7 ways to cope when you are at stress breaking point

Feeling overwhelmed and at your wits’ end? You might be spiralling towards your stress breaking point. Here is how to spot the signs and dial down the pressure.

The pandemic, climate change, financial and geopolitical instability – there’s no denying modern life is stressful.

“We live in a fast-paced, technologically driven world full of uncertainty, and that creates the perfect storm for stress,” The Anxiety Clinic founder and clinical psychologist Dr Jodie Lowinger says.

But how can you tell when your stress levels are getting out of control?

These are the signs to watch out for – and strategies to help ease the strain.

The signs of stress breaking point

When we’re stressed, our bodies release cortisol, the stress hormone that triggers our “fight or flight” response, says Dr Lowinger, best-selling author of the Mind Strength Method.

In the short term, this can give us the edge we need to meet a deadline or study for an exam.

But prolonged stress can cause serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke, asthma and gastrointestinal illness.

Dr Lowinger says recognising the signs you’re at stress breaking point is the first step to taking back control.

Physical signs of stress overload

  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Digestive problems
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Aches and pains
  • Rashes or itchy skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Mental and physical exhaustion
  • Changes to your menstrual cycle

Psychological signs of stress overload

  • Feeling sad and teary
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Spiralling negative thoughts
  • Increased irritability and anger
  • Racing thoughts
  • Disinterest in life
  • Persistent feelings of dread
  • Quick to anger
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Poor memory and concentration

The seven best ways to cope with stress

“Often, it only takes small steps in the right direction to build momentum and turn it (stress) around,” Dr Lowinger says.

Here are some ways to keep yourself from reaching stress breaking point:

1. Practise kindness

Research has shown kindness is an effective method of stress reduction.

“Be kind to others, and to yourself,” Dr Lowinger says.

2. Be assertive

“Embrace assertive techniques to look after your own needs, and move from anxiety to action,” Dr Lowinger suggests.

3. Be mindful

“Reconnecting with your body through regular exercise, mindfulness, spending time in nature and eating regular, healthy meals are all helpful,” Beyond Blue clinical lead Dr Grant Blashki says.

4. Delegate tasks

“Work out ways you can reduce some of the stress in your life by getting extra help or reducing your workload to a manageable level,” Dr Blashki advises.

5. Get moving

“Movement stimulates positive neurochemicals and burns up the adrenaline,” Dr Lowinger says.

6. Adopt healthy habits

“Create a healthy schedule for the day, including getting enough sleep and scheduling time with loved ones and friends who make you feel good,” Dr Blashki suggests.

7. Switch off

“Curate and turn down the volume on some of the incessant communication from phones and social networking to give your mind a break,” he adds.

When to seek help for stress

“Unfortunately, many people with excessive stress try to ignore it rather than deal with it head-on,” Dr Blashki says.

“The problem with this approach is that it can get worse over time – and there can be some secondary fallout such as spiralling negative thinking, relationship difficulties, workplace conflicts, or resorting to alcohol or other non-helpful approaches.”

Dr Blashki says it’s vital to reach out for help early if you feel you can’t cope.

“My rule of thumb as a GP is that if mental stress is interfering with everyday functioning at home or work for more than two weeks, it’s a red flag that you should seek some extra assistance,” he says.

Written by Dimity Barber.