How To Spot Stress In Yourself

Stress. Anxiety. I know you’ve experienced both. Everyone I know has.

A lot of the work I do is with type A professionals, Entrepreneurs. People who work at a high level and might not recognise stress as a problem.

I actually started my career as a recruiter, working in an office full of people who’d been there 10 years already.

Shortly after joining, I found out they had a bet on when I was going to quit.

So I put my head down and worked 12 hour days and I made two placements in my first month.

Obviously I wanted to show it wasn’t just Rookie Luck, so for the next year I was the best I could be. I won Rookie of the Year, Salesperson of the Year, and overtook guys who’d been in the industry for decades.

I was stressed, but it was exciting.

And then I went on holiday and couldn’t get out of bed for four days.

I got aches and pains all over my body. My digestion was terrible. It’d be easier for me to tell you what I could eat than list everything I was suddenly allergic to.

I ended up with inflammation throughout my body, which my doctor told me was the beginning stages of rheumatoid arthritis. Then one day I woke up and my left hand was three times the size of normal.

What happened to me isn’t abnormal. And it sounds like my symptoms came on really aggressively. But realistically, there’d been signs leading up to that point.

I just ignored them.

One of the scariest things I read at the time was “a third of employees reported they felt stressed”.

Reported.”

I wouldn’t have reported it. A lot of the people I work with wouldn’t. And so I reckon it’s a lot more than a third. Especially in recruitment.

So I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and suggest, whether you’ve reported it or not, you’ve been stressed recently. Or had a touch of anxiety. Am I right? Cool… Let’s do something about that, shall we?

Is there such thing as good and bad stress?

Yes and no.

Here’s the thing about stress: your body reacts in exactly the same way if it’s in a good or a bad situation.

If you’ve got a goal you’re excited to hit, it might feel really good to have that kind of stress. But if you’ve got too much work on and you’re not sure how you’re going to do it all, your body reacts the same way.

With stress, it’s how you perceive it that makes a difference. The physical effects are the same.

So what’s actually happening to the body?

It’s the fight or flight response: your heart rate increases, your hormones change, you’ll have adrenaline, cortisol, and blood sugars running through your body, increased blood pressure, you’ll have a change of distribution of blood.

Your body dictates what’s important and what’s not.

And if you’re running away from or fighting a potential threat, you don’t really need to be digesting food, producing sex hormones, or fighting bacteria. So a lot changes in our bodies.

The opposite of fight or flight?

Is rest and digest.

Your heart rate slows, your blood pressure reduces, and your capacity for digestion increases. You’re better at relaxing, fighting infection, and enjoying dinner.

It’s the moment of calm after the big call, where you’ve fought the potential threat, whatever it was.

The issue today is that stress is no longer short term.

Historically, the fight or flight response could last 15 minutes, half an hour. Today, it’s more like 8, 10, 12 hours, depending on what you’re doing, and what your home life is like. Which is having a huge, prolonged impact on the body.

So what are signs of stress you can look for in yourself?

Digestion

How often do you go to the toilet? Too often? Not enough? Do you know what’s normal?

Being bloated, every day after lunch, is one of the most noticeable signs your body might not be coping with stress as well as you’d like.

Sleep

Lack of sleep’s a great indicator you’re not coping well.

How you feel when you wake up’s a pretty good indicator too. Ideally, you’ll be starting your day easily, in a relaxed way, and feeling good.

Immunity

When I work with people who get burnout, they don’t typically get the common cold. They usually get something like a cold, only it ends up lasting six or seven weeks.

So what’s your immune system telling you? If when you’re sick, you’re sick for ages, listen to your body.

What can you do to help yourself?

I ask myself how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, and what I’m going to do with my day.

I don’t check emails, messages, or social media first thing. Because if I do, what I’m telling myself is that someone else’s content is more important than my brain’s own thoughts, feelings, wants and needs.

You might want to check in with yourself at moments throughout the day. Particularly when something stressful happens: a call goes bad, or that one person in the office says something that really annoys you.

Either way, checking in with yourself is the first step towards understanding what action you’re going to take to overcome stress.

Breathe

Breathe in. And count, slowly, for five seconds.

Now hold it for five seconds. Again, count it out.

Breathe out for five seconds.

And hold it again for five seconds.

Breathing exercises are a great way to move yourself physically from a stressful, fight or flight state, to rest and digest. But doing this is actually forcing blood flow to your digestive tract.

It’s also pressing pause between a stressful situation occurring, and you reacting to it.

Acknowledge the real problem

It’s easier to react to little things happening than it is to deal with bigger problems. If you find yourself stressed, and things are getting to you, it’s important to understand why.

And what actionable steps can you take, even if it’s just microscopic steps to take yourself out of that state, for it to not happen again.

How did I get myself here? How can I get myself out? And what boundaries do I need to set?

I’m a nutritionist. So I always bring it back to digestion with a quick What, When, Where of what I’m eating.

If you’re pressed for time, or you don’t know where to begin, this is a good first step to dealing with stress and anxiety at work.

It’s not the easiest thing to overcome. But at the end of the day, the most important thing in your life, is your life.


Katie Maycock’s an anxiety and digestive health specialist, coaching corporate executives on how to get their sh!t together. Literally and figuratively.

Click here to download the Get Your Sh!t Together protocol.

And to learn more about stress, health and business, check out Katie’s website.