How to spot stress in others

Jun 10, 2019

If we asked you to think about stress, you may well think back to the last time you had a stressful experience and how it affected you personally. But when someone around you is stressed – whether it’s a friend, work colleague or member of your family – it can have a negative impact on you too.

While you may be coping well with your own stress levels, dealing with someone else’s is an entirely different story. But knowing how to spot spiralling stress levels in others could help stop things from getting any worse. And that could have a positive effect not just on your own wellbeing, but that of the other person too. Here are some of the main things to watch out for, plus a few practical suggestions on how to tackle the problem.

Tell-tale body signs

The human body reacts to stress in lots of physical ways, some of which are difficult to spot in other people. But some may be easy to identify, including:

  • A tendency to sweat more than normal or having a nervous twitch
  • Smoking and/or drinking more than normal
  • Eating too many unhealthy foods or having no appetite

If this person confides in you they may have also complained about not being able to sleep very well lately. Or they may have mentioned that they’re suffering from more headaches than usual, or that they often feel sick or dizzy.

Emotional signals

Stress also has a powerful effect on how someone feels and behaves, so look out for changes in other people’s moods and what they do. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do they seem more anxious or irritable than normal?

  • Are they losing their temper more quickly than they used to?
  • Are they constantly worrying about things?
  • Have they suddenly lost their sense of humour or are they suffering from uncharacteristically low self-esteem?

Someone who is under too much stress may also have trouble concentrating or making decisions, and they may shy away from difficult situations.

Tackle stress head on

If you do suspect someone you know isn’t coping with stress, speak to them. Stress can make people feel isolated, and keeping things bottled up only makes it worse. You don’t have to be a stress counsellor, just a good listener – and allowing them to talk things through could help them find a solution to their problems.

Depending on your relationship, you could also encourage them to get involved in activities that may help them cope better. For example, taking regular exercise often helps people see their concerns more clearly as well as deal with them more calmly. So why not suggest going for a walk in the fresh air or organise some team sports at work or at home? And the best part is, you’d benefit from all that extra exercise too.

However, if you do not feel comfortable having these discussions or feel the individual needs profession advice encourage them to seek help from their GP. Meanwhile if the person under stress is a work colleague who isn’t coping with their workload, persuade them to talk to their manager about it. Suffering from stress at work is alarmingly common these days so there is no stigma attached to it. And by talking to their manager, they can identify the tasks that are important and stop worrying about the low-priority jobs.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.