading to long-term and very serious health issues.

4. Nervousness

We often fail to understand that nervousness and stress are intertwined. Simply put, when we are unsure of something, we get nervous, and eventually stressed out.

Adult man looking stressed and nervous with hands on mouth biting nails. Anxiety problem owing to stress.

The following nervous behaviors are clear signals of stress.

  • nail biting,
  • rapid blinking of eyes,
  • shaking of legs,
  • constant folding and unfolding of arms

The bottom line

Stress is a natural human response. But if not identified at the right time and controlled, it can cause life-long troubles for a person's mental and physical health.

If you find yourself suffering from any signs and symptoms described in this article, it’s best to take action which could also be in the form of professional help to come out of the stress loop and regain control of life.

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Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes only. Lokyatha has observed best effort due diligence and all health related content is reviewed by a trained professional before publishing. However, this should not and can not replace personalized medical help. Please refer to a professional in all cases of need.