10 Signs That You Are in Distress

You’re riding high. You’re motivated, productive…and saying yes to just about every opportunity that comes your way. You’re feeling on top of the world, overcome with the excitement of it all. Life is good.

And then it happens. The reality of everything you’ve said yes to starts to set in. Deadlines loom as your schedule gets tighter and tighter. It becomes next to impossible to fit everything in. Tension rises, you bristle at the slightest provocation, and you’re exhausted because you haven’t been feeling very rested.

We’ve all been there. Before you get to that level of distress, there are warning signs to look out for so you can make empowered choices – and get back your peace of mind. These red flags will alert you that you’ve crossed over the line and gone from eustress into distress.

  1. You lack energy. When you’re in eustress (the “good” stress), even if you haven’t gotten the best night’s sleep, you’re still energized and ready to go. In distress, you might get 8 hours of sleep and wake up feeling wiped out.
  2. Your sleep patterns have changed. This can vary from person to person. You may have a hard time falling asleep, or you might experience sleep disruptions like waking frequently and/or not being able to fall back asleep. Perhaps you’ve been feeling like you need more sleep than usual.
  3. Health issues have troubled you. Physical symptoms of stress can manifest in a variety of ways, including headaches, stomach distress, aches and pains, frequent illness, clenched jaw and/or tightened muscles. You might even mistake simple chest pains and a rapid heartbeat for a full-blown heart attack.
  4. “Prickly” and “on edge” describe how you feel lately. If little things start getting on your nerves or you have to bite your tongue to keep from snapping at people, you are probably in distress. This is a common sign for me – I get stressed out just thinking about certain situations.
  5. Focus…how?! Distractions keep popping up, and it’s harder than ever to keep focused. Procrastination is becoming a habit. When you’re under distress, it’s very difficult to handle tasks that require your mental resources.
  6. Your behavior has changed. Your appetite is different – you might be eating too much or not enough. You may crave feel-good foods that are creamy, salty or sweet. Or, you use alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes excessively to cope.
  7. It’s harder to relate to others. You may avoid others, despite feeling lonely. When it becomes challenging to focus on other people, we start to lose our ability to connect and feel empathy. Friends and family might be wondering where you’ve been lately.
  8. You exhibit defensive postures. Perhaps your shoulders keep creeping up around your ears or your shoulders hunch. You might also be displaying nervous behaviors, like nail biting, foot tapping, or other fidgeting.
  9. Relaxation has eluded you. With the increased stress and pressure you feel, it’s difficult to relax and still the wheels of your mind. Even when you’re lying in bed, thoughts may race through your head. Every time you try to chill out, you keep getting pulled back in, worrying about how you’ll cope, whether or not you can keep up with the grind, and if you’ll be able to meet this or that deadline.
  10. It feels like you’re losing (or have lost) control. It might seem like no one understands how overwhelming things are for you, or that you’re all alone and without any support. You might notice your self-esteem plummet, and you may even feel flat out worthless or depressed. You don’t see a way out of the situation.

Now what? Now that you know what to look for, practice empowered awareness. Know that you may not be able to choose what happens to you – and you definitely can’t avoid “bad” things forever, but you can decide how you will react to them. Go here for 10 practical tips to bust through stress!


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  1. Maritza Parra

    Self-Awareness is EVERYthing. Great post to help looking for the signs that are letting you know which direction you’re moving towards so you can shift and pivot… Thanks Jodi!

  2. Bob Nolley

    Jodi, thanks for the reminders here! This is all inter-related of course (“prickly”, changed behaviors), but I think the forgotten one that we have to be reminded of every so often is the sleep patterns. This really derails me sometimes!

  3. FireStarters

    It’s easy to get so caught up in anyone of these to take away from the awareness of the distress. Thanks for highlighting these Jodi. Awareness of these is surely beneficial as the first key step to address distress. Looking forward to next week’s follow article.

  4. stephanir

    Great post Jodi! Having experienced a number of these symptoms recently it was a little too easy to relate to this. But so great to see that I am not alone. And I’m highly aware, so I’m always looking for the lesson and way to turn things around. Can’t wait to see your 10 tips!

  5. Matt Baran

    This was really insightful. I’ve been experiencing a number of these distress signs lately so i’ll keep on the lookout for your next post. I’d deffinately say the number one sign for me is being on edge.

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