Feeling stressed?

Here’s a short five point guide to help you do a quick self-audit.

Stress itself isn’t the problem. It’s a part of life. But excessive pressure in different areas of our lives can tip us into feeling overwhelmed at times.

And when the heat’s on it’s easy to overlook what’s happening for us.

The effects of stress show up in our relationships. How are we getting on with other people? With friends and family? What are things like with that demanding client or work colleague? Are we becoming overbearing or feeling put upon? Has anyone told us recently that we seem a bit distant or irritable?

Excess pressure affects cognition. Are we thinking clearly? Staying focused, organised and decisive? Or making uncharacteristic mistakes, forgetting things or missing simple deadlines?

Stress affects behaviour. Have I been spending too much time at work recently and too little time doing fun things like socialising or exercising? Does it feel like I’m getting stuck in a rut? Have I been drinking more?

And stress overloads our emotions. Do I feel generally content? Or anxious, unaccountably sad, tetchy or withdrawn? Do minor inconveniences spark major reactions? Do I feel overwhelmed at times or beat myself up about making trivial errors?

Often the most noticeable signs of excess pressure are felt in the body. Are there any uncomfortable physical symptoms which may point to feeling overwhelmed? Any unusual headaches, chest pains, breathlessness or stomachache? Do I seem to be going down with minor illnesses more regularly?

We all experience some of these signs from time to time but if they build up gradually, it’s sometimes hard to remember what ‘normal’ felt like.

There’s an apocryphal story of how to boil a frog. Obviously, if you drop the frog into a pan of boiling water it will notice. The story goes that if you put a frog into cool water and gradually bring it to the boil, the frog will be oblivious.

This obviously begs the question of why anyone would want to boil a frog in the first place. That aside, it’s a helpful picture of the unnoticed and cumulative effect of increasing pressure.

Sure. You’re not a frog.

But if the bathwater’s getting too hot, turn on the cold tap for a bit.