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Stress indicators: Are you or your colleagues stressed?

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Stress indicators: Are you or your colleagues stressed

What are the signs that I am stressed?

How can I tell if I am stressed? Are my colleagues stressed? What are the signs?

Did you know that chronic stress can cause a change of balance in the white and grey brain matter? This diminishes a person’s decision-making capacity and causes memory problems.

We know that there is a natural tendency not to show weakness so often a colleague won’t be truthful in their response to “Are you okay?”.

Try an alternative approach. Learn how to use the feed forward technique.

How to tell whether someone is stressed and what to do

Watch the video to understand how to recognise the signs of stress, what chronic stress does to our brains, and what leaders and organisations can do to help.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 5 – Why are some people more sensitive to stress?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 3 – Examining the neuroscience of stress

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

What are the signs that I am stressed?

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number four in our eight video sequence on leading in tough times.

We’ve dealt with a range of things so far in this sequence.

We’ve talked about the definition for leadership.

We’ve talked about stress and stressors and the neuroscience of stress.

And this particular video is about, am I stressed? Are my colleague stressed? What are the signs?

And then next we’ll be going on to the question of resilience and why some people are more stress sensitive than others.

Indicators of stress

Stress indicators.

Are you stressed? Things like feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, feeling guilty or unhappy, being irritable, losing confidence and being indecisive, thinking negatively, having racing thoughts, having memory problems, or excessive worrying.

And if you look at these indicators of personal stress, you notice that some of them are emotional in the sense of feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, guilty or unhappy, being irritable.

But some of them are actually to do with capability, losing confidence and being indecisive.

Now that can be literally because people’s capacity to make good decisions declines when the stress is high enough.

Change of balance in white and grey brain matter

Now, when people are chronically stressed for long enough what it will do is it will change the balance of white and grey matter in the brain.

And putting that in simple terms, the white matter is kind of connective tissue linking bits of the brain together.

The grey matter is actually what does the processing. And if a person is under stress for long enough, then the amount of white matter in the brain will increase and the amount of grey matter will decrease.

And that will cause the lessened capacity to make good decisions. And it will also cause memory problems. People have trouble remembering, calling back their ideas. And of course, people will excessively worry.

Now in our live events, we run a poll on this. And what you’ll find is that usually in tough times, you’ll find maybe 30% of people reporting these kinds of experiences regularly during the last week.

How to recognise a colleague in stress?

But then there’s a question about colleagues and being able to recognise whether they’re stressed, and there are some key markers.

Do they seem more anxious than normal? Now you notice that a lot of these have a kind of a benchmark component to it, a baseline kind of a component.

Are these people different from how they usually are? This can be a challenge. Particularly, if you don’t know them very well and also if they’re working from home.

So if they are working from home and there is a video later in this sequence to talk about some clues about how to lead in tough times when people are working from home, but you need to be conscious of trying to get closer to people by using methods of communication that cause you to see their non-verbals. That will show you whether people are more likely to be stressed or that they may be struggling.

Are they more anxious than normal? Are they losing their temper more quickly? Are they noisier or are they quiet than usual? Have they lost their sense of humour? Are they less confident than usual, hesitant to try things or asking for help? Are they avoiding you or are they over contacting you? I guess what this shows is that people have very various responses to stress.

Some hunker down and that will be the freeze response.

Some will be more outgoing and perhaps even aggressive and that will be the flight response.

Some will seek to remove themselves more and that’s more of the flight response.

So different responses will be determined by different situations and also by different personality types.


How do you find this sort of stuff out? There is here in Australia I think called an “Are you okay?” day.

And the, “Are you okay?” day is where you actually ask somebody, “Are you okay?” And that’s a good thing to do.

You should ask if somebody is okay. “Are you okay?” is a literally effective question to ask.

But you know what? That’s not always an easy question to answer. If you are my boss and you ask me, “Am I okay?” It’s a natural tendency for me to not want to show weakness.

And it’s a natural tendency for me to say, “Yeah, I’m fine.” So that might not always be the truth.

So what you focus on as we’ve described in previous videos in this sequence and we’ll describe again in future videos, what you focus on tends to turn on certain parts of the brain.

Are you okay? And how has the last week gone? You’ll notice that’s kind of past focused.

The feed forward approach

An alternative is a technique called feed forward, where you’re asking people to give you guidance about the future. So asking somebody “Are they okay?” do that.

But if you don’t feel that you’re getting the complete answer, it’s a really sensible thing to ask a future based question which might be something like “Is there anything that we can do to make this work better for you in future?” “Is there anything we can do to make this more comfortable?” “Is there anything we can do to make this more productive?”

Those kinds of questions, which are focused on the future, will tend to get better answers because they’re simply not as focused on the past.

And focusing on the past tends to turn on the part of the emotional system that’s to do with anger, fear, depression.

That’s why, if you tell somebody about something that they’ve done wrong in the past, quite often, you’ll get this defensive reaction. Defensiveness being a kind of a mix of anger, fear, and depression.

Whereas if you ask them to do something a certain way in the future, you tend to get a more positive reaction or a less negative reaction at the very least.

Largely because you’re turning on the more productive and creative parts of the brain. The prefrontal cortex, for instance, which is the part of the brain that can see the future and can also generate solutions.

So these are some ideas about how to find out whether you’re stressed and whether other people are stressed.

In the next video, we’re going to address the question “Why some people are more stress sensitive than others?”

In effect, the question of resilience.

Fascinating stuff.

Join us for the next video.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about leadership in tough times:

Part 5 – Why are some people more sensitive to stress?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 3 – Examining the neuroscience of stress

And if you’d like some help with developing your leaders to better handle challenging times, contact us about our Wellbeing and Engagement Survey.

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