Are You Taking Notice? What Are Your Warning Signs Stress Is Building Up?

Many people recognise the warning signs that stress may be just around the corner. The trouble is that most of us rarely listen to them. Instead most of us choose to ignore them, until we become overwhelmed.

Peter, 40, a very good friend of mine, called me a few weeks ago and said that he really needed to talk to me. When Peter walked into the restaurant to meet me for lunch, his face told a thousand stories. Although he looked very suntanned and healthy, his eyes had lost their sparkle. I had known Peter for many years, seen him promoted several times in the busy City law firm where he had worked for 20 years. Even though he often worked more than 60 hours a week, he had been happy, in his own words, to spend the long and usually rewarding hours because it had paid off for him.

When I commented that he didn't seem his usual light-hearted self, he began to tell me how disillusioned he was with his whole life and that he had hardly slept for the last four weeks. He said that for several years something inside him kept saying, I've had enough of all these long hours; I just want to have a life outside of work. When he mentioned these inner thoughts to friends, they told him to pull himself together, and that he would probably feel better when he'd taken a holiday.

One of his friends said he'd give anything to have a job like Peter's and, as a result, Peter began to question his own self-wisdom. He stopped speaking to anyone about how he was feeling, which caused him to doubt his own intuition even more.

Although it took some time to get Peter to open up, he seemed relieved to at last be able to speak truthfully about what was spinning round in his head. He started to tell me about his inner conflicts, what was really tugging at him, half expecting me to say, You'll feel better in a few days.

He said, I can't believe I'm talking to you about this, but I can't ignore it anymore. I'm beginning to hate every single minute of the day at work. I spend every weekend trying to work out how I can escape from my life. By Sunday night I feel so stressed, I just want to run away or lock my front door and never come out. The trouble is, all my friends think I have everything, but inside I feel as though I'm missing something. Work used to give me so much pleasure, yet nowadays I get no enjoyment at all. I went on holiday a few weeks ago, but I was kidding myself that everything would be better after that break. As soon as I got back to the office, I felt like I was back on the same old treadmill within hours.

I know the job has taken over my life. All the material possessions I once thought measured my success - my house, holidays whenever I wanted them - no longer matter as much. But I'm afraid to try something different. I know deep down I need to make some changes, but I'm afraid of making a mistake. Although I'm still putting in long hours, I know that the quality of my work has suffered and my boss has commented about that several times recently.

As Peter stared at his now cold plate of food, he said, "I keep telling myself I should be grateful for my work, yet the thought keeps popping into my head that enough is enough. If I am honest with myself I have probably been in the wrong job for a long time.

Spot your own warning signs

I know that when I start to become short tempered about the most trivial things at home, it is time to take a look at what may be causing stress in my life. I do now usually recognise my early warning signals!

Over the last few years, I have identified a number of warnings signs from the hundreds of people I have coached, which signal that it is time for them to be honest and have that Courageous Conversation. You may recognise at least one of these warning signs, but feel that things are not too bad at the moment. However, it is important to understand that if you ignore these early warnings they will come again - and they will get worse, often when you least expect it or can't cope.

Warning signs that it is time to have a CC include:

Extreme tiredness, inability to relax, difficulty in sleeping, working most weekends, overactive mind, feeling very disconnected from yourself and others.

Snapping at others, losing your temper, waking up in the morning and wanting to go straight back to sleep.

Frequent infections, headaches, an aching neck, heart problems.

No time for family, friends or social activities.

Easily distracted and difficulty concentrating.

Drinking excess coffee or alcohol, shopping, watching increasing amounts of TV or playing computer games to switch off.

Leaving everything until the last minute, forgetting to do simple things.

Think chickens!

If you buy a chicken from the supermarket and keep it in the fridge for too long, it will go past its sell-by date. You may be able to pretend the smell doesn't exist for a few days. However, after a few weeks you will no longer be able to avoid the rancid smell leaping out of the fridge every time you open the door. In fact, that smell will contaminate everything else in the fridge. Life is more complicated than a rotting chicken but face it, our lives, too, start to stink if we don't pay attention to them in a timely way.

The warning signs may already be there, trying to alert you that stress may be building up in your life, but you may not see them if you are so caught up with the busyness of day- to-day life.

Give yourself the chance to say Yes to Less Stress. Start to become clear about what is important to you. Peter made a start when they became clear about what was important in their lives.

Long hours may not be a problem for you but the stress of competing priorities or overloaded in-trays may be.

To figure out what is important to you, you must set aside some thinking time.

Where do you find it best to think? How are you going to build thinking time into your week? Remember, Courageous Conversations won't happen unless you create the time.

What are your warning signs that stress may be building up.

If you are suffering with the effects of stress, I recommend that you seek the advice of your doctor. Although the suggestions I have made may be really helpful, additional medical help may be needed.

Carolyn Matheson is a nationally recognized Coach, Speaker and Author of "Yes to Less Stress."

Carolyn is a Master Certified Coach, and works with executives and their teams across the world. She has pioneered an innovative approach to coaching, combining many years of high performance coaching with a holistic approach to work/life balance and has coached hundreds of leaders and their teams. Her experience as a presenter, both nationally and internationally, spans 20 years, with clients currently in Europe, Australia, the Middle and Far East, and the USA.

Her new book, Yes to Less Stress is available online at from

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