We all experience stress in our lives. It is part of being human and in many ways a natural emotion that acts as a signal to our mind and body that something is not quite right and needs attention. The definition of stress is: “A state of mental or emotional strain resulting from demanding circumstances”, so stress is essentially the way the body reacts to a demand or threat whether it be imaginary or real.
In certain circumstances it is perfectly natural and perfectly okay to experience stress because it can actually help us to meet challenges or deadlines in our busy lives. At other times, it can give us that extra boost of adrenaline to perform at our best in sporting activities. This is what is sometimes referred to as ‘good stress’. But , in other situations and circumstances, if stress is continuous and unchecked, it can become chronic and lead to a number of adverse health conditions and in the worst case, disease. This is ‘bad stress’.
In order to stay healthy and productive we need to recognise the signs of stress before it gets out of control. In other words, we need to be able to recognise when we have reached a point where any symptoms of stress needs to be stopped in order to ensure we stay in good health and to create more balance in our life. So, in a nutshell, good stress can enable us to ‘up our game’ and can give us more drive and more energy when we need it. Bad stress, by way of contrast, can be quite debilitating and is likely to interfere with our daily life in a negative way.
So how do we learn to distinguish between what is ‘good stress’ and what is ‘bad stress’?
Here are seven key signs that you need to know about stress. By learning how to spot these early signs it can help us to deal with and combat stress in all its forms.
1.Recognise & Understand
The first sign of stress is one that we are all able to recognise and understand. It is the type of stress experienced by students when they are studying for exams. As the time of the exam gets closer more signs of stress tend to manifest. Students begin to get tired and irritable followed by bouts of anxiety and an inability to concentrate. It is similar for those of us in business who often have to face up to tight deadlines. At times we can become scared or overwhelmed and this can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy. These are clear signs of stress that we need to learn and recognise.
If the causes of stress are not removed quickly, then the symptoms can worsen. Sometimes we start to experience physical pain when there seems to be no physical reason for it. These types of feeling usually manifest in a threat or crisis situation and can lead to severe and ongoing headaches, migraines or pains in the lower back. For some people it can begin with neck pain or an uncomfortable sensation in the abdomen, sometimes called ‘butterflies’. Everyone is different of course so the way that physical stress affects us is a very individual experience. When these feelings occur it means that your body is giving you a sign that something is wrong. In many cases the pain might not even be within the physical body itself but psychosomatic and generated by the mind. Whether physical or psychosomatic the underlying cause is the same. It is a clear sign that you are undergoing stress.
3.Lack of sleep
A third sign of stress is related to lack of sleep and an inability to relax. If you find you are unable to sleep, or feel more exhausted and tired than usual, then this is a clear sign of stress. The lack of sleep means that your mind is not relaxed and the chances are that you will also be unable to focus or concentrate. You may be starting to feel overwhelmed and anxious. If you actually feel tired but still can’t get to sleep this is a very clear sign of stress. Lack of sleep can eventually lead to more serious health issues so it needs to be taken seriously. This condition needs to be monitored carefully and may require medical advice.
This stress sign is related to what is usually termed ‘negative thoughts’. When we are undertaking different types of work we are all able to recognise the difference between the positive feelings of; ‘yes I can do this, no problem’ and the negative feelings of ‘I can’t do this. I can’t cope anymore’. These feelings directly affect our mental state of mind and also affect our physical bodies too. Negative feelings are a sure sign of stress, whereas positive feelings uplift us and support us. It is therefore very important to make sure you surround yourself with people who are generally positive, helpful and supportive and avoid those who are critical, put you down or make you feel guilty. Negative people are not good for your stress levels. If you start feeling negative about something then it is time to change some of the things that are around you – including your company. Be sure to distinguish between the things you can directly change yourself – for example your working environment – and those things you cannot easily change. If you try to make changes to things that are outside of your control you will only add to your stress rather than reducing it.
The next sign of stress manifests itself as ‘over-worrying’ – the situation when you find yourself constantly worrying about lots of things a lot of the time. We all know people who continuously worry about things that will probably never happen and we generally call them ‘pessimists’. Some extreme pessimists seem to spend their whole life contemplating ‘what if’ scenarios and tend to think the worst in all situations. Sometimes things we worry about do, in fact, happen, but think about this for a moment. If they do happen then you have worried about them twice – firstly ‘in advance’ and then again when they actually happened. People who are natural optimists recognise this scenario and have a very different attitude based on the premise that ‘if it happens then I will deal with it – but I am not going to worry in advance’. This is particularly relevant at the moment with the Covid and lockdown situation. The key message here is that you should only worry about the things you can control and not what you can’t!
6.Fear and anxiety
All of us, at some time or other in our life, will experience the feeling of being totally overwhelmed by a situation. We recognise those familiar feelings of fear, anxiety, lack of sleep, loss of control, palpitations or discomfort and the sense that there are just too many things going on in our life. This is particularly true for those of us who run our own business which at times can be extremely stressful and sometimes overwhelming. Few of us are trained to cope with constant pressure and deadlines when we are setting up our new business and feeling regularly overwhelmed is not at all unusual. More pressure leads to more stress and can be a vicious circle. That is why we need to recognise the times when we start to feel overwhelmed so we can take action to overcome it or prevent it.
Another sign of deepening stress might not be obvious to some people. It is the experience of starting to feel lonely. At the present time, millions of us are feeling lonely due to the Corona virus situation because of being isolated, trapped and anxious. But even in ‘normal’ times feelings of loneliness can be created from stress. Being a business owner or entrepreneur can sometimes be a lonely experience when times are tough, but when added stress comes into play, that feeling of isolation can be much more acute and needs to be dealt with.
These seven signs of stress tend to accumulate over time and when they all become regular and continuous then it is a clear warning sign that you are on the verge of a potential burnout. When you are carrying all these accumulated burdens that weigh heavy on your shoulders it is time to stop and seek help before depression and mental health issues kick in. So watch out for these seven key signs of stress so that you can deal with them before they overwhelm you. You owe it to yourself to look after your health and avoid stress by spotting the signs early and then dealing with them appropriately.
About Mirela Sula
Mirela Sula has worked in media and education for the last 20 years and has speaking experience all around the world. Her background takes in psychology and counseling, journalism, teaching, coaching, women’s rights, and media training. Mirela is CEO and the founder of Global Woman Magazine and Global Woman Club.