Oh, Canadians are stressed.

Every once in a while, I see a statistic about Canadians and stress and it’s evident that we’re struggling.

Take this one:

Among Canadian workers ages 15 to 75, 28.4 per cent reported high work-related stress.

We’re stressed out most of our working days.

The next couple of stats get scary:

Only one-third of Canadians age 12 and older — TWELVE? Twelve — with common mental health conditions report very positive mental health

  • In 2011, 3,728 Canadians died from suicide
  • Suicide rates in Canada are higher than in some other G8 countries

What can we do?

Recognizing stress before it becomes burnout

I get irritable and feel my neck get stiff.
~ Eva B.

Stress is life’s reality.

It’s coming for you, sneaking up on a daily — if not hourly — basis. It’s hiding under your desk, waiting for you in your email inbox, sneaking up on you as you turn the key in the door of your house.

Stress is our reaction to bad stuff: your boss coming down hard on you, overdue bills, your kids’ relentless yelling of “Mooooooom.” Your body releases a chemical called “cortisol” that instigates your fight-or-flight reaction.

What triggers fight-or-flight, or the stress response, can be very individual, although there are common threads: the boss, your co-workers, your workload, your spouse, your kid’s sports schedule, what’s for dinner, what to wear tomorrow.

The warning signs that stress is approaching work in a similar fashion.

I know my stress level is too high when I start forgetting important things, or overlooking really obvious things. Then up goes my frustration level, and up goes my stress level … and so on!
~ Jacqui B.

Know what to look for

Are you not sleeping well? Are you fidgety? Are you on edge, ready to snap at your hubby or kids?

We need to start recognizing these signs, identifying the physical and mental responses to stress so we can cut them off before they lead us into burnout stage.

For instance, your chronic headaches might be an indication of too much stress in your life. But what about the signs you could recognize before you even get close to the onset of a migraine?

Like neck pain and eye strain.

I get night panic attacks, digestive issues, memory lapses and poor recall on words and names. I start to lack focus on tasks such as reading and comprehension.
~ Natalie S.

None of that sounds very healthy, does it?

Many people don’t notice the physical or emotional reactions until their bodies are already reacting.

Consider what could happen if we keep ignoring these signs. It strikes at our emotions, our thought processes, our behaviours and our bodies.

WebMD lists these signs of stress:

Emotional Symptoms

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself, lonely worthless and depressed
  • Avoiding others

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

Behavioural Symptoms

  • Changes in appetite — not eating enough, overeating
  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes
  • Exhibiting more nervous behaviours, such as nail biting, fidgeting and pacing

Physical Symptoms

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea
  • Aches, pains and tense muscles
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

None of these sound very pleasant, do they? Many of us don’t even notice them at all, until it’s too late.

Beat the clock

You’re running late to a meeting. You have to pick up the kids. You have to swing by the grocery store to pick up dinner. You have to call your mother. These are all the drops that fall into the water bottle we talked about in the last chapter.

Stress can come in very acute forms, such as a death in the family, losing your job or a car accident. We often give ourselves permission to deal with these stressors and allow ourselves time to recover.

But what about the everyday stress, like your schedule getting out of control and you feel like you’re running out of time to get everything done?

It’s the everyday, low-grade stress that really whacks us in the ass.

Like planning a wedding. Who’s really happy through that process?

Or house renos.

Or just the to-do list at work.

These chronic stressors have the biggest impact and we keep telling ourselves we have to suck it up and deal with it. They’re part of life, I can handle it.

But can you?

It’s a weird belief system that all this is normal. But it’s not normal. We’ve scheduled ourselves so tightly that we don’t give ourselves a chance to say “what do you feel like doing.”

We don’t schedule family time.

We don’t schedule tech-free times to let go of everything we’re connected to.

We don’t schedule time to watch a sunset.

Why not?

Getting a handle on it all

“I can’t go back to sleep if I wake up during the night. I just can’t stop the thoughts.” ~Bonnie J.

When I’m coaching someone through beating burnout, I create a mini experience in which I teach my clients to be their own observers.

We go through a number of stressful scenarios and I ask my clients:

  • Where do you feel this stress?
  • What are the physical signs you’re experiencing?
  • How can you start to notice these signs?

Then we start looking for the common thread between what situations bring on their stress and how they respond to it.

For example, you might be in an intense family situation and feel like you can’t get your head on straight. Or you might be at work and you feel your shoulders become your earrings — you tense up, your jaw clenches and you start shrugging.

We create our own little personalized package of stress.

And recognizing these signs is the first step to interrupting the process and de-stressing—or, changing the outcome.

Now we can start asking “what can I do to make this better?” and make a plan.

I’m Janice Otremba, a professional speaker, facilitator and coach who specializes in stress management, health and wellness, personal growth and life balance. Let’s kick your butt into gear with simple, sound advice for beating burnout and powering up your happy. Book a free 15-minute consultation call with me to get started!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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