Do You Even Know You’re Stressed? What to Do When Stress Comes Knockin’ at Your Door
I’ve been reading a lot recently about managing stress.
I had a professor in the latter part of my college career tell me, “Stress isn’t always bad; stress is part of what gets us out of bed in the morning.”
In my previous career as an instructional designer at Crew Training International, our company taught Stress Management primarily to pilots. You can understand how their job might be a tad bit stressful.
I learned a lot from my colleagues, themselves former fighter pilots. For instance, did you know that you often show warning signs of stress long before you realize you are stressed?
Here are some warning signs you may observe in yourself or others:
Mental Warning Signs
- Lose ability to process information
- Less able to plan/think ahead
- Responses are spontaneous and limited in scope
- Overreact to stimuli
- Difficulty in perceiving patterns and relationships
- Difficulty in focusing on and reading information
- Miss subtle environmental cues
- Revert to familiar “tried and true” behavior
- Withdraw; inability to respond
Physical Warning Signs
- Tensing of muscles
- Heart rate increases/rapid beats
- Breathing rapid, shallow, and irregular breaths
- Skin cools; begin to sweat
These warning signs can tell you when you are encountering stress, but enduring stress in extended periods can be harmful. You may begin a habitual pattern of responding to non-threatening events as if they were threatening. In addition, because there is no time for the body and/or brain to recover, long-term stress can overwork the body and brain to the point of exhaustion.
According to the Mayo Clinic, long-term stress can raise the primary stress hormone, cortisol. When that happens,
“It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.” Stress Management
Long-Term Warning Signs include:
- Depleted energy levels
- Lack of concentration
- Poor memory
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight loss/gain
My colleagues also taught me that stress can be managed. Stress can be reduced in part by planning, including establishing priorities, focusing on things that are within our control, and by seeking support when we are overloaded.
In addition, experts at Mayo Clinic recommend:
Identifying what stresses you and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in the face of stressful situations. Everyone handles stress differently.
- Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep
- Practicing relaxation techniques or learning to meditate
- Fostering healthy friendships
- Having a sense of humor
- Seeking professional counseling when needed
So, am I stressed? Most decidedly.
Do I manage it well? Pick your day. I have learned what events triggers stress in me, and for the most part can be proactive in my reaction. I’ve also learned that pre-planning as much as possible for stressful events can often times both alleviate the stress before it arrives and better prepare me when things don’t go as planned.
What are your trigger points? What are your warning signs? How do you respond? What can you do to turn stressful challenges into productive opportunities?