For most of us stress is to some extent a normal part of our experience of navigating our everyday lives and our work. A small amount of stress can energize us and focus our attention. These times are anything but normal, though, and a common response to our checking in with one another these days often includes “I’m a little anxious and stressed.”
Too much stress for too long is unhealthy and has negative impacts on the wellbeing and performance of individuals and teams. Because of that it’s helpful to recognize the early indicators that we are feeling stressed so that we can do something to prevent it from getting worse and taking a toll on us and others around us.
Here’s some good news: nearly all of us have some awareness of the early warning signals that stress is beginning to wear on us. For each of us, these early indicators may be different and we may know them either because we are self-aware or perhaps because others around us have let us know that they notice when we are stressed.
In fact, here’s a little piece of research you can do to help increase your awareness around your own early stress indicators. Ask one or two people who know and care for you – a loved one, a friend, a colleague – what they notice that tells them we might be stressing out. More than once my wife has said, “Hey David, you seem a little grumpy. How are you doing?” And sure enough, grumpiness it turns out is one of the early signs that I’m stressed. Others for me include difficulty sleeping, poor choices around what I eat, a racing mind that cycles on things I’m worried about. Maybe some of these sound familiar.
What are some of the early signals that tell you the you are becoming stressed out? What do you notice about some of the early stress indicators for those around you?
Like I said, knowing these early indicators is a good thing. Especially if we begin to make adjustments to take care of ourselves. And here is some more good news: just as we know what some of the early indicators are that we are stressed, we also know something about how to take care of ourselves.
- Using pen and paper or the notes app on your phone, write down 3 or 4 things, that if you did them, tend to help you feel healthier and happier – less stressed and more resilient. Take a moment and do that now.
- Next mark the one or two of those things that are in your experience most reliably helpful – put a star or check mark in front of them.
- And next do this: turn to someone – a coworker, friend or loved one – and complete this sentence: “Here are one or two things that, if I do them, support my sense of well-being and resilience ________________.” Go ahead, have that conversation and then come back to this post.
I have yet to have this conversation with someone who was unable to identify these things – things that tend to support our sense of well-being – for themselves. Knowing them turns out to be the easy part. Actually doing these things, for many of us that’s the more difficult challenge.
Researchers studying stress among physicians have identified two things that help to narrow the gap between knowing what we should be doing for ourselves and actually doing them. It turns out that they are really simple and make total sense once you know them. The first is to write them down – which you just did. Writing them down is a way of going on record with ourselves. It’s like saying, “Yeah, I really do know what I should be doing to support myself.” And the second is like the first: tell someone else. This helps for the very same reason. It’s another way of putting us on record with ourselves. So if you didn’t do this second piece, telling someone else, go ahead and do it now.
One last thing. If you want to make a shift and think it might be helpful to give yourself some additional support, find someone who will help you to be accountable to yourself. In my work with FEMA, I have a colleague and friend who I asked to be my accountability partner, someone who I can check in with every so often when I’m deployed to let them know how I’m doing with these things. Give it a try. It really helps.
This is an especially good time to be disciplined about doing good things for yourself. Things that help support your sense of well-being.
What are some of the things you’ll be doing to support your own resilience through this time?