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United Way Blog

Identifying Signs of Stress is a Key to Health

Stress is a fact of life. Overbooked schedules, demanding work hours, long commutes, an outburst by an angry boss, a stand-off with a defiant teenage child and the bad news that makes headlines every day are all contributors to the increased stress that many feel. Now more than ever it is important to recognize signs of stress in ourselves, our families and our communities and take the necessary steps to reduce stress and intervene if needed.

There are two kinds of stress: eustress and distress.

Eustress is the good kind of stress such as a challenging work assignment or a competitive sports game that pushes your limits. This kind of stress is characterized by an adrenaline rush and the associated excitement. Though this is a positive stress, too much of it is not healthy. 
Distress is the bad kind of stress that can leave you debilitated by your flight, fight or freeze reaction. Distress is caused by a traumatic event or an overwhelming situation and can leave you feeling hopeless.

The effects of too much stress have severe impact on your health and your ability to have a happy, healthy and productive life. Two such impacts are: cognitive (thinking) and emotional (feeling).

Cognitive effects of distress:

  • Time distortion
  • Confusion
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Difficulty in decision making
  • Transient guilt
  • Preoccupations with a stressful event
  • Inability to realize consequences of behavior

Emotional impacts of stress:

  • Acute anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Acute anger
  • Mood swings
  • Acute depression
  • Fear, phobia, phobia avoidance
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Grief

The first step towards strong mental health is to be honest with yourselves and those around you and, as the saying goes, If you see something, say something. Learn to say “no” to more demands, take time to recharge (exercise, read a book, be with friends), reach out to a colleague that seems frazzled, a neighbor you have not seen for a while, a child who seems withdrawn. Small acts of kindness and compassion can reduce stress in both the giver and the receiver, and make both feel more connected and less stress. It is incumbent on all of us to recognize signs that something might not be quite right within our communities. Each of us has the power to make a difference – no matter how small – and put ourselves and others on a path to a healthier mental state.

United Way understands that a community is only as healthy as the people that call it home. But we are here to help. For more information or to contact your local United Way, please visit:

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