Image Credit: Dawn Willow

Iceberg stress can be affecting your mental, psychological, and physical health without you even realizing you’re stressed! Find out how to de-stress.

People are spending more time than ever before at work, and it seems like social media is being used to replace a nonexistent social life. David Lewis, Ph.D, is a psychologist whose research points towards the dangerous effects of stress below the surface that we aren’t even aware of: he calls it iceberg stress. This type of stress lurks below the surface of our consciousness and affects our health, even though we may only be aware of the tip of the iceberg.

One of the biggest causes of iceberg stress are habits, like negative-self talk, that we can do sub-consciously and have become so ingrained in us that we don’t question it. However, negative habits such as poor self body image and perfectionism can take a negative toll on our bodies because stress can cause inflammation, lowered immunity, and loss of the ability to effectively control body functions like blood sugar regulation (to name a few). It’s also no secret that stress has been named a number one cause of death (indirectly at least, but what do you think can cause higher cholesterol and heart attack?!).

Another leading cause of stress, according to Lizabeth Roemer, Ph.D., coauthor of The Mindful Way Through Anxiety, is that many people have misplaced priorities and are not spending enough time doing what is truly important and gives meaning to their lives. This can be particularly true if someone is spending the majority of their time at work and little-to-no time with their family, friends, or hobbies. But how do you beat the kind of stress that you may not even realize you have?!

Listen to your Body and Name the Stress

If you are experiencing iceberg stress then you may display the following symptoms, according to David Lewis:

  • criticizing yourself and others
  • dwelling on minute problems that are not worth the worry
  • experiencing back pain or neck pain after only a few hours of work

These types of symptoms are one of the many ways that your body may be telling you that you are stressed and need to de-stress – particularly if you experience pain (physically or emotionally) after doing a bit of work. This occurs because your body produces tons of stress hormones when you’re doing something that causes you stress, which leads to feeling tired and can even lead to physical pain in a relatively short period of a few hours. This reminds me of when I was in college and used to get sick, without fail, when finals rolled around and I stared to feel very stressed. Every cold and flu remedy I tried didn’t work at all. Then, after I finished all my finals and relaxed, my symptoms would magically disappear.

Personally, I can definitely say that I feel the effects of iceberg stress, which is why I found this research so important. For me, being on the computer for more than a few hours a day and the thought of even going on Facebook makes me instantly feel stressed. I don’t know why, but I know that it happens and it makes me feel drained and get migraines.

Enough with the symptoms!

These tips will help lower your stress and anxiety levels:

  • Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings (and don’t hold back). This can allow you to notice negative thought patterns, which is the first step to actually correcting them.
  • Replace negative thoughts and judgements with positive ones. For instance, if you think, “I can never wear a dress,” because you are self-conscious about your legs, adopt a mantra like, “Every inch of me is perfect.” Repeat it and make it your screensaver until you believe it.
  • Limit your smartphone use! See my previous article on smartphone stress.
  • Find a passion and your purpose. If there is a cause you are passionate about, volunteering one day a week and beat your stress.
  • Don’t do intense exercise if you’re stressed! Instead, take a walk and be in nature.
  • Read a great book (reduces stress by 68%)
  • Listen to music you love (lowers stress by 61%)
  • Drink tea or coffee (lowers stress by 54%)
  • Play a video game (lowers stress by 21%)

All of the above things have been proven to reduce your stress levels. Whatever you choose to do, make it consistent so that you can enjoy the cumulative effects of reducing your stress hormone levels. I’ve started implementing some of these tips this week and I’m already feeling a little better. For instance, when I have a cup of coffee, I tune out: no cellphone, no magazines, no conversations. That helps me center myself and de-stress. I have also started playing a game of Tetris with the TV muted after I finish my work for the day. Research shows that playing Tetris for just 15-20 minutes per day can help you stop thinking about your work day and to-do list.

I’ve also made room for reading a good book that isn’t work related everyday. Even if I only have time to read one chapter, it makes me feel more in control of my life.

I hope that these little tips help you limit stress and breath easier! Please share this with friends!


Wishing you happiness and joy,

Nina Limardo

Author of I Am Mediaand Renegades Rising

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Here is a great video if you want to delve deeper into stress and how to overcome it: