Gauging Stress



In a previous post I talked about stress and being “a pot that boils over”. I’m not an expert in stress management but I am an expert in being stressed out, and I’m always looking for a way be less stressed out and overwhelmed. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I am trying to pay more attention to myself and why I get so overwhelmed so easily.

(Side note:This isn’t a scientific post; this is about my own experience learning to become more self aware and care for myself. Google the word “stress” and you’ll find all you need to know about how stress shows up in your body. This post is about learning to tune into yourself and recognize your own stress warning signs.)


One thing that is helpful is to notice when my stress tank is filling up before it’s actually over flowing. In other words I’m trying to tune in to myself so that I can diffuse stress before I actually boil over.

Here are the things that show me that my stress tank is about to overflow:

1-Less stress tolerance
Little things start to irritate me more than normal. I get irritated with my family more easily than I normally would. I have less stress tolerance in general.

2-Quicker and bigger anger
Because I’m more irritable, I snap at my family faster. It takes less to send me over the edge. I’m not at the boiling point but I’m dangerously close to getting there.

3-Environmental stress
My environment starts to really bother me. Any mess or chaos is my home makes me really angry, yet the internal feelings of overwhelm paralyze me rather than spur me to deal with it. I get angry at the mess, yet am too overwhelmed to clean it up.

4-Sensory overstimulation
I start to be extremely irritated by sensory stimulation. Lights, sounds, smells, and physical sensations start to really bother me.

I start to avoid more things I need to do. This means I start to spend more time mindlessly scrolling social media or doing meaningless tasks that can wait, instead of dealing with the things I actually need to do. I start stress eating or watching more tv.

6-Physical sensations
I also pay attention to how I’m physically feeling, trying to notice the physical sensations of stress in my body. I realize I’m starting to feel anxiety when I notice butterflies in my stomach, I have a sense of adrenaline, my mind starts racing with all the things I need to do but I can’t focus on any one thing, I feel my heart is beating at a higher rate than it should when I’m resting. I generally feel jittery.

There’s no perfect internal gauge that shows you where your stress tank is at. Often its close to the boiling point before I actually realize it. It doesn’t take much for me to get there. Once I realize that I’m starting to get stressed out, I check in with myself by asking these questions:

1-What am I physically feeling and what physical need can I attend to?

2-What is bothering me in my environment that I can change immediately?

3-What circumstances are stressing me out? Is there anything I can do to attend to them?

Even writing out lists of what needs to be done releases my mind from bearing the mental load of it all.

4- What do I need to do to take care of myself to create some internal space to handle stress better?

In other words, what can I do for self care? Do I need a morning to sleep in with no kids bothering me? Do I need a day out by myself? Do I need a connecting conversation with my husband? Do I need to fold that pile of laundry? Honestly sometimes doing laundry is a form of self care because it really bothers me and I need to just deal with it!

I would love to hear how you notice your internal stress tank filling up and what you do to care for yourself to decrease your stress!

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