When you’re chronically stressed, your body protests. Maybe it’s your sleep, your digestion, your hair, your weight, your heart, your muscles, your sex drive. Whatever the disruption, it’s generally an indication that you’ve got too much going on, and powering through isn’t working.
But what happens when you have all the signs of stress, but can’t put your finger on the cause? Ask yourself if one of these factors could be to blame:
Undergoing a transition, even if it's positive
Humans like to predict and control things, so when you’re transitioning or are on the verge of transitioning, you stress. Even transitions that you see as positive -- like moving in with your partner, starting a new job, or having a child -- can put you into stress mode.
So if you’re in the midst of transition, or see one coming up, know your mental bandwidth might be reduced a bit, and take on less than you might normally.
Feeling trapped in a dead-end situation
Sometimes stress and anxiety are not-so-subtle indicators that you’re stuck in situation you don’t want to be in. Your relationship, your job, your city could all feel like dead-end propositions.
Keep in mind that it's easy to blame your unhappiness on one of these things, only to move cities or get into another relationship and realize that the unhappiness has followed you. BUT, in some cases, it really may be that you need to get the eff out. Logically, you might be telling yourself, "Suck it up," or, "It’s for the best," but deep down you’re saying, "Wait, this really isn't good for me." Make plans to get out if you know that's what's best.
Sometimes people erroneously think that independence is admirable and courageous. But living by this assumption can prevent you from asking for help. And guess what? Sometimes people need help. It's impossible to go through life doing everything on your own.
Not spending enough time alone
It's the other side of the independence coin: even the most extroverted people need time alone to recharge. And if you’re going from your open-office startup to happy hour every night, there’s a good chance you’re not getting that alone time.
Take a couple evenings a week to plan nothing until the day of -- consider yourself “busy” those nights. When the day comes, you can use that time for whatever you need, whether it's yoga, reading, Netflix, email catch-up, whatever.
Turning other people into measuring sticks of success
You know how you feel when you compare yourself to that seemingly successful Facebook friend or the “fitspirational” person you’re following on Insta? How about when you compare yourself to someone you know who is in more debt than you, or who’s going through a terrible breakup, or in a depression, or who just lost a loved one?
Depending on which way you compare, it can either make you really stressed or really grateful. So keep your eyes on your own page... and if you decide to compare, make sure you see the whole book.
Setting unreasonable expectations for yourself
You expect you should be functioning at 100% all the time, no matter the circumstances. You even make your "self-care routine" stressful; you have to get to the gym, meditate, and make your green smoothie no matter what! And you definitely can't make mistakes.
There's a pretty good chance you're your own toughest critic. Once you realize you’re in control of your expectations -- becoming a little more realistic and flexible with them, and treating yourself like a fallible human -- you can reduce your stress significantly.
Grieving, though not in a traditional sense
Most people associate grief with death. But you can also experience grief when your relationship or job ends, when you have a falling-out with a friend, when you learn you can’t have kids, when your parent’s memory starts going.
Grief mimics depression, so sleep, concentration, mood, and appetite are often affected. When you’re grieving, you function at a much lower percentage than the level at which you function when you’re feeling comfortable and connected. Lower your expectations for productivity and performance, and get support from a friend or therapist.
Soldiering through your stress doesn’t make it go away, and it can set you up for a breakdown or depression if you're not careful. Instead of telling yourself to power through it, acknowledge that it’s OK to feel stressed, figure out what you need, and ask for help -- or spend a couple weeknights watching Netflix, if that will help.
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Megan Bruneau, MA, RCC, is a psychotherapist and wellness coach who used to be THE WORST at coping with stress. Read more from her at www.OneShrinksPerspective.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.