Mother doing work while her son is resting in her arms

Never-ending deadlines. Your child’s PSLEs. Increasing cost of living ($2 for a prata? Daylight robbery!). An MRT breakdown that derails your entire day. Whatever the cause, it’s normal to feel some stress living in fast-paced Singapore.

Fret not, stress is essential — without it, we wouldn’t be motivated to face challenges. But too much stress over a long period can take a toll on both body and mind, potentially leading to damaging effects.

When does stress cross the line to become harmful to our wellbeing?

Related: Stress-O-S! How Do You Cope with Stress?

When the Kan Cheong Spider Bites

Young woman working hard in a library

Stress becomes harmful when it gets in the way of daily life, whether health, relationships or work.

Here’s a possible scenario: say we’re trying to be healthier. Stress could hinder our progress by making it more difficult to break bad habits or build good ones.

For example, we might stress-eat on an entire tub of ice cream after a terrible day. Feeling dejected and guilty, we might spiral into negativity and lose sight of our healthy eating goals.

Or we might give up our workout routine because we’re overwhelmed by work.

Related: Understand Stress

The Distress Signals

So how can we handle stress? The first step to managing stress is to be aware that we’re stressed out. Here are the signs you should look out for.

Behavioural

A man unable to get out of bed and holding the alarm clock in his right hand

Pigging out on ice cream after a bad day is human; some days we just can’t help ourselves. But take note, appetite changes — eating more or less than usual — is a possible sign of stress.

Over time, this can be a problem to your health: binge-eating could lead to weight gain and obesity, while eating too little could mean you’re not getting enough nutrients.

Another warning sign? Having trouble sleeping, or waking up tired, which could also impact your health: lack of sleep can make you grumpy and lethargic the next day, and you might feel unmotivated to exercise.

When you’re stressed out, you might also turn to smoking or excessive drinking, habits that may give you a temporary buzz but will not address the stressor itself.

Another sign of stress is social isolation and withdrawal: you may find yourself turning down meetups and gatherings you’d normally attend.

Related: Study Shows Teens Suffer When Giving Sleep a Rest

Emotional Signs

Young woman sitting at a desk and working hard

Stress not only affects how you act, but also how you feel. Not in touch with your emotions? A good way to be more aware is to record your feelings in a notebook daily.

Some emotional signs to note include excessive worrying or feeling overwhelmed — not your everyday kan cheong, but anxiety that affects your ability to work or function.

You might also feel tense, moody, irritable, depressed or restless.

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Brighten Up Your Day

Physical Signs

Young woman stretching and massaging her neck while working at the computer

To recognise signs of stress, you also need to listen to your body: aches, pains, headaches, and tiredness could stem from stress taking its toll on you physically. Other signs include stomach-aches and heart palpitations.

Related: Your Beat Stress Guide

Cognitive Signs

Woman checking out the price of a pack of vegetables

Lastly, don’t forget the mind! Stress can make you “blur like sotong” — you might be more forgetful, and have trouble concentrating, organising, or making decisions.

You might also find yourself worrying more, or thinking negative thoughts.

Now that you’re more aware of the different signs of stress, next week we’ll take a closer look at some unhealthy ways we cope with stress and what we can do about them.


Preventing Diabetes: Beat Stress

For more information on how to prevent diabetes, visit our Diabetes Hub.