Stress can be a difficult thing to spot before it becomes a real problem. At its worst, it can have a massive impact on your physical and mental health, resulting in many people being forced to take time off work to regain control.
Though not always the cause, work is often a contributor to unhealthy levels of stress. Figures from Accountancy Age found that more than three-quarters (77%) regularly feel stressed at work.
But how do you know if you're experiencing stress or are simply having a rough week? And if you are stressed, what can you do about it?
1. Sleep disruptions
One of the first noticeable signs people experience of stress is their sleep patterns becoming disrupted. Whether it's trouble actually getting to sleep, unpleasant dreams or problems staying asleep, stress can wreak havoc on your opportunity to get much-needed rest.
The American Psychology Association (APA) recommends that you set clear boundaries between work and home life. With smartphones being commonplace - almost necessary - in today's working world, it can be difficult to ever feel like you're getting a proper break from the pressure of the office. Taking steps to leave work behind you at 5 o'clock will allow you to completely focus on what's going on at home or simply unwind.
Feeling overly tired - even if you've had a good night's sleep - is another key sign that you're stressed. Being exhausted may not sound that concerning but it can have a considerable impact on your behavior and how you communicate with others, at work and at home.
Sharon Melnick, Ph.D, a business psychologist and author of Success Under Stress, says that determining what you do and don't have control over can be a massive step towards managing stress.
In a Forbes report, she highlights the importance of doing this especially when it comes to daily interruptions such as emails, phone calls, and actual conversations. Melnick said:
"While you may not have control over the interrupters, you can control your response."
She recommends one of three solutions: accept the interruption, cut it off, or assess its importance and make a plan to deal with it.
3. Muscle tension
Muscle tensions, spasms or aches are a fairly unknown sign of stress but it's one of the more physical symptoms that can be easy to notice once you're looking for it. During times of stress, your entire body tenses up as its way of guarding against injury and pain and over time this can lead to chronic muscle problems. Although you can deal with the symptoms of muscle tension, they won't go away unless you tackle the root cause of your stress.
The APA recommends keeping a journal to better understand the stressful situations in your day-to-day life. You shouldn't just keep track of the events and circumstances that occur but also any feelings you experienced and how you reacted to it. Identifying the way you behave can give you a tangible way to see more positive ways you could react.
Much like muscle tension, headaches are one of the most common physical responses to prolonged stress. Of course, everyone has headaches at some point but if you're finding that you're getting them regularly, especially at weekends and in the evenings, it could be a sign that you need to tackle your stress levels.
Relaxation techniques like meditation or just taking half an hour to relax in the bath can reduce tension headaches. You should try and do this on a regular basis and view it as a preventative action, rather than a cure. To get the most from your downtime, do your best to limit interruptions and distractions.
5. Behavior change
Mental health problems often cause a sudden change in behavior and stress is no different. This can put pressure on both personal and professional relationships. Whether it's you've become much more short-tempered, are drinking more alcohol, or want to spend more time alone, any sudden change in behavior should be a red flag.
If stress is affecting your behavior in such an apparent way it's a good idea to speak to your boss to try and find a solution that may take some of the pressure off you. Managers should be eager to help. Healthy employees are much more productive ones so it is beneficial for both parties to get to the heart of the problem. It may be that offering you help and support is the answer or giving you more autonomy in your day-to-day role, but the important thing is that you make your boss aware of the problems you're experiencing.
6. Bodily changes
It may not be the nicest topic of conversation but having constipation, diarrhea, sweating, overeating or loss of appetite are just some of the symptoms that can be a sign you're experiencing stress.
To counteract this, anything you can do to make your body healthier will help manage your stress. Maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and trying to get enough sleep can all help your body better manage stressful situations.