Did you know it was International Stress Awareness Day today, or did it pass you by like so many other things because you have too much going on, and the stress is piling up?
So many of us let stress build up in our lives without realising we have a problem. At least not until it starts to affect other areas of our lives, like home, family and relationships. It’s important to have stress awareness because it’s better to catch it early and learn the tips and skills to help mitigate and dispel it. Otherwise, it builds up until it becomes a big problem with severe mental and even physical symptoms.
Stress can be particularly acute for those who run their own business or trying to get one off the ground.
What is Stress?
You might think you know, but can you tell the difference between positive pressure and motivation and when it changes to stress?
Humans are designed to take the stressors in our lives and convert them into actions. If you’ve heard of the “fight or flight” response, that is a crucial function of stress becoming a physical action. External stressors determine that you have options to decrease and mitigate the danger. You can run away if the threat is too significant, or you can stay and fight, reducing the risk of future encounters.
Okay, so we have moved past the actions and reactions of primitive man. Most of us aren’t hunted or encounter wild animals while hunting and gathering for the tribe. However, our stress responses are still very much intact.
So the wild beast looking for its lunch (you) became the massive pile of work that landed on your desk or the “to-do” list that only gets longer. You can stay and keep fighting through the pile of work or ploughing through the to-do list, or you can “run away”- take a vacation or a long weekend.
The problem with modern stressors is that they have become so commonplace and accepted that many of us don’t realise when it gets too much. While primitive man might have had occasional encounters with stress, it has become something people endure daily in the modern world. However, because our stressors seem so mediocre compared with the life-and-death risk of an animal attack or tribal starvation, we have diminished them to the point of ignoring them.
Yet the physical toll of stress is the same, and we endure more and more of it. It is not mentally or physically healthy.
What are your stress levels like at the moment?
Do you know how to recognise the signs of stress in your life? Do you acknowledge when you need time to rest and recuperate, or do you keep pushing through until your well runs dry?
There are plenty of resources available online where you can test yourself. It’s not clinically binding or sending results to anyone. However, it is a good benchmark for learning when stress is becoming too much for you and it’s time to take a step back to relax and get those cortisol levels back to normal.
NB – High Stress leads to high cortisol levels, and excess cortisol makes you gain weight. It’s making your body ready to keep fighting and fleeing, storing your energy reserves.
When is Stress a Problem?
So stress is natural and normal, but when does it become too much and start causing problems?
Stress awareness is not about cutting all stress out of our lives. That’s virtually impossible. It means being aware of your stressors and those of people around you and knowing when to take mitigating action. There are three types of stress symptoms you should look for if you have a high-stress life or work:
- Physical Symptoms
- Unhealthy Behaviours and Habits Worsening
- Mental Health Issues
You might think that physical symptoms are a sign of illness or disease, so you would go to a doctor. However, many think of headaches and trouble sleeping as standard parts of our lives. Yet these are also symptoms of the body under stress and need attention.
- Aches and pains.
- Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing.
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.
- Headaches, dizziness or shaking.
- High blood pressure.
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching.
- Stomach or digestive problems.
- Trouble having sex.
- Weak immune system.
Unhealthy Habits & Behaviours
Unhealthy behaviour can be kept in check with the axiom “moderation in all things”. However, when these behaviours become compulsive, uncontrolled or excessive, you know you have a problem.
- Abusing alcohol too much or too often.
- Gambling addiction.
- Overeating or developing an eating disorder.
- Participating compulsively in sex, shopping or internet scrolling.
- Using other drugs.
Mental Health Issues
Mental health issues can be challenging to recognise when stress becomes a problem because the symptoms can be chronic or acute. They can even become so integral that they are typical to the person suffering.
- Anxiety or irritability.
- Panic attacks.
If you have prolonged instances of 3 or more of these symptoms, it’s time to find a health professional to help you manage them.
Signs of Burnout
Do you realise that many people suffering from chronic stress don’t even think about the above symptoms until they have reached burnout?
Chronic burnout could mean completely changing careers or suffering debilitating physical symptoms. Sometimes even as a fatal heart attack.
If you look at the list of symptoms above and think, “Well, that’s just a normal week for me.”, it’s time to take a long, hard look at your life and make some changes. This is not sustainable in the long term, and you could be causing severe long-term harm. Stress awareness is not all about reducing stress. It’s about recognising it in yourself and being ready to make changes.
Stress and its symptoms are observed very frequently in entrepreneurs and business owners. This is due mainly to the fact that, in the initial stages, business owners have to do so many different jobs, and it can be crushing. The difference between a good entrepreneur and a great one is that the great ones know how to pull back from the brink of burnout, impostor syndrome and self-doubt. They know themselves and their stress limits before pushing beyond them.
What use is a business that the founder hates because they burnt out before making it amazing?
Making Changes to Improve Stress Awareness and Management
To make stress less impactful on your life, health and relationships, it’s crucial to use the tools available for optimal stress reduction.
One of the critical tools for mitigating stress and burnout is organisation. It’s commonly observed that when there is order, many overworked and stressed people feel more optimistic and confident of a positive outcome. Organisation encompasses two things: time and space.
Whether you are a digital native or a long-term lover of paper, there is an organisational plan, tool or software to suit your needs.
App-based habit trackers such as Loop are excellent for keeping regular and repetitive goals on time and in check. At the same time, project management tools like Basecamp and Asana are fabulous for keeping projects on target. Maybe you need an excellent to-do list, whether you want it digitally or as a physical piece of paper. You might be utterly reliant on your planner, which has everything from important dates and deadlines to phone numbers and birthdays.
The method that suits you best is the best method for you to use. However, you might want to compromise on a few areas if you work with a team.
By going digital, you can free up space in your life and on your desk.
Now, let’s go with time management tools. You can create schedules and timetable manually and physically, but it is much easier to coordinate with people and clients if you go digital.
Tools like Monday.com are fantastic for managing and scheduling staff and teams. Appointment management systems, such as SimplyBook.me are excellent for ensuring that you are never double booked for an appointment.
The key is using the tools; you can save yourself so much energy and time by using the proper business management tools from the beginning.
How the SimplyBook.me Team Manage Stress Awareness
In preparation for Stress Awareness day, we made sure that everyone was aware of their stressors, and we wanted to know how people managed their stress levels. Moreover, we wanted to know how they relieved and prevented stress from becoming a much larger problem. It’s good to know we have a rather stress-aware bunch here.
So what do our people do to get rid of their stress?
- Get moving and active. – Overwhelmingly, most of our crew opted for the activity route to help beat the stress blues. Whether it was walking or hiking with the dogs, tennis, gym workouts or a hearty dance session. More than 60% of our company respondents had a physical activity to help them destress.
- Schedule self-care and “me-time”. – Whether you indulge in a hot shower and a massage or meditate and journal about your day, it’s all self-care. Making time for yourself is crucial in managing stress.
- Informal therapies such as talking and shopping. – Many people said that having a ***ch and moan to their friends to relieve frustration was enough to help relieve stress. Others loved the idea of treating themselves to something they really wanted to help lighten the mood.
- Hobbies and pastimes – For an overall technology-based company, I was astonished that many of the hobbies were not tech-based. With some people enjoy drawing, handcrafts, board games, playing an instrument and even puzzles.
- Food and Drink – Sure, there is a tendency to indulge in a sweet treat for those with a sweet tooth. Then there is the possibility of digging into a pile of cheesy mashed potatoes for those with a savoury leaning. However, some overs found cooking was almost like meditation. We can’t ignore the self-medication that is alcohol. However, a couple of respondents enjoyed discovering new wines, which is more controlled and exciting than opening a bottle and finding oblivion.
- Breaking the Routine & changing Focus – You could get up from your desk and go for a ten-minute walk. Alternatively, you might want to make plans to get away entirely and have an extended vacation. But sometimes, it’s as simple as expanding your horizons. Perhaps you want to learn to play an instrument or a foreign language.
- Creating order – This could be daily rituals, organisation charts, or quite literally having a tidy and clean to make your environment ordered and tidy. Sometimes just having an ordered space is enough to help calm a stressed mind.
- People & Relationships – Some of our people’s favourite stress relief is spending time with their nearest and dearest. That might be friends or family, while others said that time playing with their children was the best way to relieve stress. Alternatively, for the less social among us, the best company is the family pet. Most of us have cats, with a few dogs too.
- Watching the box – just chilling out while watching everything from Scandinavian crime dramas to anime and cat videos on YouTube.
Try some of these out if you haven’t already; you might find something to help you manage your stress levels and become more aware of what stress means to you.