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Discover your stress signature

Protect your health using this simple method to detect early signs of stress


Feeling under pressure is something we all deal with from time to time. A certain amount can be motivating, helping us to focus and get something done.


But, if the pressure doesn’t stop, we can soon become stressed as we attempt to keep up with relentless demands.


Unfortunately, thanks to how particular hormones ready us for action, long-term stress takes a toll on the body’s systems.

Woman looking into a telescope moon is above her

It has been found to play a role in heart disease, digestive problems, and muscular skeletal issues, not to mention burnout.


Psychologically, stress can cause depression and anxiety. It can also make existing mental health issues worse.


However if you know your stress signature, the symptoms you experience when your stress response is running, you can protect your health by using it as an indication that it's time to take action.

Uncovering your stress signature

When someone comes to me because they are feeling stuck, stressed or struggling to cope in particular situations, one of the first things I do is understand how their stress response runs.


To do this, I use a SPACE Audit (1) to comprehensively map out how they are thinking, feeling (physically and emotionally), and behaving.


The SPACE Audit was created to unpack any unsettling experience. It provides a framework for objectively examining all aspects of an experience. Each aspect’s first letter spells out SPACE – Situation, Physical body, Actions, Cognitions and Emotions -hence its name.

By deconstructing how we are reacting to a situation, we can identify how we can change our response and/or support ourselves differently.


As it can be used to unpack any unsettling experience, we can use it to discover our stress signature.


SPACE Audit of stress response


S: What was the situation?

Bring to mind a recent circumstance or conversation that has been stress-inducing for you.


Using the lists below as reference, note down how you felt physically, mentally, emotionally and what you did or didn’t do.


P: What happened physically?

Headache, migraine

Poor focus, concentration

Eye twitch

Dry mouth

Jaw pain

Tense shoulders

Backache

Palpitations

Sweating/clamminess

Little, no appetite

Butterflies in stomach

Tummy trouble

Skin allergies

Sleeping difficulties

Something else?


A: What actions did/didn’t you do or take?

Avoided situations/people/tasks

Ate less/more

Bit nails

Comfort ate

Smoked more

Drank more caffeine/alcohol

Made passive aggressive comments

Scratched an area of the body

Didn’t take breaks/worked through

Snapped at others

Withdrew/sulked

Other?


C: What was going on cognitively (in the mind)?

Imagined things going wrong

Imagined what others were thinking

Had racing thoughts

Made self-doubting/downing statements

Had worrying thoughts

Something else?


E: How did you feel emotionally?

Angry

Down, depressed

Doubtful

Frustrated

Guilty

Helpless

Insecure

Irritated

Isolated

Not in control/out of control

Overwhelmed

Panicked, sense of dread

Scared

Uncertain

Another feeling?


What’s your stress signature?

Having done this review you will now have an idea of how you tend to respond when you feel stressed. Let’s confirm there is nothing else that occurs by recalling another situation and checking through the lists again.


Once you have reviewed a couple of circumstances, what do you notice about your stress signature?

Do you respond to feeling stressed by having symptoms or signs in a particular area (such as mentally) or are they spread across each aspect?

I find my clients tend to have strong responses in one, maybe two, areas and that certain things happen earlier and others later.


What are your early signs?

I find I feel stressed mentally (C) and emotionally (E) first…

C

I picture I am just ahead of a wave but, it might crash on me at any minute.


I tell myself there is insufficient time, imagine things going wrong and make self-doubting statements.

E

I feel a sense of dread and lack of control. I am both irritable and worried.


What symptoms come later?

I know if I don’t start taking action to manage myself early enough then the following will start to happen.


P

I lose ability to focus and have sleep difficulties (wake in the night).


A

I start to skip lunch, don’t eat well, drink alcohol and don’t engage with others. I press on even though I know I should take a break.


E

I have low mood, feel isolated and overwhelmed.


The later signs don’t happen so much these days, as I know my early signals, but they can do if I ignore the first set of indicators.


How to use your signature

Of course knowing your stress signature is only useful if you do something when you notice the signs!


As feeling stressed tends to be driven by thoughts of lack (resources, abilities, time) or attack, my go to is Benson’s Relaxation Technique.


Doing this for 10 minutes ends my self-doubting, insufficient time and things going wrong thoughts and restores a sense of calm.


Once I feel calmer, I can reflect on the stressors which usually means writing a list and identifying ways to deal with them.


As each of us is different, the key to stress reduction is to simply start trying things when you notice your stress response firing up. If you do this, you will soon have a personalised way to feel back in control.



In summary

Your stress signature is personal. It is made up of how you feel (physical and emotional), think and behave when feeling stressed


Only you know when your stress response has been switched on. This means only you can take action to switch it off.

Identifying how you think, feel and act when feeling stressed and what works to bring you into a calmer state can protect your health and safeguard your wellbeing.


Take care of you.


If you find certain situations cause you to become stressed, anxious or worried, get in touch for a free, no obligation 30-minute call to explore how a completed SPACE Audit can help.


References

1. Edgerton, N. & Palmer, S. (2005). SPACE: A psychological model for use within cognitive behavioural coaching, therapy and stress management. The Coaching Psychologist, 1 (2), 25–31.

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