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Running on empty? The warning signs your stress levels are nearly at tipping point

In memory of Kate Spade – Rest in Peace.   

I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Kate Spade’s death by suicide last week.

I’d like to add my tribute to Kate and her wonderful designs, as thousands of women around the world have done. This is my favourite Kate Spade accessory. I’ve had it for several years now. I love its bright colour and never have trouble finding it in my bag. It’s my favourite purse, actually. Thanks Kate, wherever you are, for designing it.

Anthony Bourdain’s tragic death also by suicide just a few days later was a further blow. He too had been suffering depression. So today, I wanted to discuss some  common warning signs that our stress levels are approaching tipping point, that we’re becoming overwhelmed. Hopefully if you recognise the signs, you’ll find the energy and awareness to seek help before you’re completely overwhelmed.

As a performance coach specialising in emotional mastery and stress elimination, I’ve worked with many high achievers who were pushed nearly to the limit by stress and anxiety. Because you acclimatise quickly to your stress levels, you often don’t realise how highly stressed you’ve very gradually become.

As a reformed Type A personality with a perfectionist streak, I know first hand how tempting it is to push yourself to perform at 100% all the time, cut back on sleep or rest for weeks or months on end, skip meals or eat fast food because you’re in a hurry or don’t have the energy to make a nutritious meal, or ignore the accumulating mental and emotional pressures. And of course you don’t need to be a Type A personality to have been guilty of this. I’m sure most of us have done this from time to time.

The problem is when you’ve been on the Busy hamster wheel for so long that you forget you’re on it and don’t get off. You can and often do live in your head, but fortunately when the stress levels rise, warning signals will come from the body. It’s a blessing that the body wasn’t designed to have chronic levels of cortisol, so when it starts to complain increasingly loudly, you need to listen.

Early warning signals often include a cold that you just can’t shake, that turns into the flu or even bronchitis or pneumonia if you ignore it. Other signs are that you feel drained by mid-afternoon every single day, and it beomes a struggle to get out of bed or go to work. Or you wake up most mornings feeling exhausted. Do see your doctor and check if  it’s a medical issue. But if that’s ruled out, a likely culprit is stress.

I think the most telling sign of overwhelm is realising there’s no more passion and joy for your work and life as there used to be. Adrenal fatigue is a sign that your body is exhausted being stressed and you’re running on fumes.

If these descriptions resonate with you and you’re still busting a gut, please, please hit PAUSE and listen to your body.

There’s no substitute for sleep if you’re sleep-deprived, nor downtime if you’ve been working non-stop. If your body needs rest, give it what it needs! Physical exhaustion also creates stress, so you need to physically rest.

Start with rest, and then use all the tools in your tool-kit to reduce any remaining stress as quickly as possible. Do seek help if you’re finding it too hard.

In subsequent blogs, I’ll be sharing proven stress reduction techniques that I use with my clients and the neuroscience behind why they’re effective.

In the meantime, do reflect on what the warning signs are for you. What causes alarm bells to go off and makes you need to hit the Pause button and look after yourself better?

Til next time, Happy Zoning and do take care.