Stress could be taking its toll on you — know the signs

Withdrawing, not wanting to eat, and constant worry 
are all signs of stress that could lead to more serious issues

In tough times — like this year’s drought — stress can creep up on you.

So take a moment to think how your friends and family are holding up.

“I really encourage people to notice what other people are doing when it’s stressful like this. You may need to look after each other a bit more,” said Dr. Laura Calhoun, provincial medical director for Addiction and Mental Health with Alberta Health Services.

When people are stressed, they may not sleep as well or worry more than they should.

“Obviously these kind of conditions may cause worry, but people may overworry and they may not know that they are overworrying,” said Calhoun.

There are several signs of this form of stress: People are not able to think about anything else, and not able to enjoy other things in life. So they may eat less or even lose interest in food, not want to socialize, or do things that normally give them pleasure. People who are not usually irritable may be short tempered.

Other signs of stress include ruminating (talking about the same thing over and over) and complaining. Or it may go the other way — many men will shut people out, not talking because they don’t want to burden others.

When people withdraw and don’t want to socialize at all, that’s often a sign that something is wrong.

“At that point, it’s useful to get some help,” said Calhoun. “If people let that go on and the stress isn’t relieved, that’s when people can develop a major depression or end up with some other anxiety conditions or something like that.”

People can get help from their family doctor, by calling Alberta Mental Health’s 24-hour helpline (1-877-303-2642), or by accessing resources through Alberta Health Services’ website.

Seeking help isn’t easy, and that’s especially true in rural communities.

“In small towns and rural areas where everyone knows everyone else, the stigma is even greater than it is in the city where you can be anonymous,” said Calhoun. “But we think that the stigma is breaking down. There’s more evidence that people are aware that you have to look after your mental health as well as your physical health.”

And the two are often linked. Exercise helps improve your mood, relieves anxiety, and helps people sleep. It can also distract people from their worries.

Talking to others can be useful. Even though some people feel like retreating when things are bothering them, socialization is a good way to relieve stress.

That doesn’t mean you have to talk about your worries, said Calhoun. It can be as simple as spending time with people, doing an enjoyable activity.

“You need to try to do things that get you out of the stress that you’re consumed in,” she said.

People should also monitor their alcohol consumption during times of stress.

“Often when people feel down, they use alcohol to try and make themselves feel better. That works, temporarily, but there can be negative side-effects afterward.”

Stress can quickly lead to full-blown depression. Clinical depression is defined as a period of at least two weeks where every day, for most of the day, a person experiences a mood that is low, sad or blue.

Other symptoms include not being motivated or interested in things, and not having enough energy. People can also sleep too much or suffer from insomnia, and will often notice a change in their eating habits. Often there are strong feelings of guilt, and some may have thoughts that life is not worth living.

People who have a combination of these symptoms or even some of them, for a period of two weeks, would be classified as depressed and should go see a doctor. Treatment would likely be talk therapy, medication, or both.

People who notice that their family members or friends are suffering from stress can try to talk to them about it. Calhoun notes that it is best to approach with a supportive and curious tone.

“You don’t want to be accusing or angry, but say something about what you’ve noticed,” she said. “Come at it from a concerned and caring point of view.”

About the author


Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.


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