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The Subtle Signs of Stress and Burnout That You Need to Know

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Stressed people are portrayed in movies as those working long hours, those having demanding jobs or juggling work and study.

In reality, stress can occur simply because of the mental load that someone is subjected to. Stress and burnout happen when you fill your plate with so many things, and forget about yourself.

Lots of people talk about self-care as a way to cope with stress, but self-care is not about taking a shower or just reading a book alone or anything to relax. Self-care goes much deeper than that; you have to fill your cup first in order to help others or to even keep up with your responsibilities.

A few years ago, I was stuck in a rut between trying to keep up with my kids’ needs, having a clean house, having everyone’s needs met, being social and studying/working. I was drained mentally and physically, I barely ate, never had a good night’s sleep. I was stressing about every single detail, my perfectionism was harming me.

I was already in therapy for my anxiety, and for the record, stress and anxiety are two different entities. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the difference between stress and anxiety is: Stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress.

Both can have similar physical symptoms, but stress is usually short-termed and doesn’t need intervention, but rather coping mechanisms or lifestyle changed.

Symptoms of stress on your body include but are not limited to, headache, heart palpitations, sweating, muscle tension/pain, stomach upset, fatigue and sleep problems.

Symptoms of stress on your mind includes: Anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, sadness or depression, anger or irritability, feeling overwhelmed and inability to focus or concentrate with lack of motivation and restlessness.

Ultimately, your mind goes into overdrive and it affects your behavior, which might be shown as anger outbursts, alcohol or tobacco or drug abuse, or changes in diet, which sometimes causes social withdrawal, lack of exercising and taking care of oneself.

Now back to me. I eventually hit rock bottom. I went to the emergency room because I was extremely dizzy and weak. Turns out I was extremely dehydrated and had severe iron deficiency. I had to stay for a couple of days to get the necessary treatments. While there, a doctor told me, “you look like the people dealing with starvation. You need to care for yourself first to be able to care for others.”

You know that analogy, that you need to put the oxygen mask on when there’s a problem on a plane, before putting it on others?

This is what self-care is. If you burn out, you will not be able to help yourself, let alone others.

So what can you do? First, learn to say no. No is a word by itself; you don’t need to explain yourself. Say no when your plate is too full, when you are juggling a few times.

Remember, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone. At the end of the day, what’s important is you.

Second, take care of your body. Accept it, love it and treat it well. Drink plenty of water, eat healthy food, have chocolate every now and then without guilt, and exercise.

Third, remember there are more important things in life than work. Every now and then, do what makes you happy; try something new, one thing that scares you.

Last but not least, find someone that makes you laugh. Whether it’s a friend, a partner or even a comedy show, laughter is the best medicine. Don’t take my word for it; according to Mayo Clinic, laughter can have short-term and long-term effects on stress management.

So go ahead; scream, laugh, cry or run. All of this can help relieve stress and make you feel better. “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”  Eckhart Tolle.

Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash

Originally published: March 3, 2021
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