A broken and weathered reclining statue

Stress can hit you in the face like a prizefighter’s punch.

It can also creep up on you and steal your life like a pickpocket in a well-known Charles Dickens novel.

It can do both though. Firstly, creeping up slowly, eroding your life, before hitting you hard and knocking you out.

It’s better to spot the gradual effects early (and deal with them) than it is to wait for the sucker punch.

Here are some insidious signs to keep your eyes open for.

Disturbed Sleep

If you wake up satisfied with the feeling of a good night’s sleep, feeling happy with the day ahead and enjoying the moment before it starts then life is good.

Awaken with fear, doubt, or a sinking feeling with your brain racing then things might not be so great.

It’s the first recognisable thoughts upon waking that hint at whether things are healthy or not. Regularly waking up early, or through the night, with your brain already working on the day’s problems is a sign of stress.

Not Being Able to Sit Quietly

If you’ve never been able to sit quietly it might be a natural thing for you.

If you were able to in the past, but you can’t sit quietly now, then what’s driving the change?

Does the pressure to be doing something build in you? Do you feel like you’re wasting time? Do you feel like you need a distraction?

Weight Change

If you’re losing weight without a conscious plan to do so, it may be a sign of stress. Being stressed uses energy. Energy can be used directly or indirectly. Just sitting and being stressed about something raises your heart rate and quickens your breath. Your muscles hold more tension than normal. This all uses energy.

Your stress may be causing you to move more. Being agitated or pacing around more uses energy. Stress can also lead you to undertaking more activity to avoid the quiet moments.

Conversely, if eating is a way for you to suppress your feelings and stress then an increase in weight might become a symptom. This can also happen if stress paralyses you into inaction.

Humour Loss

Laughing is good for us. It floods our body with all sorts of healthy chemicals.

If we become too serious, all the time, then we are holding the wrong kind of energy. We are denying our body the healthy hormones.

When your brain becomes consumed by issues and problems it has less capacity for joy. Gradually your ability to see the funny side of things diminishes. This might be easier for others to see first.

Change in Relationships

You may notice that people who you used to enjoy the company of are not so visible. They back off as they don’t get the same friendly, funny or supportive person that they were used to. They may not know how to relax with a stressed-out you.

Maybe you are avoiding your friends because you find relaxing with them too difficult, because your patience is low.

At work your colleagues start avoiding you. When you walk into a meeting, eye contact is avoided. The mood is subtly different than it was in the past.

“Safe” Substances as a Prop

Turning to substances like drink, food, and painkillers might seem like a good idea.

You may think that one extra glass of wine in the evening won’t hurt. Perhaps one extra spoon of ice cream, or an extra chocolate treat can’t be that bad? Maybe you need some more paracetamol for the headaches that come more often?

If you find you’re increasingly relying on substances to feel better, then question why. Is it stress?

Buying Too Much Stuff

We’ve all bought stuff to make ourselves feel better. Doing this occasionally is only human. Doing it frequently, and not feeling better, is a subtle sign that things aren’t right.

It gets more stressful when you can’t afford the stuff, or if it causes you to feel guilty later. If your home gets cluttered with the extra stuff, especially unused stuff, then that adds to your stress.

Spot the Changes

Thinking about these subtle signs listed above, mostly it’s the shifts in your behaviour or habits the indicate something has changed with your stress levels.

These could be early warning signs for stress.

Dealing with Stress

Start by acknowledging it could be a problem. Stress can be reduced or even resolved once you spot it.

Would you like some help to beat your stress?

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