Do You Actually Know When You’re Stressed?


“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” Hans Selye

We’ve all heard the phrase life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you react to it. This is in essence what Hans is saying here, but the question is:

Do you even know when you’re stressed in order for you to react to it appropriately and in a timely manner?

Would you really be able to know it when you see it, hear it, or feel it? Or is it always when it’s too late?

Only after, you’ve already gotten sick from the flu or a cold, after you get home late from work and you pass out, after you pop all the pills just to continue to stay focused, alert and awake, or maybe after you sleep all weekend just to recover from the harried week before, just to do it all over again next week?

Everyone seems to be constantly stressed out or under stress these days, and we don’t feel there’s going to be any relief or end in sight.

Here are 3 simple awareness checks to help you from getting behind the 8-ball that you can use anytime, anywhere, doesn’t cost you a penny and can be done in a matter of seconds.

1) Have you ever taken a big sigh and exhaled and not even know it?

You know those times when your boss or co-worker comes in and says you have to do yet another assignment…sigh.

When your spouse says you have to go to your in-laws…sigh.

When you come home to find out your toilet water pipe have burst and there’s water everywhere…double sigh, sigh.

Sure we all have, that’s your sympathetic nervous system kicking in and “telling you”, your on overdrive, time to slow-down, relax and take a deep breath and let it all out. It is on your exhale breath that releases the tension and kicks in that relaxing parasympathetic nervous system. Notice I didn’t say take away your stressful problems…

The funny thing is, very few of us even “know” or realize we take that “sigh of relief”, when we do it or how often we do it. I had to “train” myself to be aware of this automatic system many years ago. Because I was just like everyone else–I had no clue I was stressed, why I was stressed, what it felt like to be stressed and that I even had a natural internal mechanism to help in keeping my stress levels in check.

What a great feedback system it is! It’s kind of like before the water boils over a pot on the stove on with the temp on high, an internal switch flips on and turns it down to low. This cycle can repeat often and rapidly without our awareness. Much like we don’t think about our digestion after we eat something. It just does it’s thing quietly, unless and until we eat something that doesn’t agree with us–we certainly recognize it then–or do we?

That’s because the autonomic nervous kicks in to help with all of our homeostasis and assists us in trying to balance us out again by “unconsciously” triggering our inhaling and exhaling deeply “mechanism” and says…there you go… now we aren’t so physically, mentally, or emotionally stressed…for now. We certainly can make an executive decision and override that protective mechanism, which most people do these days, but we all know the consequences of that can be burnout, exhaustion, hospitalizations and quite literally be the death of us.

So next time, try to catch yourself when you sigh–it’s a perfect sign your mind, body and spirit are beginning to get off kilter.

2) Same as tip #1– Have you ever noticed someone shift in their chair or when you have to move around and don’t even know you are doing it? Yep, you guessed it, that’s your autonomic nervous system kicking in again–“telling you”: “you haven’t moved me in a while and your backside or your feet are saying “you’re squishing me, help! Please, get off me! Why do you think we turn and move patients every 2 hours who are unable to on their own. So they don’t get bed painful bed sores or worse it gets infected and the patient dies.

Some of us don’t have to do that when you already have chronic pain or always have that dreaded back problem. But this is still appropriate to not making chronic matters any worse. And if you sit in a chair all day, you know what I’m talking about. Our office chairs are an American torture device. We start out nice and tall as kids and all of a sudden we wonder why by the time we get to 65 we’re shorter, hunched over and look like the chairs we’ve been sitting in for the past 50 years.

Within every 1-2 hours or so just quickly take 10-15 seconds to scan your body from head to toe and simply ask yourself, “Where do I feel uncomfortable, stiff, achy, tense or crampy.”

After your scan, you can do a number of things, get up and stretch out that area, shift and move around a bit, take a walk to the bathroom. I always use the idea of drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated throughout the day. That’ll force you to move and get up to go to the bathroom, unless you wear depends, want to sit at your desk in smelly urine or you have a catheter…yeah I thought so.

Here is a quote by American author Sydney J. Harris that will help you know exactly when you are feeling stressed and what to do if you’ve been ignoring all of your other warning signs:

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

3) If you catch yourself saying I don’t have time for this or that, I never have enough time, if I only had enough time, there just isn’t enough time….STOP! Make and take the time to relax. As I like to tell my clients, our inbox is never empty, take the time to fill yourself up. Those “things” will always be there for you to take care of.

If you have gotten to that stage where you are on overdrive, about to burn out or blow a gasket, don’t wait until you red-line before you decide to decompress—it may be too late.

“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.” Thomas H. Huxley (1825 – 1895)

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