Like most problems; the sooner you spot stress the easier it is to manage. It pays to be familiar with the many different symptoms of stress. The symptoms of stress fall into many different categories e.g. behavioural, physical, emotional, psychological etc. Over the coming weeks I shall be discussing each of these, however, this week I shall begin with the behavioural symptoms of stress.
Stress can affect behaviour in many different ways but the following tend to be the most common behavioural symptoms of stress.
Behavioural symptoms of stress
1. Sleeping difficulties
Sufferers of stress often find it difficult to switch off. With no activity to distract them, negative thinking, anxieties and worries take over the mind. Fear of having forgotten something and negative expectations of forthcoming events (e.g. interview, presentation) limits the ability to relax sufficiently to fall asleep. Sleep shortage and insomnia are often tell-tale signs of stress.
2. Lack of punctuality
Timekeeping is one of the first things to suffer when an individual becomes stressed. They may take too many tasks on; try to avoid tasks and thus leave them until the last minute or they may be so overcome with worry/anxiety that they become forgetful. In order to remedy the situation, they must first identify why their punctuality is so poor.
Stressed individuals tend to regularly miss work. They may be trying to avoid a difficult situation or they may be suffering the consequences of one of their coping mechanisms e.g. alcohol.
Withdrawal is a common behavioural symptom of stress. The individual’s self-esteem and confidence may have taken a hit and as a consequence, they may no longer feel capable of coping with social situations. In order to protect their fragile confidence, they may choose to avoid all such situations.
If we are to maximise our energy, one of the most important things for us to do is to balance our physical energy. There will be times when we are required to work at our maximum output for sustained periods. In order to do this we must implement periods of deep rest which enables both our body and mind to recover. Failure to do so can eventually result in burnout and chronic fatigue. The stressed individual may feel like they are constantly running from one emergency to another and thus fail to take the time to rest and recuperate. Constant fatigue is often a sign that someone is overwhelmed and experiencing stress.
6. Addictive/excessive behaviour
Those experiencing stress often don’t realise that it is stress which they are experiencing. Where they do realise this, they often have no idea how to deal with stress. This can result in short term solutions which, though they have a temporary impact, have damaging long-term consequences. One of the most common coping mechanisms for dealing with difficulty is alcohol. While alcohol can have temporary benefit, it can be highly addictive and it fails to resolve the situation. Other coping mechanisms include smoking, illegal and prescription drugs.
7. Unhealthy eating habits
Comfort food is often sought as a solution to stressful situations. Indulging in convenience foods can make you feel better temporarily and saves time, however, these foods are rich in salt, sugar and fat which can lead to obesity, high blood pressure and heart related illnesses.
While we associate comfort eating with stress, some people have the opposite response to stressful situation i.e. they avoid eating. They may be experiencing a suppressed appetite, they may have developed a negative self image or they may have developed negative associations with food. Whatever the reason, the consequences of food avoidance can be every bit as devastating as the consequences of food indulgence.
8. Risk-taking behaviour
A sudden development of risk taking behaviour can be a clear sign of stress. Individuals may be experiencing a low sense of self-worth or a lack of excitement in their lives. They need a ‘buzz’ in their life and are willing to take bigger risks in order to get that buzz. Unfortunately, they level of risk they need to take to get the ‘buzz’ may increase steadily over time. They fail to see that as the risk gets bigger, so too do the potential consequences. Gambling is a common behavioural symptom of stress, which falls within this category. Certain extreme sports and reckless driving are some of the other symptoms of stress which may fall under risk-taking behaviour.
Concentration tends to suffer greatly when one experiences stress. In certain work places (generally more manual industries) this may result in a high number of accidents both fatal and non-fatal. Along with reduced concentration, the individual may also be overworked, poorly trained, displaying risk-taking behaviour or denied sufficient rest periods; all of which may be contributory factors in the stress.
10. High turnover in the workplace
Stressed employees are generally unhappy in their work situation. Sadly, many workplaces have not put the necessary training and procedures in place which would allow the employee to discuss their experience with their manager so that they may work together to find a solution. Rather than raise the issue, many stressed employees will choose to seek employment elsewhere.
11. Suicidal talk or behaviour
Stress can diminish an individual’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth to the point where they feel that they cannot go on. In many such cases we do not get the opportunity to help the individual but in some cases they do drop subtle hints of their intentions. There are courses, such as ASIST, which can help to improve your chances of spotting these signs and intervening.
Many people feel too embarrassed or ashamed to openly discuss their experiences with stress. It is, therefore, essential that we familiarise ourselves with the behavioural symptoms of stress so that we may be able to identify what they are going through and remind them that the channels of communication are open and that we were willing to help them, or help them find more suitable help. You may in fact be experiencing stress yourself. It may be helpful to regularly remind yourself of the behavioural symptoms of stress so that you can identify it early and take appropriate action.
Image credit: Ansel Edwards Photography