A lot has changed in the past few weeks in response to the coronavirus – our normal routines have abruptly paused and many people are worried about their health, their families, and their financial security. You may notice you are more emotional during this time feeling anxious, depressed, or even more irritable lately. While these emotions are uncomfortable, they serve as an important reminder that something’s bothering us and we need to take care of ourselves.
However, when stress happens, not everyone responds emotionally. You may be one of the many people who feels calm or even disconnected during times of change. While this underreaction to stress can be beneficial for helping us survive stress, it can often cause harm by not giving us that important signal that we are in distress and we need to take care of ourselves. If you are not an emotional wreck right now but don’t exactly feel like your normal self either, this article is for you.
10 Important Signs (Besides Emotions) That Tell Us We Are In Distress
- Your sleep schedule is off. When your sleep routine changes or gets disrupted, it is a huge sign you might be feeling “off.” Ask yourself, are you sleeping more hours each night or taking more naps during the day? Are you having trouble falling asleep or waking up multiple times in the night? You may even be staying in bed more because doing anything feels overwhelming. Or maybe you feel like too much needs to get done and sleep is the last thing you need to do.
- You are eating more or less than usual. Changes in how much you’re eating and what you’re eating can be a sign of distress. Have you been snacking more throughout the day or eating more meals? Have you been too busy to eat or been forgetting to eat more lately? Have you been paying more attention your weight since being at home? Even changes in fitness goals can also be an indicator of distress. Are you suddenly stopping a fitness routine that is important to you or setting unrealistic fitness goals?
- You are having more physical pain than usual. Some people experience their emotions as physical pain, like getting so angry your head hurts, or being so stressed your back and shoulders hurt. Ask yourself if you notice any changes in your body. Are you having more intense or frequent back pain, tension headaches, neck pain, stomach pain, diarrhea, or constipation that’s not due a medical condition?
- You feel bored, tired, or numb. Many people experience boredom when faced with stress. It is a defense mechanism that protects you from getting too hurt or overwhelmed in the moment. If you are emotionally “checked out” then you can’t get hurt by what’s going on around you. Ask yourself and trusted people around you if you have seemed more flat or bored lately.
- You don’t feel like yourself or you feel like you are in a dream. Sometimes when you experience stress, you can mentally check out so much that you feel like you’re in a dream or watching your life like it were a movie. This is called dissociation. This is when you disconnect from your body, your sense of self, or the world around you. Ask yourself if you are daydreaming, fantasizing, zoning out, or blanking out more than usual.
- You are having a hard time focusing or making decisions. Your ability to think and reason can be really affected by stress. If you’ve ever frozen or gone completely blank when making a speech or giving a presentation, then you know what I’m talking about. If you notice lately that you’re having difficulty planning your day, remembering your schedule, or deciding what you need to do about work or school, then you may be experiencing distress.
- You are focusing on other people more than usual. The belief that we can be happier by helping others certainly can ring true during difficult times, but it can also be problematic if we forget to take care of ourselves. People who are successful at helping others take time to take care of themselves and give themselves credit for their hard work. If you find yourself spending most of your time taking care of others and haven’t had time to think about your needs or haven’t felt proud of yourself, you may be “over-helping” and need to take a break. Other signs you may be over-helping are feeling physically and emotionally drained, feeling resentful that others aren’t as helpful as you, or feeling like your needs don’t matter compared to others.
- You are using alcohol or drugs or getting urges to use more than usual. Habits can sneak up on you and you may not notice how much you’re drinking until someone asks. When in distress, people can turn to drugs or alcohol to forget or distract from their worries. Take a second and think about the past week. If you notice you’re drinking more than usual or looking forward to it more, it could be a sign that you’re in distress.
- You feel like doing risky or impulsive things lately. Sometimes when people are in distress, they want to escape by doing something drastic. This can be any behavior from doing a silly dare to doing something truly illegal or dangerous. Have you been doing things without thinking them through? Have you been fantasizing about doing wild or even risky things you don’t usually do?
- You feel more energetic, productive, or motivated than usual. Motivation and productivity can feel good to have. You may be using time at home to get chores done and finally do something you’ve been putting off for weeks – Great! But if you are trying to be too productive or are working many more hours than usual, you may be in distress. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.
If you are experiencing any of these signs, you are not alone! Change and stress affect everyone differently and we can all benefit from checking in with how we are doing more often. Self-care is very important to healing distress. A great way to think about self-care is treating yourself the same way you would treat a small child in distress. If a small child was tired, would you tell them to suck it up and stay awake? Or would you take them to a comfortable place and let them take a nap? If a small child was worried, would you tell them to get over it? Or would you listen to what they were worried about? The more you can treat yourself with the same compassion and care with which you would treat a small child, the better you will be at self-care. Remember, you deserve to be taken care of, and now more than ever taking better care of yourself is crucial.
-By Jennifer Waldo, LPC