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Are You Taking Notice? What Are Your Warning Signs Stress Is Building Up?

Many people recognise the warning signs that stress may bejust around the corner. The trouble is that most of usrarely listen to them. Instead most of us choose to ignorethem, until we become overwhelmed.

Peter, 40, a very good friend of mine, called me a few weeksago and said that he really needed to talk to me. WhenPeterwalked into the restaurant to meet me for lunch, his facetold a thousand stories. Although he looked very suntannedand healthy, his eyes had lost their sparkle. I had knownPeter for many years, seen him promoted several times in thebusy City law firm where he had worked for 20 years. Eventhough he often worked more than 60 hours a week, he hadbeen happy, in his own words, to spend the long and usuallyrewarding hours because it had paid off for him.

When I commented that he didn't seem his usual light-heartedself, he began to tell me how disillusioned he was with hiswhole life and that he had hardly slept for the last fourweeks. He said that for several years something inside himkept saying, I've had enough of all these long hours; Ijust want to have a life outside of work. When he mentionedthese inner thoughts to friends, they told him to pullhimself together, and that he would probably feel betterwhen he'd taken a holiday.

One of his friends said he'd give anything to have a joblike Peter's and, as a result, Peter began to question hisown self-wisdom. He stopped speaking to anyone about how hewas feeling, which caused him to doubt his own intuitioneven more.

Although it took some time to get Peter to open up, heseemed relieved to at last be able to speak truthfully aboutwhat was spinning round in his head. He started to tell meabout his inner conflicts, what was really tugging at him,half expecting me to say, You'll feel better in a fewdays.

He said, I can't believe I'm talking to you about this, butI can't ignore it anymore. I'm beginning to hate everysingle minute of the day at work. I spend every weekendtrying to work out how I can escape from my life. By Sundaynight I feel so stressed, I just want to run away or lock myfront door and never come out. The trouble is, all myfriends think I have everything, but inside I feel as thoughI'm missing something. Work used to give me so muchpleasure, yet nowadays I get no enjoyment at all. I went onholiday a few weeks ago, but I was kidding myself thateverything would be better after that break. As soon as Igot back to the office, I felt like I was back on the sameold treadmill within hours.

I know the job has taken over my life. All the materialpossessions I once thought measured my success - my house,holidays whenever I wanted them - no longer matter as much.But I'm afraid to try something different. I know deep downI need to make some changes, but I'm afraid of making amistake. Although I'm still putting in long hours, I knowthat the quality of my work has suffered and my boss hascommented about that several times recently.

As Peter stared at his now cold plate of food, he said, "Ikeep telling myself I should be grateful for my work, yetthe thought keeps popping into my head that enough isenough. If I am honest with myself I have probably been inthe wrong job for a long time.

Spot your own warning signs

I know that when I start to become short tempered about themost trivial things at home, it is time to take a look atwhat may be causing stress in my life. I do now usuallyrecognise my early warning signals!

Over the last few years, I have identified a number ofwarnings signs from the hundreds of people I have coached,which signal that it is time for them to be honest and havethat Courageous Conversation. You may recognise at least oneof these warning signs, but feel that things are not toobadat the moment. However, it is important to understand thatif you ignore these early warnings they will come again -and they will get worse, often when you least expect it orcan't cope.

Warning signs that it is time to have a CC include:

Extreme tiredness, inability to relax, difficulty insleeping, working most weekends, overactive mind, feelingvery disconnected from yourself and others.

Snapping at others, losing your temper, waking up in themorning and wanting to go straight back to sleep.

Frequent infections, headaches, an aching neck, heartproblems.

No time for family, friends or social activities.

Easily distracted and difficulty concentrating.

Drinking excess coffee or alcohol, shopping, watchingincreasing amounts of TV or playing computer games to switchoff.

Leaving everything until the last minute, forgetting to dosimple things.

Think chickens!

If you buy a chicken from the supermarket and keep it in thefridge for too long, it will go past its sell-by date. Youmay be able to pretend the smell doesn't exist for a fewdays. However, after a few weeks you will no longer be ableto avoid the rancid smell leaping out of the fridge everytime you open the door. In fact, that smell will contaminateeverything else in the fridge. Life is more complicatedthana rotting chicken but face it, our lives, too, start tostink if we don't pay attention to them in a timely way.

The warning signs may already be there, trying to alert youthat stress may be building up in your life, but you may notsee them if you are so caught up with the busyness of day-to-day life.

Give yourself the chance to say Yes to Less Stress. Startto become clear about what is important to you. Peter made astart when they became clear about what wasimportant in their lives.

Long hours may not be a problem for you but the stress ofcompeting priorities or overloaded in-trays may be.

To figure out what is important to you, you must set asidesome thinking time.

Where do you find it best to think? How are you going tobuild thinking time into your week? Remember, CourageousConversations won't happen unless you create the time.

What are your warning signs that stress may be buildingup.

If you are suffering with the effects of stress, Irecommend that you seek the advice of your doctor. Althoughthe suggestions I have made may be really helpful,additional medical help may be needed.

Carolyn Matheson is a nationally recognized Coach,Speaker and Author of "Yes to Less Stress."

Carolyn is a Master Certified Coach, and works with executives and their teams across theworld. She has pioneered an innovative approach to coaching,combining many years of high performance coaching with aholistic approach to work/life balance and has coachedhundreds of leaders and their teams. Her experience as apresenter, both nationally and internationally, spans 20years, with clients currently in Europe, Australia, theMiddle and Far East, and the USA.

Her new book, Yes to Less Stress is available online at from

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