3 ways to know when stress is getting to you

By Jen Butler, MEd, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

January 12, 2015 -- "How do I know my stress levels are too high?" This is one of the most common questions I hear. It is a great question, because if you know when your levels are high, then you can start to do something about it before you surpass your stress threshold.

I have a three-step process for stress management, and the first step is to know your stress. This, in part, also means you need to know your stress response. It's important to understand and see when stress is having an effect on us, how it shows up, and what consequences we are creating for ourselves. The following ways are surefire tells for everyone.

Out of control

The higher our stress levels, the harder it is to control our stress response. The more cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine we have flowing throughout our systems, the more we find ourselves quickly lashing out or shutting down. Being out of control is about your inability to stop yourself from reacting to situations, people, and other triggers in a negative way.

Jen Butler, MEd
Jen Butler, MEd.

Here are examples of what being out of control might look like:

  • Your assistant drops a file on the floor by accident, and you roll your eyes and walk away.
  • You look for something in the refrigerator and it's gone, so you slam the door.
  • A patient arrives late for an appointment, so you walk into the operatory and start laying the patient back without talking or connecting.
  • While you are driving home, a guy in front of you changes lanes without signaling and cuts you off, so you swerve around him and do the same back.

Here are examples of what being out of control might sound like:

  • Your assistant drops a file on the floor by accident, and you snap that she needs to stop being so clumsy.
  • You look for something in the refrigerator and it's gone, so you turn to your team and remind them that if it's not theirs they need to keep their hands off.
  • A patient arrives late to an appointment, so you walk into the operatory, turn to your assistant, and ask how far behind schedule the team is now.
  • While you are driving home, a guy in front of you changes lane without signaling and cuts you off, so you swerve to move around him, yelling at him and letting him know how rude he is as you cut him off.

Out of proportion

The higher your stress levels soar, the more out of proportion your stress response becomes. While being out of control is about your inability to stop yourself, out of proportion is how you respond in relation to the stress producer. For example, while you're driving down the road, you get more and more angry at every red light you stop at. There is a crescendo of emotions and behaviors that results in an out-of-proportion response -- yelling and cursing at the red light.

Here are some other examples:

  • Crying over spilled milk -- yes, out of proportion.
  • Your assistant calls in sick, and you complain to team members about him behind his back.
  • A patient is derailing an appointment, because he or she keeps crying, so you tell your assistant to come get you when the patient is finished.
  • Your husband ate the last of your favorite pie, so you throw your napkin on the counter, swearing and yelling how unappreciative he is. Realization here -- it's not him, it's you!

Perpetuance

“A sign that things are getting to you is when your stress response continues for hours or days after the stress producer is gone.”

A stress response is going to be triggered. It is an automatic, biological system that we cannot stop, nor do we want to. A sign that things are getting to you is when your stress response continues for hours or days after the stress producer is gone. For example, the car that cut you off two days earlier, you're still thinking about it. Your body continues to respond biologically too (heart racing, sweaty palms, butterflies in your belly).

Here are some other ways to know when a stress response is prolonged:

  • You lay awake at night running through the situation in your head over and over.
  • You find yourself daydreaming about the situation, totally reliving the event.
  • You're not sure why, but your heart keeps racing, your gut is turning over, you experience a slight headache, or you can't seem to catch your breath.

What's next

To know when stress is getting to you, it's important to become more aware of the signs. We each have a stress threshold, and as we come close to that edge, we feel the weight, agitation, and burden of our stress response. The goal is to avoid surpassing your stress threshold by understanding what to look for in yourself. If you are unable to control your reactions, your response is out of proportion to the situation, or you are still experiencing effects days later, you are in need of help for your stress.

Jen Butler, MEd, certified professional coach (CPC), board-certified coach (BCC), has been working in the area of stress management and resiliency coaching for more than 20 years. To learn more about her services, programs, and the Jen Butler Practice Analysis, contact her at 623-776-6715 or jen@jenbutlercoaching.com for more information.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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