• Jan Baker

Am I stressed?

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

This is quite a personal one for me this week. Having worked 70 hours a week when I was teaching, too frightened to stop for even an hour, in case I got too far behind with my work (I was doing the work of about 3 people at one point, as well as my own teaching and management post), makes me something of an expert in recognising and managing stress. I've been there, lived through it and come out the other end, thankfully in one piece!

I know all too well that it can affect your mood, your family, your work, your relationships and lead to burn out if it's left untreated. When you're too close to something, sometimes you can't see what others see. I knew I was stressed but pushed it away; I used to go into work and cry in my office before work every single Friday. I put on a lot of weight, and knew I was getting ill more and more often that final year. I had two bouts of cellulitis, a calcium stone lodged in my ear canal making chewing impossible, and straight after, I had a chest infection. My body was telling me to stop. But how do you do this when you have commitments and other people (especially children) are relying on you? Your body gets into permanent fight or flight mode. And your system just becomes overloaded. And then one day when I realised that I had fought and fought & it became obvious that it was hopeless, I just sat in the staffroom and broke down. Senior colleagues (who'd watched it all unfold) sat with me and literally provided a ring of support and protection that I didn't recognise at the time and never thanked them for after. This was my life.

We all know what it's like to feel stressed but pinning down exactly what this is can be tricky. Occasionally when we have lots to do or think about and it's all too much, this can cause stress. We can also get very stressed over situations we can't control or have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with, as was the issue in my case.

Being under pressure is a normal part of life. It's only when you start to feel overwhelmed that it begins to become a problem. At this point, things that wouldn't normally bother you can seem much worse. And medication may not be the answer, as making appointments and being seen can often add to your stress levels, as well as the potential side effects of the medications themselves.

When we are stressed, we release a hormone called cortisol. This is your "fight or flight" hormone, designed to keep you safe from danger. It's also the hormone that wakes you up in the morning. High levels of this hormone can have a dramatic effect on your well-being and general health.

Too much can have a substantial effect on your blood pressure, blood sugar, your immune system and can make you put on and not lose weight. You can also often get headaches, feel more tired than normal or get an upset stomach. If you're not eating properly, a poor diet and lack of sleep combined can then affect your physical health. This in turn can make us feel more emotionally stressed and so continues the vicious circle.

Occasionally it can feel like a thick fog surrounding you. If you think you may be stressed, here are the signs to look out for:

  1. Getting irritable, wound up or impatient at things that normally wouldn't bother you

  2. Feeling overburdened - having little control over situations or demands placed on you

  3. Feeling anxious, afraid or nervous

  4. Feeling like your thoughts are racing and you can't switch off

  5. Being unable to enjoy yourself

  6. Feeling depressed

  7. Being disinterested generally with life

  8. Feeling like you've lost your sense of humour

  9. Having a sense of dread

  10. Being worried about your health

  11. Feeling neglected or lonely

  12. You eat more than usual

  13. You drink or smoke more than usual

  14. You feel constantly worried or scared

  15. You begin to avoid things or people

  16. Your self-confidence and self-esteem is low

Mine was an extreme case in a highly stressful environment to begin with. Yours doesn't need to be.

Stay safe

Love Jan x

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