Are you suffering from stress creep? Discover how to nip it in the bud!
You know what it’s like when you’re down to the wire on a project and suddenly that jolt of adrenalin kicks in and gets you to the finish line? That’s stress. In small doses, stress can give you a welcome energy boost and the increased focus you need to get the job done. But when you’re dealing with massive doses of stress – especially unrelenting stress with no recovery periods - it can take a physical, mental and emotional toll.
When your brain perceives danger – real or imagined - your natural survival instincts spring to your defense and you go into “fight or flight” mode. Your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tighten, your focus sharpens and your blood starts pumping faster. Stress can protect you by increasing your reaction time so that you’re able to slam on the brakes and avoid hitting a car that suddenly pulls out in front of you. Stress also keeps you sharp when you’re giving a presentation or studying for final exams.
The problem is that the amount of stress in your life can elevate without your even realizing it. I call this stress creep. It’s not hard for our stress to creep up on us in our ultra-driven society where we seem to pride ourselves on being crazy, busy, slammed on a 24/7 basis. And it’s literally 24/7 since our cyber-gadgets and social networking systems have added a right-now urgency and around-the-clock accessibility to our lives like never before.
So how do you know if your stress is under control or off the charts? Get a quick snapshot by answering the questions below with the following scores: 4 always, 3 often, 2 sometimes, and 1 never.
TEST YOUR STRESS CREEP
1. Are you drowning in deadlines?
2. Has your stress increased over the past year?
3. Are you juggling multiple responsibilities?
4. Have you lost or gained more than 10 pounds in the past year?
5. Is achievement important to you?
6. Are you able to relax, nap or enjoy down time?
7. Do your ever feel guilty that your prioritize work over family or friends?
8. Are you impatient or irritable?
9. Have you taken a vacation of more than 2-3 days in the past year?
10. Do you loved ones ever beg you to slow down?
Now, add your scores and see how your stress levels stack up.
10 – 20 TOO LAID BACK
While it’s good to be laid back in moderation, you’ve got so little stress in your life you’re probably not achieving much. You may also lack excitement or stimulation. Could it be that you’ve traded stress for stuck?
21 – 30 UNDER CONTROL
You’ve got a good handle on managing your stress, juggling your responsibilities and living a well-balanced life. Continue to keep your stress under control while you start getting more aggressive about getting unstuck. You can handle it!
31 – 40 OVER THE TOP
You are waaaaay too stressed. Get it under control or you may be heading for some serious repercussions. Start some de-stressing tactics immediately and consider scheduling a full physical. How are you going to get unstuck when you’re recovering from a stroke or heart attack?
If you landed in the “too laid back” category, maybe you’ve already written yourself off as an unmotivated, low-energy loser. Or, perhaps, you’re at the “over the top” end of the spectrum, but think your headaches, nausea and sleeplessness are just part of being a high-achiever. Wake up and smell the cortisol! We’re fooling ourselves to think that feeling bad is causing our stress when, in fact, it’s the other way around. It’s often our stress that’s making us feel bad. Lots of us, apparently, because numerous studies have indicated that between 60-90% of doctor’s visits are stress-related.
Not convinced yet that stress could be creeping up on you right this minute? Let’s go a little deeper into how stress presents itself in your life physically, behaviorally and emotionally. While it may not be unusual to suffer from some, or even many, of the symptoms from time to time, ask yourself if yours have become more pronounced or prolonged in the past year. If so, that could be a sign of unchecked stress creep. Look over the checklist below and circle any of the symptoms that you experience on a regular basis. Take this list to your next check-up or, if you’re concerned, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away to discuss your stress levels.
Constipation/Diarrhea Sleep problems
Back pain/tension Clenched jaw/teeth-grinding
Weight loss or gain High blood pressure
Sex problems/lack of drive Fatigue
Increased sweating Skin breakouts/rashes
Mood swings Constant negative thinking
Restlessness Guilt feelings
Sudden job dissatisfaction Resentment
Anxiety/Insecurity Inability to concentrate
Burnout Feelings of anger
Drug use Increased smoking
Excessive drinking Outbursts of anger or blaming
Lack of productivity Irritability
Crying bouts Relationship problems
Stress robs you of the energy, focus and enthusiasm you need to change your life. But stress doesn’t just keep you stuck, stress kills. It can elevate your blood pressure, raise your risk of heart disease and stroke, and suppress your immune system. In the most stressful year of my life, I went through a divorce, left the corporate world, started my own business, published my first book, bought a house and my dad passed away. I ended up with at least half of the symptoms on that checklist and wouldn’t wish a year like that on anyone.
I’d always thought my tolerance for stress was fairly high, but I definitely hit my ceiling that year. We all have different levels of stress tolerance, or course. Some people thrive on the high-pressure lifestyle, while others have a much lower threshold. It’s important to recognize your personal tolerance level so you don’t go beyond it, at least not on a regular basis. Luckily, there are some inherent conditions that enhance people’s ability to handle stress. See if you are fortunate enough to possess any of the following factors:
- A solid network of supportive friends and family
- Openness to change and an ability to roll with the punches
- An optimistic outlook about life
- A sense of humor and cheerful attitude
- A belief in a higher power or life purpose
- Self-control and confidence in your ability to cope
Recognizing how much stress you’ve let creep into your life is your first line of defense for creating a de-stressed lifestyle!