Would you Know if you were experiencing Stress? Part 2- Awareness

Here are some of the signs to look out for that tell you that you might be experiencing stress

As I said in Part 1 of this blog series, stress is a natural part of life.  We all experience it.  If you think that you do not, perhaps you have a different word for it?  May be instead of stress you would say you are anxious, worried, excited, challenged, driven, focused, frustrated, upset, in anticipation, overwhelmed, exhausted, tired or withdrawn.  Whatever the word, my meaning of stress is that there is something in this lifestyle of yours that generates the Stress Response in you.

Are you experiencing stress?

The Stress Response is a term for a group of physiological symptoms generated when you are feeling threatened in some way.  You are getting ready to fight or run away.  So, you might experience quickened heart rate, dilated blood vessels and shallow breathing accompany increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones).  For short periods this is beneficial for your health and well- being.  Long term however, and the negative impact on your immune system, mental health, quality of sleep, productivity, overall resilience, creativity, relationships and vitality are immense.  Here are some of the signs to look out for that tell you that you might be experiencing stress (or whatever word you might use):

  • Do you find it hard to get to sleep?  If you wake up in the night, do you struggle to go back to sleep?  Do you feel tired in the morning?  Are you getting less than 7 hours sleep a night?  If you say yes to any of these, you may well be experiencing stress.  These may happen as a consequence of your stress.  They may also be contributing factors to your stress.  Either way, good quality sleep is essential for many reasons.  If you do struggle to sleep or wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, this audio might be useful.
  • Do you eat a lot of sugary foods or foods high in fat?  Can you get through the day only if you have sugary and caffeinated drinks?  Sugar, fat and caffeine interfere with your body’s natural rhythms, disrupting sleep and other natural highs and lows of your day.  Many processed foods place your body under a lot of burden, damaging blood vessels, creating bloating and inflammation.  Not to mention the effect of artificial chemicals in our food that poison the body and bring it into imbalance.  All of this is stressful for your body and impacts on your overall ability to cope.
  • Muscular Tension. Light, regular exercise and movement leave the body feeling flexible, mobile and limber.  Sitting still all day, barely moving your body, makes your muscles short, tight and painful.  It puts the body under a lot of stress.  Think how lovely it feels to have a stretch at your desk after you’ve been working at your computer for a couple of hours.  Feels great right? Also, little body movement leaves people in “their heads”.  In other words, listening to the logical and rational part of the mind rather than balancing it with the instinct and intuition of which the body is a part.  Muscles also become tense due to unexpressed emotion.  Emotions are energy in motion.  If they are not expressed, they are internalised (in muscles and internal organs), another source of stress for the body.  Muscular tension from all sources pulls the body out of alignment, generating postural stress that can have long term impact such as shoulder, knee and hip replacement operations, diminished mobility, nerve damage and quality of life.
  • Suppressed Emotion. Are you the type of person who never feels or expresses emotion?  Or if you do it is usually fits of anger or rage?  Do you have a “stiff upper lip” or are you known as the “strong one” in the family/ relationship?  This can lead to a lot of stress in the body.  Gabor Mate, in his book “When the Body Says No- the cost of hidden stress”, explores the impact of suppressed emotion and how it can lead to many debilitating/ life threatening diseases such as MS, ME, numerous types of cancer, motor neuron disease, IBS and more.  In short, the stress on the body from unexpressed emotion is so great, it manifests over time as physical illness.
  • Grinding/ clenching your teeth. This is a sure sign you are experiencing stress.  If people mention that you are doing either of these, it’s a strong indicator you are stressed.
  • Holding your breath. Or breathing in a shallow manner.  This can be a response to stress.  It can also become a habit that keeps the body in a more heightened anxious state.  Learning deep breathing exercises will lower blood pressure, deactivate the stress response in the body and generally make you feel more calm, relaxed and mobile.  Belissa Vranich’s book Breathe gives detailed instructions and exercises about how to breathe more effectively for better health.
  • Lack of focus. The Stress Response makes you very insular.  Therefore, focus on other people, projects at work, problem solving and other things that require focus just doesn’t happen.  It’s your body’s way of saying “Stop paying attention to other things, I need some attention here!!!!”
  • Short temper and irritability. If your body is tired and debilitated by long term exposure to the effects of the Stress Response, you have no or very little reserves in the tank for additional stress.  My experience of this is that as a response to feeling powerless or out of control, we tend to lash out to protect ourselves.  This is a sure sign that you are reaching the end of your tether.  Consciously activating the Relaxation Response will give you more reserves to tackle any additional stress whilst keeping off “Red Alert”.
  • A little worry is healthy.  We can use it to assess situations and scan for trouble before the event.  Anxiety takes it to another level, assessing endless scenarios without resolution.  This is usually a clear sign that you are stressed.  There is a much calmer life for you to enjoy beyond anxiety if you can find the ways to manage your stress.
  • Feeling like life has no purpose or direction. Life without purpose has no direction.  Without meaningful goals, aligned to what is most important to us (whatever that may be), life can feel pointless and meaningless.  We can feel powerless and that comes with its own stress.  A lack of energy, vitality, engagement, power, strength and focus.  Purpose infuses our life with direction and meaning that gives momentum, energy, pace and vitality to life.

Natural Ways to manage stress

Please note, this is not an exact science.  There might be many reasons why you are experiencing these symptoms.  If you suspect stress at all, consult your doctor and a healthy dose of common sense and discover the ways YOU can undo the effects of stress.  Rather than pop a pill which might be the easiest way to deal with it, I invite you to explore more natural ways to manage your stress.  I am not a trained medical professional, so please do not take my word as gospel.  However, there is something empowering about listening to your body and intuition and finding the right answer for you.  Managing the stress is the key.  I discuss some of the strategies I have discovered on my travels with stress in Part 3.

Over to You

Do you notice that you often do not sleep well?  Perhaps you sleep very soundly.  Or maybe you are affected by someone who has disturbed sleep?  Are there parts of your body that get very tight?  Is that due to lack of movement, emotional stress, worry, anxiety or body misalignment?  Or is your body limber, relaxed and agile?  Would you say you were an emotional eater?  Do you find it hard to focus?  Or do you have laser- type focus and excellent concentration?  Are you more irritable than you used to be?  Perhaps you are more calm and unflappable than ever before?

Do you feel lost in your life and feel life is getting smaller?  Or is your life expanding and you are discovering new horizons?  I’d love to hear your experiences and grow this body of wisdom in the Potentiality Coaching community.  Please share in the comment box below or on social media.  Thank you.

Pass it On

If what I have been talking about sounds like someone you know, why no forward this blog to them and ask them to give it a read.  It might be the turning point for them to start listening to their body and recognise the signs that stress is present.  It’s so easy to deal with.  Awareness is the first step.  The next is action.  See you next time for Part 3.

Would you Know if you were experiencing Stress? Part 1- What’s getting in the Way

People do not seem to realise they are experiencing stress.  They just don’t see it!

Would you know if you were stressed?  Do you have a sense of what the signs might be if you were experiencing stress?  Do you notice when other people are stressed?  Are there occasions when people say you are stressed and you have no idea what they are talking about?

Having recently run a workshop on stress and talked to many people over the years about stress one thing comes through loud and clear:

Stress is rife in our lives and many of us are totally unaware that we are living with it.

People do not seem to realise they are experiencing stress.  They just don’t see it!  But that does not mean they are not affected by it.  Nor does it mean family, friends and colleagues are not impacted by it as a result.  Having been one of those people myself, it is hard to stand around the side lines and watch people struggle with its affects.  As a result, they go about their daily lives oblivious to the signs and symptoms of stress thinking that all is well.

The Impact of Stress

I’m sure you know many of the statistics about stress.  But just in case you don’t, long term stress can negatively impact your:

  • Life expectancy
  • Quality & duration of sleep (sleeplessness, disturbed sleep, nightmares, fitful sleep)
  • Behaviour (withdrawal, irritability, restlessness, depression)
  • Relationships (impacting those closest to us)
  • Health & disease (increase risk of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease)
  • Interest in sex & sexual performance
  • Diet & weight (increase in fats & sugars raises weight or diminished appetite reduces weight)
  • Resilience
  • Productivity at work
  • Motivation

Stressed? Not me!

So being unaware that you are experiencing stress can come at quite a cost.  I will discuss the signs you want to be looking for, that tell you stress is present in your life and perhaps having an adverse effect on your health in Part 2 of this series.  Before I do that, I just want to explore why people don’t notice the stress in their lives:

  1. The signs creep up slowly over time. You live with yourself 24/7 and often do not notice any changes that might happen in your life, except for the dramatic ones: the surprise birthday party, the heart attack, a heat wave or cold snap, not being able to get into those trousers or tops you once used to fit into, a new addition to the family.  Look in the mirror daily and you do not see yourself getting older.  You do not notice your shoulders getting tighter or your waistline bigger.  You’ve breathed so shallow for years that you do not realise you’re barely getting any air at all.  You get used to what you know and may not question whether this is best for your health and well- being.
  2. Social and cultural norms. Countries, regions, religions, companies, cities, individuals, cultures, towns and families all have their traditions.  From what we eat and drink, to how we socialise, where and how we work, what exercise we do, where we pray and so on.  Sometimes these norms are great for our health and well- being.  Other times, these habits are not.  It’s hard to do things differently to the rest.  If other people don’t seem to experience stress as a result of these habits, then surely nor do I.  Yet, we are all individuals and what may be calming to others could be causing untold stress on someone else.  And remember, they may be suffering from the same lack of awareness about the effect stress is having on them as you are.  We just don’t want to go there in our minds, so we don’t.  Nothing changes and the effects of stress mount.
  3. Stress isn’t something that happens to me. This is the misguided vision I had for years.  Because I am a martial artist, meditator, student of philosophy, calm, confident and thinking of myself as a spiritual practitioner, how could I possibly have stress?  As a result, I’m not looking for the signs.  Struggling to sleep?  Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress!  Experiencing shortness of breath?  Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress!  Finding it hard to focus?  Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress!  You’re getting the idea.  So, maybe you think that being stressed is something that happens to other people.  Or you have a super power that means you can survive on 4 hours sleep a night.  Trust me, we all experience stress.  If it is long- term, it will have adverse effects on your health.  Pay attention to the signs before it’s too late.
  4. Stress isn’t that important to worry about. Some people just don’t think stress is anything to worry about.  Everyone struggles with it and gets on OK.  What’s all the fuss?  It’s a bit like President Trump saying there’s no climate change problem.  Everyone knows that there is, but he doesn’t think it’s worth doing anything about. The attitude that “I’ll be fine” or “I’ve got it covered” I hear a lot.  As a result, the unchanged life style leads to heart attacks, strokes, cancer and more.  These people that I care about seem surprised when it happens!!!!!
  5. I’m too busy to change anything, or change is too hard. Yes, to make changes in your life style does mean things will be different.  In people’s minds that usually means things will be worse!  Our resistance to change is often because we are invested in the old way of doing things: not rock the boat with family or friends; stay inside my comfort zone; surely this tough stage will pass even if I ignore it; I don’t have the time; what about my career, relationship, income etc.; I don’t need to change; how will I be perceived if I change things; what if I fail; how will life be different if I succeed.  Resisting change is normal- there is a degree of uncertainty and that comes with its own challenges.  If we do not make changes, nothing changes.  There are signs telling you that change is necessary, even essential, if only you would pay attention. So, please listen.

Do any of these five points sound like you?  If so, you might be experiencing stress and not realise it.  Left untreated for many years, it could have adverse effects on your health, well- being, quality of life, length of your life and the degree to which you enjoy your life.

The Body has the answer

It’s great that you are deep in the cut and thrust of life, building your business, developing your career, nurturing your family, creating your life.  To be immersed in life is wonderful.  Sometimes you get caught up in the momentum and think “What’s next……?”  As soon as the last job is done, you’re rushing off to do the next one.  If you don’t take time to check in from time to time with how your body feels, you’ll never know where you are at…….. and you may well miss the signs that stress is building up.

Your body is the answer.  It will tell you whether it is experiencing stress. Your head may tell you that there is nothing to be concerned about.  It’s too busy being busy.  Try this instead.  Take time to connect to your body.  How?  Centring, mindfulness and meditation are great ways to connect in.  Also, Mindful Movement workshops are a great fun way to connect in with your body and begin rebuilding a relationship with your body again.  As a result, your body will become a friend, a confidante, a trusted partner.  You will reap the benefits of living mindfully, managing stress effectively and enjoying life fully for mind, body and soul.

Over to You

What is your attitude to stress?  Is it something other people have but not you?  Are you too busy to deal with it or do you make time in your day for managing it effectively?  Is stress another “Climate Change” issue or are you taking it seriously?  Do you know you have to deal with the stress in your life or are you too busy to change?  So, let’s get a conversation going and bring the effects of stress to people’s attention.  Then they can take control and begin to live more fully and vibrantly.

Pass it On

If what I have been talking about sounds like someone you know, why not forward this blog to them and ask them to give it a read?  It might be the turning point for them to start listening to their body and opening to the possibility that stress is in their lives.  It’s so easy to deal with.  Awareness is the first step.  The next is seeing stress in action in our lives.  So we’ll be covering that in Part 2. See you next time.