The 5-minute stress test
Feeling a little frazzled lately? Take our quiz to find out if you have hidden stress and learn a few simple strategies to help keep it under control

Everyone talks about eliminating stress, and with good reason. How we react physically and emotionally to the events that place demands on us to adapt—whether it’s a broken washing machine or a pending work deadline—may pose certain health risks. One of the strongest links between stress and illness is heart disease.

“All of us are living with stress all of the time,” says Lorne Zon, CEO of the Toronto-based Canadian Mental Health Association. That’s why the best way to manage stress is to be aware of the symptoms, and make sure we apply coping techniques (e.g., exercise, relaxation, fun) to manage the first signs. “If we aren’t aware of building stress, and many of us are not, a trigger may take us out of our comfort zone. Often, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” adds Zon. Take our quick quiz (frequently) to find out when you’re harboring hidden stress*, and apply our tips for keeping it in check.

*Note: if you answer yes at least once to each question, you have hidden stress!

1. Answer yes or no to the following questions about your relationships:

• Are you blowing up more easily at others than usual?
• Are you short, or rude, to loved ones or strangers (e.g. on the bus or at a checkout)?
• Are you longing for more supportive relationships in your life?
• Are you gossiping more about others than normal?

Stress and relationships

If you answered mostly yes, you have hidden stress. Zon says that we tend to express stress in our interactions with others, especially through anger and impatience. “You won’t notice the stress day-to-day, but somebody else will,” he says. We also tend to gossip when we are stressed because it’s an effective (but mean) way to externalize our own issues and transfer them onto others.

Listen to friends, co-workers and loved ones if they point out a change in your interaction, and don’t hesitate to talk your stress through with someone. If you can’t open up to your family (particularly if they are a source of stress), says Zon, ask your family physician for a referral to a counsellor, or check with your work’s employee assistance program.

2. Answer yes or no to the following questions about your attitudes:

• Are you making a “big deal” out of things that you normally handle in stride?
• Are you failing to see humour in a situation that others find funny?
• Are you insistent that there is only one way to do things?

How stress changes your attitude

If you answered mostly yes, you have hidden stress. Stress can manifest itself in negativity, explains Zon. You become constantly cynical and controlling as a subconscious way of reacting to stress, he explains. Watch for excess negativity, and look for the positive in every situation. “Laughter is a wonderful stress reliever,” adds Zon. “There’s no better stress relief than enjoying yourself.” Take up a hobby or plan a vacation. Zon adds that just the planning of a vacation, weeks in advance, is a wonderful source of stress relief for both him and his wife.

3. Answer yes or no to the following questions about your health habits:

• Are you neglecting to eat healthy and/or exercise?
• Are you more disorganized than usual?
• Are you experiencing sudden changes in sleep?
• Are you relying on over-the-counter medications for any health issue, such as poor sleep or headaches?

How stress affects your health

If you answered mostly yes, you have hidden stress. When we are stressed, our normal behaviours and activities change, often for the worse, says Zon. “Stress manifests itself in many ways, including physical symptoms,” he says. “For example, you may experience constant fatigue, a lot of muscle tension or insomnia. A lot of people grind their teeth at night when they sleep when they are stressed,” he adds.

Because these symptoms create their own health hazards—including obesity—talk your doctor about getting stress-management advice. In the case of teeth grinding, a dentist can outfit you with a custom nighttime mouth guard. “One of the best first steps to control stress is make sure you are eating healthy, and exercising regularly,” adds Zon.

4. Answer yes or no to the following questions about your life:

• Are your standards usually higher than others?
• Are you engaging in negative self-talk, or complaining about yourself to yourself (e.g., that you never do anything right)?
• Are you rarely satisfied or fulfilled throughout each day?

Stress and your self-esteem

If you answered mostly yes, you have hidden stress. When you constantly feel unhappy or unfulfilled, you may be experiencing stress that is related to perfectionist tendencies, says Zon. Try to re-examine the motives behind the standards by which you measure yourself. If you are unable to alleviate some of the pressure you place on yourself, you may need to seek professional mental health advice. Prolonged, mismanaged stress can lead to chronic stress (no control over the release corticosteroids), which can result in serious physical and mental impairment.

5. Answer yes or no to the following questions about your state of mind:

• Are you having more trouble than usual concentrating?
• Are you experiencing crippling indecision?
• Are you looking to other people to make things happen?

Stress and your mental health

Stress can interfere with our peace of mind, and our mental health, says Zon. “One of the worst stress aggravators is to put off making a decision,” says Zon. “If there is a solvable problem, solve it.” For example, if you are unhappy in your job, putting off the inevitable, such as talking to your supervisor or searching for another job, will only make stress worse.

For those situations that you can’t change, find outlets for stress such as physical activity, going for a walk or gardening. Zon adds that there are many self-management stress books and information on the web for identifying and coping with stress, including at cmha.ca.

 

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