Stress affects us all. We all feel stressed from time to time, which is normal because it is our body’s reaction to harmful or dangerous situations – whether real or imagined. Whenever you sense impending danger or find yourself in such a situation, a physiological reaction occurs in your body. This reaction is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response or the ‘acute stress response’, which is triggered by the sudden release of hormones that prepares you to deal with the situation or run away from it. When stressed, your breathing may quicken, your blood pressure may rise, and your heart rate may increase – these are some of the common signs of stress. But there are some often-overlooked signs of stress, or rather, signs that develop into a habit as forms of coping mechanisms for stress.
9 Things You Do When You are Stressed
When you have been feeling stressed out for a while, you tend to develop your own unique ways to deal with it – knowingly or unknowingly. Here are some of these ways that you might have adopted to deal with stress.
1. Yawning Excessively
It’s a well-known fact that stress can take a toll on the quality of your sleep, but what you might not know is that it (stress) can also make you yawn frequently. As you lie awake in bed, finding it hard to turn off your busy mind (probably worrying about some business meeting or why your baby’s diaper is ‘too clean’ since the past two days!), your sleep gets compromised. As a result, you may feel exhausted and experience stress-based fatigue. And this exhaustion and stress can make you yawn continuously. The more anxious you get, the more likely you are to yawn. Sometimes, yawning during stress episodes can indicate signs of breathing trouble as well. People who are stressed feel that they are experiencing trouble with breathing; hence, they yawn in order to get some air.
2. Eating Sugary Foods
Stress can make you crave foods high in sugar and fats. But we are not blaming you or making you feel guilty for craving sugary foods because it’s not your fault – it’s cortisol, the stress hormone, which has been linked to cravings for sugar and fat. Stress can tax your body’s energy resources, thus making it demand high-energy foods, which can be quickly converted to blood sugar (which your body needs to keep going). And you may give in to your temptation just like that and enjoy such foods. The next time you feel the urge to binge on waffles, gulab jamun, or rasmalai, know that it is because of stress; however, control the urge to eat sugary foods every day because you know it well that giving into a moment of temptation can make you feel guilty later.
Has anyone ever told you to stop fidgeting or tapping your foot, while you didn’t even notice that you were doing it? If yes, then you were probably doing so because of stress. Fidgeting is another response to stress or anxiety. When stressed, people tend to fidget, i.e., they might shake their legs, tap their foot, crack their knuckles, interlock their fingers, etc. Sometimes, these habits may get too obvious to hide, leading to others noticing you.
4. Obsessing Over Little Details
There are many people who obsess over little details when they are stressed. If you are overthinking something that you wouldn’t otherwise give a second thought to, you might be doing it because of stress. You may also focus on a problem for a long time, keep contemplating about it, and even envisage its potential ramifications, thus worrying yourself more.
5. Grinding Your Teeth
Teeth grinding or clenching of teeth is a common but not-so-apparent sign of anxiety and stress. Clenching of teeth is associated with emotional instability. People usually grind their teeth when at rest or at night when they are asleep, and hence, they might not be aware of it. However, if this habit continues for long, it might result in flattened, chipped, or loose teeth. If you have chipped teeth, it could be because of teeth grinding, although it’s just one of the possible reasons. To be sure, you can visit a dentist; he will let you know whether the cause is your response to stress or something else.
6. Cleaning and Organising
If you are someone who comes home from work stressing over something your boss or co-worker said, and start cleaning your house or organising your drawing room, you might be doing it to de-stress. While most people associate cleaning with drudgery, there are some who look at it as a form of relaxation. The reason why some people clean when they are stressed is because it makes them feel that they have a sense of control over something in life, if not every situation. For example, you may not be able to argue with your boss or your in-laws, but doing small tasks like wiping down your kitchen counter or organising your wardrobe may make you feel calm. These activities may have soothing effects on you just like that of meditation.
7. Biting Your Nails
If you chomp on your nails and feel embarrassed when someone points it out, there’s no need to feel ashamed, because you are not alone. There are many out there who bite their nails for different reasons without even realising it. One of the potential reasons could be stress. Nail biting is often associated with anxiety because the act of chewing on nails provides relief from stress or tension. If you bite your nails when stressed, you may also do so when nervous, bored, or hungry. Although this habit won’t do any major permanent damage, it’s best to give it up, as it can damage the skin around your nails and harm your teeth. Furthermore, it can also increase the risks of colds and other infections by transferring germs from your fingers to your mouth.
8. Biting Your Lips
Biting your lips (particularly the lower lip) when stressed is extremely common. Similar to skin picking or playing with your hair, biting your lips is another example of a body-focused repetitive behaviour (BRBF). BRBF is basically an umbrella term for any repetitive behaviour that can damage your physical appearance. If you bite your lips unintentionally and too frequently to the point that you don’t even notice anymore, you are perhaps doing it to cope with an uncomfortable situation.
9. Pulling Your Hair
Many people unconsciously pull their hair when they get anxious. If you are working on a deadline or are dead-worried about something, you may unknowingly pull your hair out. Although people might think that you are just playing with your hair, that’s not the case. Pulling, twirling or touching the hair, and even tucking hair behind the ears repeatedly are all signs of anxiety or stress. Although this habit is more of a self-soothing behaviour, if not controlled in time, it can take on a severe form, where you might pull your hair out until it breaks, a condition also known as ‘trichotillomania’.
How to Deal With These Habits
All these stress-related habits are basically different types of coping mechanisms, but that does not mean you should continue with them. Some of these habits can have adverse effects on your health in the long run, which is why, you should try to give these up. And don’t you worry, we are here to help if you are struggling hard to give up your stress-related habit. Here’s how you can deal with your habits that give away your nervousness.
1. For Yawning – Now you know that stress and stress-related fatigue can make you yawn continuously. You might also feel that you are not getting enough air, hence you may breathe through your mouth – taking air in as much as possible. However, breathing through your mouth can make your brain warm, which researchers believe makes one yawn. To deal with this habit, breathe deeply through your nose as it will help cool your brain. Other than this, you can also drink water to stop yourself from yawning.
2. For Stress-eating – It’s too easy to fall into the trap of stress-eating unconsciously, but you need to stop it if you want to stay healthy and fit. When your hand reaches your drawer to grab another cookie, remind yourself that it’s the cortisol hormone in play and not hunger. You can also sip on something containing cinnamon as it can help curb your sugar cravings. Another thing you can try to keep the thoughts of sugary and fried foods away is distraction. You can draw something or doodle to keep your mind busy. You can even try colouring, as it is known to provide relief from stress and reduce anxiety levels.
3. For Fidgeting – If you notice that you are fidgeting, it’s time to take action. If you fidget with your hands, fold your hands. You can also try the rubber band technique, which also works to break other habits like nail biting or hair pulling. What you can do is put a loose rubber band around your wrist. Whenever you start fidgeting or have the urge to pull your hair or bite your nails, snap the rubber band on your wrist. We know this method sounds a bit cruel, but it may work. When you will feel the discomfort of wearing a rubber band constantly, you’ll soon want to give up the habit. However, don’t make it a habit to snap the rubber band on your wrist every time you are nervous or anxious, as you might develop a habit of hurting yourself.
4. For Teeth Grinding – To stop yourself from clenching your teeth while asleep, you can soak a washcloth in warm water, wring it, then place it on your jaw. Warm water can help relax your jaw muscles. However, if these tricks don’t help, consult a dentist before it gets severe.
5. For Nail Biting – To stop yourself from biting your nails, you can cut them short or get a manicure. This way, you will have pretty nails, and in order to keep them that way, you might just give up the habit of biting them.
6. For Your Obsessions – While cleaning and having an eye for detail are fine, if you overdo it to an extent that it causes conflicts with your loved ones, then this stress-related habit of yours might be bordering on obsessive or compulsive cleaning, which is a sign of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. You must deal with it in time by seeking professional help, if distraction techniques don’t work.
If you are speculating about every detail or cleaning obsessively because of stress, take a deep breath, relax, and focus on what is actually troubling you. Look for ways to deal with it. Even if you don’t find any solutions, it’s okay, you’ll get it. Give it time. Furthermore, take some time out for yourself. Make time for your hobbies and just do anything relaxing to distract yourself, without setting any goals for that activity. Just don’t obsess over that activity too – sometimes, messes and imperfections are fine.
These stress-related habits can become embarrassing and may affect your health – both mental and physical health – in the long run. Hence, you need to take care of them in time. Try the above-mentioned tips to let go off these harmful habits. We know getting over these habits is easier said than done and surely won’t happen overnight, but if you try without giving up midway, you will! And if you notice no difference and rather, your problems and these habits are getting worse and unstoppable, it’s best to seek help as quickly as possible.