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  • Writer's pictureDr Emma Kell

Do You Know Your Stress Signals? By Dr Emma Kell


Stress has some distinct positive functions. Without it, why bother getting out of bed in the morning? In fact, there’s such a thing as positive stress, known as ‘eustress’. For our purposes, let’s imagine this as ‘green’ stress. This type of ‘green’ stress is associated with

motivation, excitement, higher levels of wellbeing and the kind of adrenaline that helps us get fulfilling things done.


There’s also day-to-day stress – let’s call this ‘amber’ stress. It’s fair to say that most of us contend with this most of the time. This is the stress associated with juggling lots of important (and some less-important) tasks; it’s the stress of a big to-do list (let’s be honest, we’re literally never going to be able to tick it all off) – of marking deadlines, dentist appointments, duties to loved-ones and a general sense of having an awful lot on. As Nora Roberts reminds us, considering the balls you’re juggling and identifying which are made of plastic (if you drop them, there’s no major consequence) and which are made of glass (the precious ones; if you drop them, they break) can help us to prioritise, and importantly deprioritise, the many things on our to-do list and find more balance.


If we continue with the traffic-light analogy and now reflect on times in our lives when we’ve tipped into ‘red’ stress – chronic, dangerous stress, which threatens our health, our relationships, and our precious happiness.


Being mindful of what exactly happens to you, physically and emotionally, when the balance

starts to tip from amber to red is key. If you can name it, note it and respond to it, you have

far more chance of keeping your stress levels under control. It’s different for each of us, but our research has shown the following as common signs that stress is starting to become unmanageable:


· Headaches, aches around the shoulders and neck

· Becoming more tearful than usual

· A tendency to either over-work or procrastinate

· Become quiet, withdrawn or losing your sense of humour

· Trouble sleeping

· Rashes or hives

· Loss of appetite


What would you add?


How does the transition from manageable day-to-day stress to chronic stress affect you?


Once you’ve named these signs (and possibly shared with trusted relatives, friends and colleagues), you’ve already taken away some of their power and this is when you remind yourself that you have choices. You might be inclined to curl up on the sofa instead of taking a brisk walk, cancel plans instead of meeting up with old friends, reach for the takeaway menu instead of cook… all of these are understandable and fine in moderation, and it makes sense that we’re more likely to go for them – they’re easier!


But honour yourself (and your loved ones) – remember, in the words of Audre Lorde that

caring for yourself ‘is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation’. Seek out nature, go for that walk, make that doctor’s appointment, reach out to the old friend who offers comfort and laughter. It can be really beneficial to make these nourishing activities part of the habits and routines.


But always remember, you have more control than you might sometimes imagine.


April is Stress Awareness Month and to support our fellow educators and school staff we're giving free access to our online module on the topic of stress for the whole month. Sign-up here and register for your ‘Free Preview’.

Dr Emma Kell is a Coach, Specialist Leader of Education and works as a Teaching School Lead for Aspire AP, a PRU in Buckinghamshire. She is author of How to Survive in Teaching (Bloomsbury, 2018) and co-author of A little Guide for Teachers: Well-being and Self-Care (Sage, 2020).

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