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It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and even if you aren’t coping with a diagnosed mental illness, it’s time to take stock of your emotional health. Almost half of Americans report that stress has negatively impacted their personal and professionals lives, according to the American Psychological Association.

We know the toll stress can take on our emotional and physical well-being, relationships, and professional life. Knowing your own personal stress breaking point and how to snap out of it is an important part of a preventive approach to managing stress. 

Keep an eye out for these four signs that you might be headed toward your breaking point.

01. You have trouble sleeping.

If you normally sleep like a rock and suddenly find yourself tossing and turning at night, you may be stressed. When you are worried, you may feel restless and fidgety, making it hard to fall into a truly deep sleep. Having anxiety dreams is also a sign that you are stressed. You might dream that you are late for a meeting while being woefully unprepared for it, that you are back in high school and it’s the first day of school and you don’t remember your schedule, or that someone is chasing you. Some people even dream that their teeth are falling out (really!). If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, the stress in your life is likely contributing to it.

02. You can’t seem to concentrate as well as you’re used to.

Often when we’re under stress, we are juggling many different responsibilities and worrying about all of them. I described this experience to my patients as being on a hamster wheel of worry that goes around and around and around. When half of your brain is occupied by this hamster wheel, it’s hard to focus and pay attention to what’s happening right in front of you. So if you find yourself frequently saying, “Sorry, what? I zoned out there for a second,” stress might be affecting your ability to concentrate.

03. You feel ‘on edge.’

When we’re stressed we tend to be more irritable or “on edge.” For example, you might normally be able to graciously handle your coworker’s constant requests for clarification or your child’s demands for your attention. But, when under stress, you might snap more easily at your coworker or grow frustrated when you hear your child start to wail. Or maybe you’ve recently developed an extreme case of road rage. While there are many reasons why someone might feel more emotional (hello, PMS), ongoing stress can definitely contribute.

04. You’ve been less social and prefer to be alone more often.

When under stress, many people are tempted to isolate themselves from family, friends, and other sources of support. Interacting with others can seem overwhelming or impossible when you are juggling too much. If you're shrinking away from friends or family (when normally you’d be excited to see them) or canceling, it may be your natural reaction to the stress you are experiencing.

Once you’ve reached your stress breaking point, there’s no easy way to snap out of it. Prevention is key.

The best thing you can do for yourself to prevent and manage the effects of stress is to watch for these signs that you are headed towards burnout. To ward off reaching your breaking point, be on the lookout for your own personal signs that you are affected by stress and be extra mindful about engaging in stress-reducing practices like getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy, and staying connected to friends. 

While it’s not possible to completely eliminate sources of stress from your life, you can protect yourself from its harmful effects. All it takes is self-reflection and a stress-reducing action plan. Yes, it takes time, but this breaking point is one you don't want to cross.

Photo Credit: Horn Photography