Are you on a round-the-clock hyper-alert with a never-ending to-do list, an ever-growing laundry pile, constant demand from little ones at your feet, or a job with an overbearing workload?
The unceasing feeling of being behind, never accomplishing anything, not experiencing excitement or passion, and your head always in a spin before you go to bed, like on a merry-go-round, which never stops.
Struggling to deal with everyday stresses and anxiety emanating from juggling work, family, and social demands is on the rise.
When events that we cannot control, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, bereavement, losing your job, illness, etc. are thrown into the mix, this can be a stress cocktail overload which can tip the balance.
Strictly speaking, occasional stress is part of life, and in fact, it can be good for you as our bodies respond physically or psychologically to various changes in situations. If unchecked, however, feeling constantly anxious, overwhelmed, or overworked can be detrimental to mental health.
When we are mentally healthy, we cope better with adversity and deal with physical illness more efficiently. With busy schedules and hectic lifestyles, we might not always notice that something is amiss when it comes to recognising when you are excessively and constantly mentally challenged.
We are all different when it comes to handling stress, so how do you know when you are overstretching yourself? How can you tell that it’s time to take a break? Here are five signs that indicate a need to look after your mental health:
- 1. Irritability
You might notice that you are snapping at your kids, partner, or co-workers a little more than usual. Suddenly, small things that you would usually brush off are now getting on your nerves. You may catch yourself feeling angry, impatient, or frustrated more than you normally would.
While it is reasonable to feel irritable or agitated from time to time, when this feeling lingers, it could indicate that you are mentally or physically tired or perhaps frustrated by something you can’t control, such as a work situation.
When this happens, you release negativity and stress-inducing vibes that aside from toxic emotional state you feel, it can also affect people around you i.e. at work, home etc.
One of the best ways to reduce irritability, is to first try to identify the cause so you can acknowledge that something is bothering you.
A good time to think about the cause is when you next start to feel irritable, take a break. Go for a long walk, get out of the office, home or situation you are irritable within. Fresh air can do wonders to change our perspective. Maybe run a bath, listen to some music, do some yoga, or some deep breathing techniques, which removes you from the commotion.
When you are calm and reconnected to yourself, this is a good time to try and understand what is making you feel irritable. Maybe is it your self-care routine. Perhaps you haven’t been spending enough time on yourself. Could it be career path, or someone new at work or a relationship you are in.
There are so many factors that can make us irritable, it might be something simple or could be more complex, and has been building up over some time. Either way, finding the cause, identifying with it, then acting to fix it, is very important.
- 2. Burn out
If you begin feeling tired all the time, emotionally drained, have frequent headaches, and no longer feel motivated to do anything, it might be time for a break before you no longer can cope.
According to the World Health Organisation, burnout from chronic workplace stress has become so prevalent among modern workers that it’s now classified as an occupational phenomenon.
In a study (1) of 2,000 knowledge workers across the U.K. conducted by Asana, more than 80 percent of workers say they consistently feel overworked and close to burnout, with a quarter (25 percent) experiencing burnout once a month.
Burnout can be described as a state of constant physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive stress and a state of always being overwhelmed. Perhaps you are in a demanding job where you are continuously running from one task to another. Or it could be that you feel overworked and under-appreciated. Maybe you face too many pressures and demands that you cannot satisfy.
If your burnout stems from work, you might want to use your vacation or sick days to step back and relax. If you are a stay at home mum, look to get help for at least a few hours per week to concentrate on yourself. You can go for a massage/ spa day, have coffee with friends, indulge in a hobby, etc.
- 3. Changes in sleep patterns
Changes in your sleeping patterns can be a good indicator of the state of your mental health. If you used to sleep well but suddenly you start waking up at 3 am then something is wrong. If this happens three times a week for about three months, you likely have insomnia.
Similarly, fatigue, lack of motivation, or constant stress can cause you to sleep all the time at the expense of your other responsibilities. One of the best ways to deal with sleep problems is to try and sort the root cause. Similarly, you can try to incorporate behavioural changes such as avoiding stimulants just before bed, exercise, and relaxation techniques like meditation.
It would help if you also practice good ‘sleep hygiene,’ such as going to bed at the same time every night, not using electronic gadgets in bed, and keeping the room dim. Using electronic devices such as phones and tablets in bed is particularly harmful as it delays the body’s internal clock and interferes with the production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. This makes it difficult for us to fall asleep.
- 4. Changes in appetite
Anxiety and worry can trigger psychological responses in the body, resulting in appetite changes. As a result, we may lose our appetite or find ourselves overeating.
Emotional eating can quickly lead to weight gain, resulting in low self-esteem, which only compounds the problem further. An overload of stress hormones, on the other hand, can lead to a lack of energy or loss of interest in cooking or eating healthy meals, resulting in weight loss.
If you are used to reaching out for a sugary snack when you feel stressed or overwhelmed, try instead to stock ONLY healthy snacks in your pantry i.e. blueberries, nuts, avocado's etc. which have stress/anxiety-relieving vitamins, antioxidants and fats. Consuming artery-clogging trans fats, like those found in cookies, can increase risk of depression by as much as 48% according to one study (2). Therefore reach for nuts, not cookies!
Another excellent strategy to avoid overeating is to be ‘present’ when eating.
This means not eating while standing on the fridge door, or while watching TV or scrolling through your phone. Being mindful and paying attention to your meal gives you a better chance to stop eating when you start getting full.
If you have a poor appetite, try taking several small meals or healthy snacks throughout the day, as this will feel less daunting than a full meal.
It is important that you make time to properly assess what appetite changes are accruing, and to put in place early counter measures to address these, so you take back control.
- 5. Constant Illness
Recurring colds, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and other illnesses might be a sign that you need to slow down.
Short term stress can boost your immune system however long term chronic stress has a detrimental opposite effect, leaving us susceptible to infections such as cold & flu. A weak immune system can also aggravate any existing conditions we might have or delay healing.
Stress also causes our bodies to release chemicals that affect blood vessels in the brain, resulting in headaches. For people who are prone to migraines, this can only make things worse.
When you find yourself battling heartburn and bloating, your gastrointestinal tract might be disrupted by stress and anxiety. The gut-brain connection is well researched; it links anxiety to stomach problems and vice versa. You only have to think about the last time you had butterflies or that gut wrenching experience. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions i.e. sadness, happiness, fright, adoration, and many more can trigger symptoms in the gut, often referred to as ‘the second brain’. If you are constantly stressed, this could trigger a constant illness.
Fortunately, there are numerous things you can do to take care of your overall physical and mental health. The first step is to identify when there is a problem, which we are not very good at doing
Taking a day off work can do wonders for helping you relax and re-charge. You can indulge in a massage, eat a nutritious meal, go for a walk, have coffee with a friend, read your favourite book, or sleep.
Instead of stressing over things you can’t control, focus on the ones you can control, such as how you choose to react to problems. Your reaction is your choice, and just by acknowledging it, you can reduce your anxiety.
Optimal mental health is fundamental for our overall health, productivity, happiness, and ability to cope with adversity. Everyday pressures at work and home may negatively affect our mental and physical health.
Recognising when to take a break from the norm so you can step back and re-connect with yourself to understand why you are not happy, feeling unwell, irritable, tired etc. is an extremely important part of our coping mechanism.
It does not even need to be a long break, simply stopping what you are doing and taking a couple of minutes of slow, mindful breathing, can be extremely powerful to help you regain focus and control.
Stop trying to please people all the time, you sometimes have to just say ‘no’ and please yourself. Everyone’s limits are different and therefore you must learn to recognise when you are pushing mental capacity for taking on more responsibilities.
Often, the demands are those you put on yourself, in which case you must know when to give yourself a break.
It may not be immediately apparent that your mental health is taking a toll on you, but the five signs given in this article are reliable indicators that all is not well.
Taking a break and re-focusing on yourself is an obvious, practical solution for dealing with low to moderate stress and anxiety issues.
Chronic worry and complicated anxiety is however difficult to deal with on your own. On this case, seeking the help of a therapist is recommended. You can find help at these organisations - Anxiety UK or Mind
Well-Actually hope that you will safe-guard your mental health, by giving yourself a break, from time to time, to work towards more worry-less, enjoyable and vibrant living.