All too often workplace stress is the first thing that comes to mind when we think about stress in our lives. That’s hardly surprising when you consider that work, for so many of us, is a constant for most of our adult lives. Not only do we spend a large part of our day at work — work is also the reason we can actually afford to buy groceries, pay the rent or mortgage, socialise, go on holidays and so on.
When work gets hectic or difficult, it’s no surprise that we get stressed. For north Queenslanders especially, events that we can’t control like drought, floods, bushfire or demand in agricultural and mining markets can cause even more distress.
Even so, we often get stressed out by things other than work. Events in what we might term ‘everyday life’ can get every bit as stressful as work stress — and it can have just as noticeable an effect on our physical and mental health.
We all know about it… but what is stress exactly?
The causes, signs and symptoms of stress all have a common link: stress is essentially the worry that we feel when we are under pressure to do something that we feel we will fail. That is, stress happens when we think the demands made on us are greater than what we can cope with.
Stress triggers our ‘fight or flight’ response. This is a physical reaction when the body prepares to take action against a threat. The trouble is, your body isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. You can get stressed out over an argument with a friend or family member but you can also feel the same about unexpected bills or even a life-or-death situation. Some stress is normal and even beneficial, but severe and ongoing stress can put your mental health at risk and even contribute to you becoming physically sick.
Stress is by its very nature something that is highly personal. How we feel, how it affects us and how we respond depends a lot on our attitude and interpretation. An event or situation that one person finds extremely stressful can be a minor inconvenience for someone else.
What does stress look like?
We all know what it means to say “I’m stressing out about this” or “he / she’s been really stressed lately”. Stress is a collection of numerous unpleasant thoughts and feelings.
Emotionally, common symptoms of stress often include feelings like:
- Constant feelings of fear or uncertainty.
- Recurring feelings of anxiety, worry, angst or dread.
- Excessive awareness of our sense of helplessness or lack of control.
- Feelings of aggression, anger or irritability.
- Feeling of worthlessness or helplessness.
- Feelings of apathy or dejection.
Common physical symptoms and signs of stress include:
- Headaches, aches and pains.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness or indecisiveness.
- An upset stomach.
- Excessive drinking, smoking or drug use.
- Chest pain or rapid heart rate.
- Muscle tension.
Recognising and managing stress
Prolonged or excessive stress puts pressure on your body and strains your mental wellbeing. Too much stress for too long can lead to burn out, which is a state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. It’s easier to prevent burning out if we’re able to identify and address the early signs of excessive stress.
Here’s a handy list of resources with some great advice on how to recognise stress and worry.
- How to manage workplace stress
- What is social anxiety?
- Do I have depression?
- What happens during couples counselling?
- When to reach out someone who needs help?
- Can counselling help with anger?
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online social and mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.