AARP Eye Center
Wins and medals aren’t the only things grabbing attention at this year’s Olympic games in Tokyo: Mental health awareness is also in the spotlight, after U.S. star gymnast Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from some events in order to focus on her emotional well-being.
Olympians or not, we’re all susceptible to stress, whether from job or family pressures or obligations like caregiving. Here are the physical and mental signs that experts say could signal trouble.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
1. Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
Can’t fall or stay asleep? Insomnia is a classic symptom of stress, says Connecticut-based clinical psychologist Holly Schiff. For example, Biles said she “could barely nap” before the Olympic team gymnastics final. And the consequences of lack of sleep, including fatigue and problems concentrating, can make it even harder to get through the day, creating a stress snowball effect.
To break the no-slumber cycle, Schiff recommends that you keep a bedside journal to jot down the worries keeping you up at night, whether that’s tomorrow’s to-do list or other preoccupying thoughts. “Getting it down on paper and theoretically out of your mind can be helpful and free up some mental space, so you can focus on getting a restful night’s sleep,” she says.
2. Changes in mood and thinking
Changes in mood, like increased sadness or irritability, are another stress warning sign, according to psychoanalyst Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell Medical College.
“If you are highly anxious because you’re highly stressed, the feeling could definitely be one of agitation or restlessness in your body, a feeling of being fearful,” she says. “In the case of chronic stress that’s making you feel very burned out, it could be a feeling of being very down or even numb.”
Along with shifts in mood, Schiff notes that changes in thinking — like a feeling of brain fog (or, conversely, racing thoughts) — difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness are other signs to watch for.