It’s February, and there’s a good chance a lot of us are feeling a touch stressed out at the moment.  It’s not always the easiest of months – Christmas may be behind us, but the associated financial problems aren’t necessarily.  Then there’s the weather (or are we better off not discussing that at all?), which can bring with it a range of sniffles, colds and general feelings of bleurgh.  To be honest, it’s a miracle any of us are in a good mood at all!

As it’s not always a month of joy, for many reasons, it can perhaps be all too tempting to dismiss any feelings of unease or unhappiness as “just one of those things”.  However, do you know when such feelings turn in to something more serious?  Would you be able to recognise stress in your staff, colleagues, or even yourself?

What is stress?

Work-related stress, or any stress for that matter, is not a condition in and of itself.  However, that is not to suggest it is not an important issue you need to be aware of.  The reality is that stress, whilst not an illness in its own right, can have a huge psychological impact, which can in turn lead to more serious health concerns.

For example, stress can lead to anxiety and depression, and in terms of more physiological symptoms, such problems as headaches, gastrointestinal problems and heart disease.  Any of these alone can give rise to short-term absence from work, which can exasperate the situation, and may even result in longer-term absences.

Stress – regardless of the cause, should never simply be ignored as “one of those things”, either by the person suffering or those around them.

The common symptoms

Our bodies are wonderful things, and are actually designed to deal with (a certain amount) of stress.  In fact, some stress can be a good thing as it heightens our alertness, can focus our attention and ensures we can avoid danger.  Of course, everyone is different and what may be “good” stress for one person, can easily dissolve in to something overwhelming for another.

Whilst there are a wide variety of symptoms, or signs of stress, some of the more common ones can include:

  • Increase in headaches – Stress headaches are characterised by a constant pain on both sides of your head, a tight neck and pressure behind your eyes. Some people may also experience jaw clenching, teeth grinding and dizziness
  • Appetite changes – this may involve either eating more (generally snacking/grazing) or eating less (perhaps having no desire to eat, or interest in food)
  • Disrupted sleep – many people who are feeling stressed or anxious find they have difficulty sleeping
  • Emotional outbursts – whether through the stress itself, or as a result of some of the side effects, it can be fairly common for individuals to experience emotional outbursts that our out of character.
  • Change in social interactions – some people find that they prefer to withdraw from social activities, shunning things that they once enjoyed as they do not wish to be around people. Others may increase their social interests, especially if these occur in situations where it’s acceptable to drink.

Of course this is by no means an exhaustive list, merely some of the more common initial signs and symptoms of stress.  As we have already said, everyone experiences stress for different reasons, at different times and in different ways. 

The key is to identify things that may have changed in your life, which show you are reacting to a specific event or issue.  From there, you can start to look at ways of managing your stress.