Could you be stressed without knowing it?
That may sound like an odd question – surely if you're suffering from stress, you would know, wouldn't you? Well, not necessarily. I think a great many people may experience stress-related symptoms without actually associating them with stress. This especially applies to driven, ambitious businessmen and women who put their health a firm second to career success. Gordon Gecko's famous quote from Wall Street, 'Lunch is for wimps!' could be extended to 'Lunch, rest, sleep and health are for wimps!'
Unfortunately, this attitude can get you into serious trouble, because chronic stress (lasting for an extended period) is only sustainable for so long. Keep up the 12-hour days for long enough and you run the risk of psychological problems like burnout, anxiety disorders or depression; and physical problems such as type 2 diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Our bodies (and brains) are simply not designed to cope with prolonged stress, so after a while they start to malfunction.
So what are the signs of undiagnosed stress? Broadly, they fall into three categories:
Psychological: Irritability, poor concentration and decision-making, memory loss, mood swings, chronic worrying, anxiety and low mood, nightmares and persistent bad dreams.
Physical: Cold hands, shakes and trembling, shortness of breath, heart palpitations or a racing heartbeat, niggly aches and pains, tension headaches, lower-back pain, problems with menstruation and indigestion, loss of libido, vulnerability to colds and infections.
Behavioural: Passive or aggressive behaviour, procrastination, increased alcohol or caffeine consumption, craving for sweet, sugary snacks and comfort eating, compulsive/impulsive behaviour, poor time-management, increased absenteeism from work and being accident-prone.
This is not a comprehensive list – and some of these symptoms may indicate an underlying health problem, so do see your GP if you are concerned. But many of them point to the fact that you're stressed, even if you don't think you are. The good news is that stress is eminently treatable if you make a few key changes to your working habits and lifestyle. But to make those changes (shorter working hours, better work/life balance, focusing on sleep and rest, going easy on the caffeine, alcohol and sugary snacks, more cardiovascular exercise) you first need to accept that you have a problem. Otherwise, there may be a heavy price to pay in the future.
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