In yesterday's comedy moment with Michael McIntyre (here if you missed it) I think I laughed hardest as he mimicked the desperate struggle that takes place when you're trying to get a zip on a child's jacket done up under pressure.
We've all been there, right? That's what makes it so funny. We can identify with it.
But in real life it's not so funny. At that moment, when you're under pressure and you fumble and jerk and shout at your child to, 'stay still for just one minute can you?' your heart rate is elevated, your muscles are tense, your breathing has quickened and your blood pressure is up. In short, you're stressed.
If you then have to battle to get kids into the car and they nag and whinge at your for the whole trip, and then you have to battle them to get back out of the car and through the supermarket, or into swimming lessons or off to Nanna's, those symptoms and that stress sticks with you. Your body stays in that heightened state, not getting the chance it needs to reduce the stress hormones pumping around and to return to a situation of (relative) calm and zen.
Some of us live like that - in a perpetually stressed state - for days, weeks, even years, especially when children are small and demanding the majority of our time, but also if there is the additional burden of financial stress, or job stress or family stress.
Stress doesn't just have affect us physically, either. Recognise any of these?
- Getting agitated and frustrated easily
- Feeling overwhelmed, anxious or moody
- Feeling crappy, lonely, worthless or down
- Avoiding other people?
- Constant worry or racing thoughts
- Forgetting stuff and feeling disorganised (more than usual)
- Having a tough time focusing on tasks or jumping from other task to another
- Feeling pessimistic and like nothing good will come of anything
- Eating too much or not eating at all (or very little)
- Drinking too much (alcohol that is)
- Biting your nails, fidgeting, jittering or pacing?
These can also be signs of stress which affects our emotions, how we think and how we behave.
So what do we do about it?
The first thing I do is try to notice when I'm stressed. Tussling with kids zippers is a good sign, so is losing my cool with the kids over little things that are not really their doing. My stress tends to manifest in my neck and shoulders which I find creeping up towards my ears, with the muscles in my neck, upper back and jaw getting sore.
Look back at the lists above and figure out where your stress hides out.