Perhaps the first question to answer is, are you a person who is by nature inclined to feel stressed out because of your basic character? The fact that some people seem by nature or character to be more predisposed to suffering stress is an important factor to recognize. Your occupation also plays a significant role in dictating how stressful your life is likely to be.
As an example, it is often suggested and accepted that people who are always on the go, folks who drive themselves hard by setting barely possible deadlines and are impatient are more likely to suffer stress than people who adopt a far more relaxed, laid-back attitude to life in general.
Some occupations such as surgeons, air traffic controllers and firefighters are naturally in a position where significant levels of stress are a part of their everyday occupation. It is therefore no surprise that individuals who do these jobs are often subject to higher levels of mental problems than people in less demanding positions such as clerks and ice cream vendors.
What are the signs?
In order to master the art of recognizing stress, there are four types of changes that might take place that could indicate a situation that is stressing you out. These are:
• Changes in the way you feel on an emotional level;
• Bodily or physical changes;
• Changes in the way that you are thinking and
• Alterations in the way you are behaving physically.
In order to assess each of these different stress indicators, the first thing to do is to find some time and space in your busy schedule to assess your current life and everyday existence as objectively as possible.
You cannot do this properly on the move or when your mind is full of other ‘clutter’. You had to find a suitable window of an hour or two when you can be completely undisturbed and therefore totally focused on analyzing your life to assess just how stressful it is and how you react to the stressful stimuli with which you are faced every day.
Taking each of the four ‘stress indicators’ in turn (and emphasizing again that you have to be as objective as possible to make this a valid and valuable exercise), these are the kind of signs you should be looking out for:
Are you more irritable than you used to be or ‘snappier’ with friends and loved ones than you know you should be? Do you get angry far more quickly than previously, or are you on the other hand persistently sad or worried? If so, write down what causes you to be irritable and snappy because the fact that you are irritable suggests that you might be prone to stress attacks. Therefore, it is essential to identify what brings on this irritability or snappiness. These are the triggers that make you stressed and the first step towards being able to handle stress and tension naturally is to identify these triggers.
Are you suffering far more aches and pains than you were six months or a year ago? Do you always feel tired and listless, without energy or enthusiasm for doing anything outside of your daily routine? How about headaches, dizziness or lightheadedness? All of these could be signs of stress, so try to analyze what you believe is causing these changes.
However, this may not always be that easy to do as physical changes of this nature can often come on gradually or slowly. Because of this slow, onset, there may not be any one event or situation that you can identify as being the starting point of your headache or backache problem, but you should be able to come up with an approximation of when you first noticed that you are suffering more aches and pains than previously.
If you can pinpoint the exact time when you first noticed that you seem to be suffering, so much the better, but if not, an approximation of when you first became aware of your problem is better than nothing. From this ‘best guestimate’, you might be able to backtrack to assess whether there was something particularly stressful that might have caused it, so even this is not a waste of time.
Do you find it harder to concentrate or remember things than you did in the past? Although it is a fact that as we get older, all of us find that our memory is not as good as it used to be, if you can’t concentrate and find it difficult to remember things, it could be indicative of a stress problem, particularly if you are still a relatively young person.
Again, try to identify when you first become aware of these changes so that you can then try to extrapolate whether there was any particular event or situation that caused it. This may not be that easy to do (I know, you can’t remember!) but this kind of advanced self-analysis is nevertheless still critical and absolutely necessary.
Have you started to drink a lot more than you used to or perhaps your 20 cigarettes a-day habit has now become a 40 a-day habit?
Perhaps you’ve started using recreational drugs, or you find that you sleep too little or too much? The same might apply if you have started eating considerably more or considerably less than you used to consume.
All of these behavioral changes could be a reaction to stress, a way of escaping by indulging or denying yourself the right to indulge. Once you have spent an hour or two going through this process, you will hopefully have a list of factors that could represent a broad cross section of your own personal stress triggers. Next, you need to sort these triggers into some kind of priority list, with the factors or criteria that you think you are most susceptible to, those that cause you the most problems or upsets at the top of this list.
What you now have is a personal ‘checklist’ of the triggers or everyday situations or events that seem to trigger your own personal stress attacks. Armed with this trigger list, you’re ready to move on.