May 01, 2016

How do you know when you're stressed?

We all know how to deal with stress—well, at least, we all know how we're supposed to deal with stress: exercise, yoga, meditation, therapy, contact sports, reckless behavior, vodka (just kidding about those last three). But one of the things I've always struggled with is figuring out how to tell when I'm stressed.

I think I've been stressed out since I was 11, and probably before that. I remember my teacher pulling me aside during lunch, right after I'd delivered a presentation on the life and times of Rasputin (did anyone else cover the Russian Revolution in sixth grade or was it just us?). She asked me if I was OK—which I wasn't, because I'd been under a lot of pressure having just sat for a junior high school entrance exam (#GrowingUpInNYC). I didn't even know what stress was at the time, but I definitely had it—and it took someone else to tell me in order for me to realize how much it had affected my behavior.

Even as an adult today, I so often internalize my stress that physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms manifest before I realize how far it's gone. From talking to friends, I don't think I'm alone. But in order to cope with stress—and take care of ourselves and our health—it's important to be able to identify its symptoms. Here are some weird things that happen to me—or that I find myself compulsively doing—when I'm stressed out and don't even know it.

(Postscript: After writing this list and reading it back, the armchair psychologist in my head says I'm pretty textbook—that my behavior shows I'm subconsciously grappling for control over the external constructs in my life in order to create some order around my internal conflict. Or something like that.)

· Overspending and compulsive shopping: Whether it's a series of new unnecessary gadgets or a bunch of designer accessories I don't need, whenever I find myself casually popping by Chanel after a long day, hitting up the Apple store over lunch, or logging onto Net-a-Porter or Farfetch first thing in the a.m., I know I need to step away from the plastic and reassess what's driving me to spend.

· Skipping meals, loss of appetite: While minor stressors (deadlines, photoshoots, lack of sleep, too much travel) turn me into an irrationally hungry compulsive eater, bigger-picture stress and anxiety—relationship or career-related, especially—completely put me off food, to the point where I skip meals all day and, come dinnertime, I'll have to talk myself into eating something, all while trying to suppress an actual physical aversion to food. If any of you know me, you know this is nowhere near normal, and, in fact, the polar opposite of my usual consumption personality.

· Skin issues: After grad school, I spent seven years working at a tabloid daily paper here in New York. It was the best of times—but, by the last two years of my tenure there, it was also pretty much the worst of times. I'd outgrown my beat, there had been multiple changes in management, newspapers were facing sharp decline in print readership, my career had stagnated, and I needed to get out—but I didn't know it, at least not consciously. My body knew, though. In the last 18 months I worked at the Post, out of nowhere, I developed a crazy contact allergy to leather. I couldn't touch leather, I couldn't wear leather shoes or sandals, and I couldn't carry a leather handbag without immediately getting a rash, hives, or blisters. My doctor told me it was textbook contact dermatitis, but I couldn't shake the feeling that, for me, a severe brand new skin allergy that came out of nowhere was not normal. And while I can't prove it, I'm nearly 100 percent certain my body was reacting to long-term accumulated internalized stress—because within one month of leaving my job at the paper and starting a new job at the Curbed Network, my allergy completely disappeared (though I continued to have nightmares about working at the New York Post for about nine months after).

What are some weird signs and symptoms you have when you're stressed?