Feeling stressed? Recognise the symptoms

For all our commitment to increasing our personal sense of wellbeing, we’re unlikely to have much success unless we are adept at recognising when we are starting to get stressed, to the point of it having a negative impact on our lives. Yet this is a big ask in a profession known for the excessive extent to which people are pushed to the limits of their resilience. If we must move seamlessly from one task to another, with no time to pause, how can we recognise the point at which we say, ‘that’s enough, change must happen’?

These 4 suggestions may help.


There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to spotting the signs of stress. The only person who can know when limits are being reached within is you. Self-knowledge is essential. This is hard to achieve amidst the busy-ness of each day so taking time for reflection isn’t optional. Ask yourself at regular intervals, ‘how am I feeling?’ and note your response. Take action to feel better if necessary. This just might nip burgeoning stress in the bud. Noticing is everything.

Noticing physical changes

Negative stress can cause physical changes in us. We may find we breathe more shallowly, or feel tense with tight muscles. We may hold ourselves differently, leading to back or neck pain. Our heart rate may rise and we may experience digestive problems or weight changes. Skin disorders may develop, too, and we may simply notice that we look different; perhaps frowning more, with strained facial muscles. This list is by no means exhaustive and a medical professional will be able to tell you far more about the physical signs of stress to look out for, but the key message is to notice change and do not ignore it. Always talk to your health care provider about what you are experiencing and the possible causes.

Noticing emotional changes

Just as physical changes can emerge as a result of negative stress, so too can emotional changes. If you find yourself with less patience than normal, quick to anger, more emotional than usual, or simply weary of all that is demanded of you then you may be suffering from the ravages of stress. Similarly, mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety can be caused, or made significantly worse, by negative stress. Again, always speak to your chosen health care provider such as your GP if you are at all concerned about your mental health.

Noticing behaviour changes

If you find yourself reaching for props that you hope might make you feel better, or more able to cope with what the day throws at you (I’m thinking of alcohol, sweet food, drugs etc), then you do need to be vigilant about the extent to which you rely on them. Other changes in behaviour such as being unable to sleep or sleeping far more than usual, withdrawing socially or procrastinating excessively are also potential warning signs that negative stress may be biting.

Noticing stress is just part of the process. It is important, also, to act on what you sense. If symptoms go unchecked, you may be storing up greater difficulties for the future. Act sooner rather than later, and go well.

Find out more

The website Good Day at Work is full of useful information about wellbeing at work. You can try the free resilience tool here, too.

The Education Support Partnership is an organisation bringing together Teacher Support Network, Recourse and Worklife Support. The website contains much useful advice for school staff struggling with workload and stress issues. You can call the helpline on: 08000 562 561.

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