Stress, the way you feel when you’re under abnormal pressure for a prolonged time, is for many people a normal part of our everyday life. Today, living with stress is often perceived as a trendy life choice for people on the go, showing that you are a person who is enterprising, have a rich social life and many irons in the fire. But, research from Prime Minister David Cameron's “happiness index” reveals that Londoners are the most stressed and least satisfied people in the UK.
While a moderate level of stress can make us perform better compared to our normal state, for example in situations such as job interviews or speaking in public, stress has been proven to only be healthy in short bursts. Extreme or constant stress can lead to illness, as well as physical and emotional exhaustion. And taken to extremes, stress can be a killer.
But how do we know when the stress in our lives become too much? And how do we avoid becoming exhausted and burned out?
‘’One of the biggest symptoms of stress is that you feel out of control, which is often brought on by shallow breathing that you aren't even aware of, and you can barely sit down without becoming stressed about it,” says Chris Christiansson, CEO of TalisLife, health software that measures energy and stress through the camera lens on your smartphone.
According to Christiansson, a first sign of stress is that our physiological state enters into fatigue and our immune system becomes weak.
‘’A person under stress will start to feel tense, experience headaches and feel restless as well as having difficulties both going to sleep and with waking up,” he says.
“A stressed person is unfocused, doing too many things at the same time while achieving little and with a mind constantly pushed to become more proactive. They are also obsessed with being connected and tend to drink more alcohol than before’’.
Do you recognize yourself?
There are 4 R techniques that you can use as a guideline when you feel overwhelmed. First you should write down what is pushing you and what you need to do on a piece of paper. Then you should:
1. Recuperate – go for a 7 min short walk and rebalance yourself to get back in calm and controlled state.
2. Reflect - go back to your list with a calm eye and reflect on each item, mark what is important and delete and re-schedule what is less important.
3. Readjust – start to reschedule your priorities according to your reflections. Adjust meetings, ask for more time, and drop things you don’t feel that you have time with even if it can be hard to let go.
4. Refocus – now you have reorganised your priorities and are ready to implement them and start again. Look in your agenda and see what is pushing you, reorganise your priorities and make plans for some physical exercise.
Christiansson compares your health in the bigger picture with your cell phone. Your phone needs to be charged over night to have enough energy for the next day. And so does your body. Your phone consumes more power when there are many apps active at the same time. And the same goes for your body.
Is there any way to know your balance, between becoming exhausted, burned out and normal? How do you know when you are reaching the point of no return?
It’s all about energy, explains Christiansson.
‘’Being active and productive is part of how stress can be good, if it gives you the energy to become more efficient. But, if it has reached the tipping point of the energy curve, you will enter a state of fatigue. When it takes more energy than it gives, you should see it as a red-light. Using up more energy than what you can recharge will make your system slow on the brake and you won’t become efficient, but rather the opposite.”
However, there is a big gap between showing fatigue from stress symptoms and getting burned out. Fatigue syndrome is a condition you may develop when you have pushed yourself too hard and are unable to recharge your body enough. This slowly makes you enter into the state of exhaustion. Burnout is the total depletion of energy with a following depression, the inability to act.
Can a four day workweek prevent you from stress?
Research conducted by the International Labour Organization under the United Nations has suggested that a four day workweek is better than five days. Firstly, this will promote workers' health, as a large part of the population's health problems are today caused by overwork. Second, it creates more jobs. Thirdly, studies show that workers are much more productive when working less.
When we ask Christiansson if a four day workweek would help, he compares the scenario to when a Formula One driver travels over 200 km per hours in his car. He is trained to do it and he cultivates those skills daily.
‘’It would be great to work four days during the week since it would create more jobs, but the risk is that people have to work even harder during these days and still not allow themselves to make time for recuperation. I think people need to be better trained to work smarter and not harder. In the end it is all about self-responsibility, to adapt to the current condition, not necessarily stepping back and working less hours. The key is not to slow down, rather a matter to adapt, take breaks during the day to slow down and to get to know yourself better’, he says.
To prevent reaching the extreme scenarios of stress and depression it is important that you get to know yourself and learn how to recognize the signs before it is too late. This is where software like the Talislife app can help you recognize lack of energy and stress signs before it is too late and give you suggestions and training protocols to proactively prevent it from happening.