Many of us don't fully appreciate the impact that stress has upon us, especially if it's sustained over a long period of time. We may accept that we're busy, acknowledge the many demands on our time but regard our stressed state as a normal part of modern life, of having a career, children, a business. Everyone we know is equally busy. We'll be sure to make time to relax on our next holiday!
Stress in itself is fine; it's part of life, helps us to run faster to avoid a speeding car, deliver a pitch to an important client, think outside the box. But staying in a heightened state of awareness, constantly analysing, being unable to switch off can cause our physical and mental health to suffer.
Often there are physical and verbal clues that our stress levels are escalating. We may have consulted our doctor, had tests because of the headaches, stomach problems, skin rashes, irritability, difficultly concentrating. The usual outcome is 'you're fine but need to learn how to relax'. And, as it's been documented that there are over 360 symptoms of stress it's no wonder that stress is so evident in many areas of life, health and wellbeing.
Let's look at how your choice of words can reveal that you're stressed:
- How many of us are familiar with the phrase 'It's doing my head in'. It's often said when someone's feeling overwhelmed and unable to find a solution to a difficult problem. Tension headaches, seeing dots before the eyes, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing or having a negative perspective on life are all clues that our stress levels are increasing.
When overwhelmed, some people will try to 'buy' themselves extra time by missing meals or aim to boost their energy levels with sugar and caffeine in order to stay awake and cram more into each day. But this often results in adrenalin overload and disturbed sleep as they continue working until bedtime and wonder why their minds are still racing.
Help yourself by becoming more assertive; explain your pressures to others in a confident manner and take control by maybe delegating or learning to say 'no' at times rather than a programmed, automatic 'yes'.
- When someone feels emotionally hurt, let down or disappointed it's not uncommon to hear them utter phrases like 'I'm gutted', 'I feel sick to my stomach'. Emotional stress can manifest itself through Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other gut-related conditions.
Become familiar with the situations that cause your stomach to go 'off', your digestive problems to flare up. Then you'll be able to recognise your own warning signs and decide how best to handle them, maybe by learning to speak up, becoming more confident and assertive. Introduce better habits and intercept problems earlier, rather than allowing them to escalate and become stressful.
- Do you know someone who when they feel irritable, irritated and angry make revealing comments like 'he/it really gets under my skin'. How interesting that they then display itchy red skin, rashes, and the triggering of old skin conditions. Suggest they examine areas of irritation in their life, the things that they don't like to say or deal with. Suppressed feelings can cause associated stress to erupt through physical symptoms.
- When we're feeling stressed we may say 'I can't see straight' because our decisions and choices have become overwhelming and hazy. We may experience blurred vision, spots before the eyes, headaches. This can cause fear and reactive behaviour, panicked choices, poor decision-making in a desperate bid to deal with things quickly.
Communicating more firmly and honestly with others, asking for help, installing systems and processes, becoming effective at note-taking, using lists can all help in managing a busy life.
Support yourself by being more efficient. Introduce techniques to manage your life and the associated stresses effectively. Commit to winding down by finishing work a couple of hours before bedtime; turn off your technology, plan for exercise, healthy meals, try to go to bed a little earlier and book regular dates to have fun. If you're in a stressful phase of your life allow friends and colleagues to help. Try to share the load a little and enjoy how much more productive you become as you enjoy a better quality of life.
Don't forget though that physical symptoms may be a warning that something is wrong. Be sure to have a check-up if you have concerns, especially if your symptoms persist. It's important to take responsibility for your health.