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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What are the warning signs of stress?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

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    Lifeline is a national charity delivering 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services to all Australians. Lifeline connects people to a broad range of national … View Profile

    When stress levels are high and become a major problem for a person, others will often see this through unusual actions – when a person acts in a way that is not typical. For instance:

    • Outbursts of anger
    • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
    • Risky and impulsive decision making
    • Withdrawal from relationship and commitments
    • Difficulty concentrating or restlessness
    • Exhaustion, changes in sleeping or eating habits
    • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
     
    Physical illness may also be associated with high levels of stress.

  • Dr Toni Metelerkamp

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Toni works with adults and couples, and specialises in diagnosing and treating anxiety (panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder), phobias, substance and gambling, addictions, suicide and … View Profile

    Stress can be positive. It can help us focus our attention, employ our skills and utilise our resources, but too much stress can overwhelm us and even paralyze us.  For example, if we didn’t experience any stress we probably wouldn’t be concerned about being in our pyjamas in public. Most of us are concerned about what we wear; at least enough so that we don’t wear pyjamas in public. So a little stress can help us, but too much stress about clothing would mean we’re so concerned about clothes, we avoid going out in public. 
     
    A stress response often develops gradually. For a while, we might feel like we are managing or even doing well. As the stressor continues, or increases, we reach our maximum coping, or we reach the limit of our skills and our resources. Sometimes this is because of the various other things we’re trying to balance at the same time, and at other times we have just reached the limit of our skills and resources.
     
    Because each of us has different skill sets and resources, and we have different background issues that we cope with at any one time, different people respond differently to the same stressor. Lifeline listed several typical symptoms and these are good examples of the sorts of things that change when we become “too” stressed.  Again, different people behave differently when faced with “too much” stress. One person might sleep to avoid the stress while another may not be able to sleep much at all.  The key is to know how you operate when you are managing things well and to watch for changes to your usual pattern of coping that might indicate that you are coping less well than usual. 
     
    When we are faced with more stress than we can manage there’ll be physical signs in our body (e.g. muscle tension, diarrhea), our thoughts will be affected (e.g. racing or panicked thoughts) and our behaviours will change (e.g. more or less sleeping).
     
    The key to managing stress is to notice when things change for you, and if possible to do something sooner rather than later.  If you’re not sure about whether things are changing for you, talk to those closest to you about any changes they’ve noticed.  Managing a stressful situation may be about avoiding a stressor, but more often than not, we don’t control the stressors so the answer lies in changing the way you look after yourself and the way you see the stressor.
     
    I wish you well.

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