Stress Management

Is Hidden Stress Holding You Down? 5 Reasons You Don’t Always Recognize Stress

Riikka LamminenContent Manager

The first thing you should know is that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Stress is an inevitable part of life and you couldn’t cope without it. You need stress to get things done and perform in life. It makes you feel excited and productive.

However, stress becomes a serious problem, when it exceeds your ability to recover and bounce back. Especially troubling is the fact that we often don’t even realize that our ability to manage is on the decline.

Excessive stress can manifest itself in many ways, and you may not always be able to recognize whether your symptoms are the result of too much strain or inadequate recovery. You may blame your diet for your upset stomach or treat insomnia with drugs, both might actually be signals that your body is being overloaded by stress.

While the signs and symptoms of excessive stress vary from person to person, the stress response itself is a physiological phenomenon that can be observed and measured.

The Firstbeat analytic engine uses heartbeat data to open a window through which the reactions of your autonomic nervous system can be examined. Activity in the sympathetic branch signals stress, while parasympathetic dominance indicates rest and recovery. As a result, hidden stress that you may not have been otherwise aware of becomes visible and easy to manage.

Firstbeat All-day Stress & Recovery makes activity within your autonomous nervous system visible and helps you to discover how you react to the challenges of life and whether you have the balance between stress and recovery or not.

The signs of excessive stress are typically classified into four categories: physical, emotional, behavioural and cognitive. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

PhysicalEmotionalBehavioralCognitive
HeadacheAnxietyChange in appetiteMemory problems
Stomach problemsDepressionNervous habits (like nail biting)Inability to focus
Loss of sex driveIrritabilitySocial withdrawalPoor judgement
Frequent colds or other infectionsFeeling overwhelmedIncreased use of drugs, alcohol, or tobaccoDisorganization

The symptoms of prolonged exposure to excessive stress vary widely from one person to the next, and even knowing the symptoms can make stress related issues difficult to recognize.

5 reasons why you might not recognize you are overly stressed

There are several reasons why people don’t always recognize that they are stressed. Here are some of the most common reasons for hidden stress.

1. Stress is not always negative

It is not just negative things that cause stress. Excitement, the anticipation of Christmas morning, the butterflies of a first date are some common examples of pleasant emotional experiences that produce physiological stress. It is not always easy to notice the strain of positive things, but much like chocolate cake, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

2. Stress is not in your head

Sometimes stress is triggered by our environment, we consume, and by our activities. Extreme temperatures trigger stress, as do noisy environments. Sometimes even our own relaxation methods cause stress. Alcohol is the most common source of fake relief. You might feel relaxed after few drinks, but your body is working overtime to handle the effects of the alcohol.

Exercise is a common way to relieve stress, and it is a good one. However, the way how exercise decreases stress is a bit tricky. Working out increases sympathetic activity and decreases parasympathetic activity. The more intense exercise, the greater the stress. However, it has been shown that regular exercise and good fitness produce physiological adaptations, that improve your body’s ability to adjust to stress. So, in addition to other benefits of exercise, it is a great stressbuster in the long run.

3. Perception is reality

Sometimes it is hard to recognise where stress comes from, because it might not come from anywhere specific. Stressors are not always tangible things you can nail down. You might, for example, feel that your boss is unsatisfied with you. Regardless of whether this is true or not, feelings of inferiority raise your stress levels. And trying to compensate by working overtime and pushing yourself even harder only makes matters worse.

4. It is the overall load that counts

As mentioned earlier, stressors can be mental or physical, accompanied by negative or positive emotions. Often, excessive levels of stress are not caused by a one big factor but rather a confluence of smaller factors. Little things add up to big ones.

If you are having a tough time at work, it is not always smart to fill your free time with high-intensity workouts and other stress inducing activities. Instead, go for a walk and relax for a moment. The more strain you have in life, the more focused you need to be on good recovery to create the right balance.

5. High-stress is the new normal

Unfortunately, you might be so used to being stressed that you don’t notice that something is wrong. Or you might have just accepted it. You might think that hectic schedules and feeling overwhelmed are a normal part of life. They shouldn’t be.

Firstbeat stress monitoring technologies reveal the presence and intensity of stress reactions in your body, even when you don’t notice them. When hidden stress is revealed it becomes easier to make smarter, more personal decisions.  Remember, ultimately, your goal isn’t to eliminate stress (that’s impossible). Instead, keep an eye on the amount of stress in your life and use that insight to guide your lifestyle choices and daily decisions towards crafting the right balance.

  • All-day Stress & Recovery

    Reveal how your body responds to the challenges of life and environment.

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Riikka Lamminen

Content Manager

Riikka is an Exercise Physiologist (M.Sc.) who has worked for several years in the fields of communication and journalism. Now, at Firstbeat she combines those two pathways in a great way. General wellness and healthy living have always inspired Riikka and now she is able to spread the word via her Firstbeat blogs. Physical activity is an inseparable part of Riikka’s life. She rides a bicycle everywhere, relaxes by paddling at the sea and challenges herself with some acrobatics.

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