Stress is a chronic problem for millions of American workers, but because it can’t usually be seen (other than manifesting in habits and behaviors), few people know when it’s time to take action. And, because it’s something that everyone deals with (on some level), many people simply refuse to acknowledge it as a problem that needs to be addressed. With at least 77 percent of people experiencing at least some physical symptoms of stress on a regular basis, ignoring the problem isn’t a good idea.
But how can you tell if you have a real stress problem, or are just experiencing an amount of stress typical of the modern worker?
Why It’s Dangerous to Leave Stress Unchecked
First, it’s important to acknowledge the consequences of leaving a stress problem unchecked. In the early and mild stages of development, you could start experiencing more headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, chest pain, fatigue, lower sex drive, and sleep problems. You may also experience anxiety, mood swings, a lack of motivation and focus, restlessness, and irritability. Eventually, the increased stress can lead to more serious problems, like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even an increased susceptibility to common illnesses, like the cold. It’s not worth taking the gamble or pretending like your stress problem doesn’t exist.
Do You Have a Stress Problem?
It’s a bad idea to leave your stress problem up to your own judgment; otherwise, you may underestimate the severity of the issue until it’s too late to reverse the damage. Instead, it’s better to rely on an objective analysis, by looking at these numbers:
1. Your blood pressure. According to Rush University, your blood pressure should be at or below 120/80. If you’re not sure what your blood pressure is, you can get it tested by any general practitioner, or at most pharmacies. If your blood pressure is significantly above this level, it could be a sign that there’s too much stress in your life; this is important because high blood pressure is the most significant risk factor for the development of heart disease.
2. Your heart rate. Similarly, your heart rate could be an indicator that something’s wrong, and could be a sign that you’re too stressed. Your resting heart rate, or RHR, is considered normal if it’s between 60 and 100 beats per minute—which you can measure yourself by putting a finger on a pulse point. If it’s above 100 beats per minute, you should seriously consider changing your lifestyle.
3. How much you sleep. How many hours of sleep are you getting each night, consistently? This is important because it could be a precursor to increased stress and a symptom of it; getting more sleep will help you stay more relaxed, and lowering your stress levels will help you get to sleep and stay asleep longer. The recommended amount for adults is 7 to 9 hours every night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
4. How much time you spend relaxing. How many hours per week do you spend doing something you want to do, like relaxing with a book, spending time on your favorite hobby, or hanging out with friends? It’s important to spend at least some time every day, so if you’re getting less than 10 hours of relaxation time a week, you should rethink your priorities.
5. Your BMI. Your body mass index (BMI) isn’t a direct indication of your stress levels, but could be related to it. At increased levels of stress, people tend to overeat more frequently, and might be more susceptible to putting on weight. Your BMI is based on both your height and weight, but according to the American Cancer Society, a score of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal. If you’re at 25 or higher, you should incorporate lifestyle changes to reduce your stress (and hopefully, lose weight in the process).
6. How often you exercise. How many hours per week do you spend exercising? Exercise helps you fight back against stress, giving you more energy and keeping you physically healthier. Ideally, you’ll spend at least some time exercising every day, for a total of at least 3-5 hours every week. If you aren’t getting any exercise, now’s the time to start.
7. How often you feel stressed. This is the most subjective measurement on this list, but it’s still an important one. How many times per day or per week do you feel stressed out? Ask your friends and family members for their responses to see if you experience more stress than normal. Even low amounts of stress should still be dealt with, so if you find yourself stressed regularly, consider taking preventative measures, like exercising more or taking more time to relax, to lower your risk of more serious complications.
What do these numbers say about your stress levels? Are you too stressed out? Are you doing enough to combat the accumulation of stress? If you experience more stress than the average person, or if your symptoms are growing severe enough to warrant immediate action, consider relieving your job stress by finding a new opportunity or delegating more work, and spend more time on yourself, relaxing and working that stress out. If you don’t take proactive action, your stress could catch up to you—and at that point, the damage will be done.