Stress is a normal physical response to anything that makes you feel threatened or throws you off balance in some way. When you sense danger— real or imagined — your body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” reaction, also known as the “stress response,” which is your body’s way of protecting you.

In this hectic modern world our lives are full of deadlines, frustrations, and demands. Sadly, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life for many people. Stress can actually be beneficial, though, in small doses. For example, it can sharpen your concentration, help you perform in high pressure situations, and drive you to do your best. It can even save your life by helping you get out of dangerous situations, such as when you need extra physical strength to defend yourself.

However, at a certain point, stress crosses over from being helpful to harmful. When you’re constantly operating in red alert mode, there’s a cost to your mind and body. The good news is you can protect yourself by recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress and then taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.

Symptoms of stress fall into four main categories:

Memory problems
Difficulty concentrating
Poor judgment
Anxious and racing thoughts
Seeing only the negative
Constant worrying

Easily agitated
Irritability or quick temper
Feeling overwhelmed
Sense of loneliness and isolation
Depression or general unhappiness

Aches and pains
Stomach and digestive problems
Chest pain / accelerated heartbeat
Loss of interest in sex
Frequent colds

Eating more or less than usual
Sleeping too much or too little
Isolating yourself
Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
Using alcohol, drugs, or smoking to relax
Nervous habits

If you feel your stress is interfering with your ability to lead to be happy and lead an emotionally rewarding life, then it’s time to seek professional help.