Inevitably, when I talk with burnout victims and we go back over their lives to see what got them to that point, we find there were always warning signs. Some that they missed. Some that they saw and decided to ignore. But they were definitely always there, usually flashing brightly, but often ignored.
Physical Signals of Stress
Just as a car sends out warning signals to its driver when it's moving too fast, our bodies often provide the first cues to us that our stress levels are too high. This is because from a physiological perspective our bodies are the first to experience the stress. When stress throws us off balance physically, our bodies react with signals to let us know that something is wrong.
The problem is that most of us ignore these signals and continue to go about our busy lives. In fact, we're quick to find reasons to "prove" that the signals we're receiving from our bodies aren't serious. We say things like, "Oh, I just didn't sleep well last night, that's all. I'll be fine tomorrow." Or "It's probably just something I ate." That's why it's important to know the most commonly reported physical symptoms associated with stress so that when they appear in your life, you'll recognize them and take action.
Behavioral Signals of Stress
Stress not only negatively impacts our bodies, it also can dramatically affect how we interact with and react to our environment. In fact, one of the first indicators that someone is stressed to other people is the behavioral changes they see. Many people become defensive when a family member or friend mentions these kinds of changes. But it's important to listen with an open mind to their comments. They may not always be right about what they're "seeing," but you may not always be right either.
Let's take a look at the most common behavioral changes associated with stress.
Psychological Signals of Stress
Just about any psychological symptom known to the field of psychology can be a sign a stress. However, there are a few symptoms that are most commonly linked to it:
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH
Because of the serious consequences, it's important to be aware of these common signs and symptoms of stress. However, how much stress is "too much" stress is hard to say. Because people have different personalities, life experiences, thresholds, and mediators for stress, there is no magic number of "signals" that will tell you if your stress level has exceeded your body's capacity to handle it.
Of course, common sense says that the more symptoms you have, the worse your stress is and the more dangerous it is to your physical and psychological health. And I agree with that to some extent. But a word of caution about relying too heavily on numbers: they can be misleading at times. Who is to say that someone who suffers from debilitating headaches due to the incessant, unyielding stress is any less stressed than someone who experiences ten of the symptoms in a milder form?
The key is to be well-informed and aware. By simply knowing what to look for, you're in a much better position to recognize when stress has gotten to the point where it is interfering in your ability to be productive, and more importantly to enjoy your life.
© 2012 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved
Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).