How to recognise stress in yourself and what you can do about it

Written by Guest User

Did you know that 70% of Australians and Americans say that stress is impacting their health. But just because stress has become such a common part of 21st-century living, doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do about it.

One of the ongoing challenges of reducing and managing stress is recognising the early signs before it becomes damaging - physically, emotionally and financially. Furthermore, we tend to put the blinkers on when we’re stressed, blinding us to the signs that something could be wrong…

This article takes a look at what stress is, the signs to look for, and what you can do to feel more in control of your stress today and tomorrow.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s natural reaction to change. The way the body reacts can affect you physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can be caused by factors in our environment, body, and even your thoughts. So try to stay positive!

Stress is not always a bad thing, though. It’s your fight-or-flight response, and can actually be beneficial, under the right conditions, for increasing focus and productivity. However, without adequate time for the mind and body to recover, stress can lead to long-term physical and mental health issues.

Common sources of stress include:

  • Work

  • Money

  • Health

  • Family

  • Relationships

  • Overcommitting

  • Work-life balance

  • Loneliness

  • Uncertainty

The signs of stress

The first step to feeling more in control of your stress is knowing and acknowledging the signs. But stress is so ingrained in our society that many of us don't even know we're stressed until it’s too late.

The symptoms of stress can present through changes in your emotions, thoughts (cognitive), behaviour and body. Here’s what to look for:

Emotional symptoms of stress:

  • Easily agitated, frustrated, moody

  • Overwhelmed, out of control

  • Inability to quiet your mind

  • Feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, depressed

  • Avoiding engaging with others

Cognitive symptoms of stress:

  • Trouble focussing on tasks

  • Forgetfulness

  • Pessimism

  • Worrying about everything

  • Poor decision making

Behavioural symptoms of stress:

  • Increased or decreased appetite

  • Avoiding responsibilities, procrastination

  • Nail biting, pacing, scratching, fidgeting

  • Increased consumption of alcohol, cigarettes

Physical symptoms of stress:

  • Dizzyness, headaches

  • Chest pain, increased heart rate

  • Exhaustion, fatigue

  • Upset stomach

  • Problems sleeping

  • Grinding teeth, clenched jaw

  • Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders

15 ways to beat stress before it beats you

So, you’ve identified that you’re stressed… But that’s ok. Becoming aware of your symptoms and triggers is a step forward. Here are some great tips to help you reduce stress right now, and prevent it in the future.

Fast-acting stress relief. What you can do right now.

Maybe you’ve just stepped out of a bad meeting at work, or tensions are high at home. If you’re feeling the immediate onset of stress, try these methods.

1. Focus on breathing

Breathing techniques can calm your body and mind in a matter of minutes. Breath in through your nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds. Repeat as necessary. Feel your immediate stress dissipate.

2. Go for a walk

Going for a walk is great for a change of scenery and some light exercise to help shift your frame of mind. Whether it’s a five-minute stroll around the office, or a long walk on weekends or to/from work, walking is a simple and effective way to refresh your body and mind.

3. Listen to music

What’s your all-time favourite song? Pop it on. Remember why you love it. Feel good. Or, if you want some relaxing background music, try some Bach solo piano. Listening to slow instrumental music can help lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones.

4. Get a hug from a loved one

Feeling stressed? Get a cuddle from a loved one. Positive contact, like music, can help lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones.

5. Laugh

Having a good laugh releases endorphins and lowers stress hormones, helping brighten your mood and reduce stress. Read/watch something funny, and hang out with people who make you smile.

Long-term stress relief: What you can do for a better tomorrow

You may have managed to settle your nerves with the tips above (well done), but you’ll still need an effective approach to help prevent and manage stress in the long run. Read on to find out how.

6. Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety. It helps lower stress by releasing endorphins, improving self-image, and helping you get a better night’s sleep. There’s a reason cycling has become so popular amongst high-performing business people… let’s hope it’s not just for the lycra!

7. Eat a balanced diet

A poor diet may help you deal with stress in the moment, but you’ll probably feel worse in the long run. A healthy, balanced diet can help with mood regulation and energy balance, improving how your mind and body react to stress. This means better decision making. Sorry, folks, this includes reducing your caffeine intake… 

8. Express gratitude

Studies show that grateful people have lower stress levels, are less at risk of mental health issues, and enjoy a better quality of life. Saying “thank you” can go a long way. It’s also a fantastic way to increase productivity in the workplace.

9. Learn to say no

Too much responsibility can leave you overwhelmed, overworked, and on the way to burnout. Reduce your stress by taking control of the situation, and say no to things that will unnecessarily tip you over edge.

10. Talk nice to yourself

Filling your inner dialogue with harsh self-criticism and self-doubt never helped anyone. Be optimistic, kind, and supportive in conversations with yourself. It can help you manage emotions, overcome obstacles, and move forward in a positive way.

11. Create an after-work ritual

It’s hard to leave work stress at work. Try telling your brain that work is done for the day by creating a simple after-work ritual. This could be a ride or walk home, going to the gym, or simply shutting your computer and saying, “I’m done. No more until tomorrow.” Action and repeat.

12. Create a realistic to-do list

You’re only human, so manage and optimise your time accordingly. Cut out anything that you don't have to do, or someone else can do. This could be as simple as delegating/outsourcing menial work tasks, or hiring someone to do household chores. Life is easier with a realistic to-do list.

13. Meditate

Meditation isn’t just for hippies, and your cousin who lives in a commune. It’s now common practice in many high-performing businesses. Meditating for as little as 10 minutes a day can help increase your energy, memory capacity, patience, tolerance, and ability to make decisions. It also reduces stress and anxiety, and helps you sleep better. There are many apps available to help you do this in private, or you can join a class.

14. Ask for help

Over half of Australians suffering from stress fail to reach out for help. You don’t need to suffer in silence. If you’re struggling with stress, or don’t feel quite yourself, reach out to a friend, family, or professional. Help is available.

15. Lead by example

Do what you can to foster a culture of wellness in your team. And practice what you preach! If you’re a leader, try implementing a “no work emails on weekends” policy. Or support an office sporting team to promote healthy habits outside of work. A happy workplace is a productive workplace.

Final thoughts

The problem in addressing stress is that the early warning signs aren’t always clear to individuals. And sometimes, like a nasty little assassin, stress strikes you unaware. But it’s too late… the damage is already done. This is why we created Indie, to give you some extra support to help you and your team reduce stress before its too late.

It’s important to take the time to consciously recognise the symptoms of your stress in order to isolate specific triggers. This can help you prepare for a potentially stressful situation or encounter, and put a game plan in place for dealing with stress today and tomorrow.

The tips in this article are a good place to start.

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