How do you know if you are under stress?  Most of us think we have a pretty good idea but I know from personal experience that we can be very good at convincing ourselves that everything is OK and we're coping fine when actually our stress levels are running out of control.  In this article I'm going to share with you how you can test your stress levels and symptoms of stress that you need to look out for. 

If you're goal is to lose weight or simply improve your overall health, you need to address your stress levels.  In Part 1 of this series of articles about stress (click here to read), I explained why stress makes you store fat around the middle.  For women this is particularly relevant because we become more susceptible to the effects of stress (notably the stress hormone cortisol) as we get older.  Even if you don't think you're stressed you could be suffering from 'Hurried Woman Syndrome' - a term used to describe women who are trying to do too many things in a short space of time.

Test your stress

A tool that is commonly used to help measure stress levels is the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS).  It consists of 43 questions that require a YES/NO answer - click on this link to take the test.  If you score high (150 or above) you have an increased chance of becoming ill with a stress related illness in the near future.

Whilst the SRRS is useful, it does only include major stress events.  It doesn't include the stresses that affect us on a day-to-day basis: getting the kids up and out the door to school, commuting to work, a busy working day, commuting home, cooking dinner, washing, shopping, ironing, cleaning etc., etc.  This is the kind of stress that is relentless.  It eats away at you and you end up fighting chronically high cortisol levels as your body is constantly in fight or flight mode. 

 You might find that you develop coping mechanisms such as using caffeine to help you get through the day or relying on alcohol to help you relax every evening or perhaps you experience feelings of helplessness, anxiety or irritability.

The symptoms of stress

Whatever the cause of your stress, whether it's a major life event or the build up of every day pressures, if your cortisol levels are constantly high you might experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • A tendency to gain weight around the middle
  • Regular cravings for sweet and starchy foods like chocolate, candy, bread, cakes
  • An energy slump around 3-4pm in the afternoon (you need caffeine or something sweet to keep you going)
  • Digestive problems such as bloating or flatulence
  • A foggy brain that makes it difficult to concentrate
  • Tiredness, yet you don't sleep well at night
  • Regular headaches
  • Increased PMS or menopausal symptoms

Now is a good time to take a few minutes to think about whether there is too much stress in your life.  Are you trying to 'do it all'?  Do you regularly experience any of the symptoms listed above?  What steps can you take to reduce the amount of stress in your life?

In my next article (click here to read) I give you my top tips and ideas for reducing your stress levels and balancing your cortisol levels.

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