Clenched teeth, a pounding heart and excessive sweating are all warning signs that your stress level may be dangerously high.
Not all stress is bad, says Emma Nicolson, occupational health and safety specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). The excitement of starting a new job or meeting a new client can be energizing. But, when stress stops motivating you to succeed and there’s no relief in sight, it’s time to take note.
“If you’re under constant pressure and stress for five to 10 years,” Nicolson says, “then you’re looking at burnout and potentially self-destructive situations.”
Aside from health risks, like high blood pressure, stress can increase your chance of an accident or injury due to a lack of sleep, over-medication, anger or recklessness, according to the CCOHS.
Here are four tips for keeping your stress under control:
> Watch for the warning signs
Early signs of “bad” stress are often more emotional than physical, says the CCOHS. It can take up to a year before they’re noticeable.
“You would be looking for any deviations from ‘normal’ behavior,” Nicolson says.
Symptoms can include vague anxiety, depression and general apathy. For minor stressors, a vacation might provide a quick solution, but stronger actions, like short-term counselling or a drastic lifestyle change, may be needed for symptoms that have progressed.
> Take control of your environment
“Control and autonomy are important,” Nicolson says. “We find in situations where you have control over your work — even if it’s a perceived sense of control — the likelihood of experiencing stress is reduced.”
You can gain this feeling of control by setting manageable deadlines and communicating your goals to team members and management.
Knowing your role and participating in the culture of your organization is important for setting expectations at work, Nicolson adds.
If you’re assigning work to your staff, you can reduce their stress by including them when making important decisions and allowing employees control over the tasks they complete.
> Make your health a priority
“You can’t always control stress or a stressful situation,” Nicolson says,” but you can control how you respond to it.”
If you experience stress while in good health, you’re more able to cope with stressors because you are in a high-functioning state.
Exercising and eating well are always staples of a healthy lifestyle. You can also benefit from practising relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation.
You can reduce stress, Nicolson says, by nurturing relationships with family members and friends while participating in your favourite activities together.
> Take 10
Spend 10 minutes at the beginning of each day getting organized and prioritizing your upcoming responsibilities. Be honest with yourself on what you can accomplish.
Laughter can be the best medicine, so take some time to chat with a co-worker, Nicolson says.
Ten minutes is also the perfect amount of time to take a short walk around the building, do a guided breathing exercise at your desk or step away to make coffee or tea.