Here Are 14 Signs Of Dangerous Stress Levels That You May Not Realize


Today is National Stress Awareness Day, and many of us suffer from chronic stress, unfortunately. According to Gallup’s December 2023 poll, nearly half of U.S. adults, 49%, reported frequently feeling stressed out and lethargic. While we know of simple ways to manage stress, like exercising, hanging out with friends, or consistently speaking with a trusted advisor or therapist about issues that are causing you strife, sometimes we don’t realize the signs of our stress levels reaching dangerous heights, which can be detrimental to you physically and mentally. 

Additionally, April is Stress Awareness Month, and it’s a crucial time to highlight the often-overlooked signs of dangerously high stress levels, particularly among Black women. Therapist Nikquan Lewis believes chronic stress can lead to anxiety and depression as well as exacerbate other chronic health issues. “People of color have a higher risk of what’s known as high-functioning depression and anxiety, where individuals appear to manage the day-to-day duties efficiently but are silently struggling while oftentimes being unaware because operating in this manner is the “norm.” High-functioning stress, depression, and anxiety are fueled by the belief systems that we’ve been taught, whether it’s from learned behavior, generational dysfunction,” she says to ESSENCE.

“Thoughts and feelings fuel behavior and beliefs like these, which lead us to ignore and eventually no longer recognize what can be dangerous signs of stress levels.” Lewis also believes it’s essential to recognize these signs to learn how to manage the dangerous impacts of stress and have necessary open discussions. “It’s essential to have open discussions about stress management in our community, where the stigma around mental health can prevent many from seeking help. High-functioning depression and anxiety are prevalent issues that often go unchecked because the visible signs of struggle are not as apparent,” she said. 

For this month and beyond, we’re encouraging conversations on recognizing stress, implementing effective lifestyle changes (coping strategies), and prioritizing mental, relational, and sexual health. Awareness is the first step toward change, and by addressing these issues, we can support each other in leading healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Here are some signs that your stress levels are potentially dangerous:

Cardiovascular Disease: This includes heart disease, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, strokes and chest pain. 

Obesity and other eating disorders: Emotional eating can increase in times of high stress, as well as restrictive eating to have control if stress contributes to you feeling out of control.

Sexual Dysfunction: Chronic stress can cause performance anxiety and low sexual desire in both men and women, as well as erectile dysfunction in men

Gastrointestinal Issues: Chronic stress can cause frequent stomach aches, diarrhea, ulcers, irritable colon, and gastritis, and people often miss the correlation between stress and these symptoms. 

Skin and Hair Issues: Chronic stress can cause acne and hair loss.

Insomnia: Chronic stress can impact your ability to rest, causing racing thoughts and keeping you up at night; a severe lack of sleep alone has several associated risks that are dangerous, such as an increased risk of seizures, psychosis, and mood changes.

Constant Fatigue: Even after a whole night’s sleep, if you find yourself constantly tired, it could be a sign that stress is depleting your energy. This relentless fatigue often goes unnoticed as people attribute it to a busy lifestyle.

Changes in Mood: Quick shifts in mood, such as irritability, frustration, frequent crying spells, or heightened sensitivity, can often be dismissed as not that big of a deal. However, these can indicate that stress affects one’s ability to regulate emotions.

Physical Symptoms: Regular headaches, sweating, muscle tension, or unexplained aches are your body’s signals that something is off balance. Chronic stress can also negatively impact your immune system, causing frequent sickness.

Mental Issues: Finding it hard to concentrate, experiencing forgetfulness, or having trouble making decisions can all be subtle signs that stress negatively impacts your cognitive functions. Chronic stress also increases the risk for symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Neglecting Self-Care: Skipping meals, poor hygiene, and ignoring personal health can indicate overwhelming stress.

Isolating: Withdrawing from social interactions, even virtually, can be a red flag, especially if socializing was once enjoyable. Avoiding friends and family and missing work can show high stress.

A loss of pleasure: Finding it difficult to experience joy and delight in activities you once did, possibly leaving feelings of numbness, is a sign of stress.

Overcommitting to Work or Activities: Sometimes, being overly engaged in work or extracurricular activities is not just high productivity but a coping mechanism to avoid addressing stress.

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