(Excerpted and adapted from "The Medical Minute: Stressed out? Tips for taking control," Penn State Health News, January 10, 2013)
Everyone has some level of stress--good stress, bad stress, a mix of both. For many, it comes and goes, no problem. You deal with it. However, if you have an anxious or depressive temperament, it's especially important to pay attention to stress signals.
Outward signs of stress may include an increase in coping habits--picking skin, pulling hair, cracking knuckles, or chewing your lips. Physical symptoms may include lower back or shoulder pain due to tension, fatigue, heartburn, constipation, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, or heart palpitations. Some people may be unable to sleep or sleep well.
Many times simple coping strategies such as exercise, talking to a friend, or taking time to think things through can alleviate the stress. However, Dr. Alan Gelenberg, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, says that the mental and emotional side effects can be a concern. If the person is shirking daily responsibilities, not sustaining important relationships, staying in bed, or considering self-harm, it's time to seek professional help, perhaps a primary care physician.
Dr. Gelenberg offers some practical advice for not allowing stress to get beyond one's control:
Find out what works for you. Learn what amount of sleep, alone time, exercise, etc., you require in order to lessen your anxiety. Study your body. It's speaking to you!