When we’re stressed, we tend to know about it. There may be a particular event making you feel stressed, such as a big presentation at work or knowing you have to have a difficult discussion with a friend. Sometimes, however, stress is caused by a build-up of lots of little things.
When this happens, you may not realise how stressed you are. Stress might manifest in physical symptoms, or you may notice you behave differently. If this continues unnoticed and you don’t make changes to reduce your stress, over time you could develop anxiety, depression or physical illnesses.
Being aware of your stress symptoms and knowing how stress shows up for you, is important. Once you know what your ‘red flags’ are, you can be more mindful of them and work on reducing your stress before it builds up and becomes unmanageable.
We all experience stress differently (and people’s stress responses are triggered by different things) so it’s important for you to get to know your personal stress symptoms. Here are some ways stress can affect you:
- digestive issues
- heart palpitations
- tense muscles
- difficulty sleeping
- feeling angry
- feeling overwhelmed
- difficulty making decisions
- increase or decrease in appetite
If you’re worried about your symptoms, visit your doctor for a check-up. It’s always worth checking there are no underlying medical conditions causing your symptoms. Once you have a good idea of how stress affects you, you’ll be better able to manage your stress.
How to be more mindful of your stress levels
As stress can build up without us realising, being mindful of your stress levels can go a long way in helping you stay on top of things. Increasing your overall self-awareness with mindfulness activities like meditation, journaling and yoga can help you start to get in tune with yourself, physically and emotionally.
Below we’ve outlined a few ideas to help you be more mindful of your stress levels:
Check in with yourself daily
Aim to check in with yourself once a day to see how you’re feeling. You may want to do this by journaling or simply setting aside five minutes at the end of every day to ask yourself how you’re feeling and how your day was. Noting it down in a journal can be useful as you’ll be able to look through it and spot patterns.
Keep a mood diary
Taking this idea one step further, you may want to start a mood diary. This is where you note down every time you notice your mood shifting (whether it’s getting better or worse) and try to understand what triggered it.
For example, if you’re feeling low in the afternoon, think about how your day’s been, how much sleep you’ve had, and whether or not anything has happened to make you feel low. After a few months, you should be able to spot patterns and see what triggers your stress.
Note your triggers
Keeping a note of your triggers can help you be more aware of them when they next come up. For example, if you know that having a high workload triggers your stress, you can look at setting boundaries around work. By delegating more or speaking up to say you can’t take on more work you’ll prevent yourself from feeling overstretched and hopefully avoid excess stress.
Create an action plan
Having an action plan means you’ll know what to do if a stress trigger comes up. Start by making a list of all the different things that help you feel relaxed. This could include spending time with friends, reading a book, enjoying a long bath, watching your favourite film, knitting – anything that leaves you feeling calm and refreshed.
Once you have this list, turn it into an action plan. So write down what you’ll do if you start to feel stressed. For example, if you notice you’re struggling to sleep, your action plan may involve changing your evening routine, avoiding screens before bed and meditating more.
Sometimes when it comes to stress, we can struggle to see the wood for the trees. Getting support from friends and family can really help – often sharing what we’re stressed about can help us feel better just by talking about it. When we feel especially overwhelmed however, it can help to get support from a professional.
Coaches who help with stress can help you identify stress triggers and come up with strategies to manage stress. Offering their insight, support and a sense of accountability, a coach’s job is to help you achieve your goals.