I’m fine, you say, despite running on four hours of sleep, having a never-ending to-do list, and having a running monologue running through your mind about the world burning to a crisp.

As a nation, we’re really not great at knowing when our stress levels have passed the point of acceptable. We think as long as we’re able to get up, go to work, and carry out our basic tasks for the day, we must be alright.

Spoiler: Often, we’re not.

As we’re rubbish at assessing and acknowledging our own mental wellbeing, it’s worth having a reminder of all the signs of stress that might not immediately make you think ‘okay, I need a break’. It’s easy to dismiss a sore jaw or forgetfulness as just one of those annoying body things that happens after a bad night’s sleep, for example, when in fact these are both signs of high levels of stress.

Other signs include being easily distracted, having frequent colds (yep, if you’ve been sniffling away for the last month, you’re probably more stressed than you think), and feeling exhausted no matter how much sleep you get. Would you be able to spot any of the signs of high stress? Or would you just ignore, ignore, ignore until you’re on route for full-on burnout?

There are physical signs and those other people can see, then the sneaky types you need to personally watch out for.

Psychological signs of stress:

Inability to concentrate or make simple decisions
Difficulty remembering things
Being easily distracted
Feeling less creative
Negative thinking
Depression and anxiety
Being prone to accidents
Feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep

Emotional signs of stress:

Being tearful
Feeling irritable
Mood swings
Being extra sensitive to criticism
Feeling defensive
Feeling out of control
A lack of motivation
Anger and frustration
A lack of confidence

Physical signs of stress:

Aches and pains
Muscle tension
Grinding your teeth (you’ll notice a sore jaw in the morning Allergies/rashes/skin irritations
Weight loss or gain
Indigestion and heartburn
Feeling a lump in your throat
Pins and needles
Panic attacks
Physical tiredness
Loss of libido
Changes to your period

Behavioural signs:

Not making time for relaxation or fun
Increased reliance on alcohol, smoking, caffeine, and using drugs
Working long hours
Poor time management
Poor standard of work
Changes in appearance
Social withdrawal
Outbursts of anger
Telling lies

– International Stress Management Association

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s likely your stress has stopped being healthy and you may be on the brink of burnout. Talk to your manager as soon as possible to work out what changes can be made to lower your stress levels, and talk to your GP if you’re experiencing physical, mental, or emotional symptoms.

Make sure to prioritise your own wellbeing and lower stress in your own time, too. That means getting enough sleep, eating well, and managing your time so you’re actually leaving the office and spending time relaxing. Trying mental exercises such as mindfulness and meditation can help.

Dr Luke Powles’ tips for preventing burnout:

Manage your expectations

It’s important to remember that you’re not invincible and there’ll be times when you can’t do everything you’re asked. By trying to do too many things, you’ll increase your stress levels and your risk of burning out.

Ask for help

If you’re stressed it can help to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. It’s also a good idea to talk to your boss about your workload if you’re struggling. There are self-referral counselling services that are free to access. You can find more information about these at your GP practice.

Exercise and meditate

If done on a regular basis, meditative approaches like practicing mindfulness or yoga can really help. While you may not feel like exercising, it can really help boost your mood. Exercise boosts your endorphins, which are your ‘feel good’ hormones. It also helps to bring cortisol levels (stress hormones) down which can impact your mood and energy levels. Healthy lifestyle It’s important to also maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and enough sleep. While it might be a struggle to fit this in, it can have a big impact if you’re able to get it right.

As published in The Metro on 6th November 2019

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