‘How are you?’ Are you a person who always responds to this question with ‘Busy’? Then this is an article for you to read.

I was once a person who ate her lunch at her desk, had no time for a chat at the coffee machine and ran from meeting to meeting without being really productive and efficient. What resulted in taking my work home, to compensate for the time I had ‘lost’ during the day, this way I still got something done. Until one day I could not get out of bed. My body was aching, I could not move. I had to be honest with myself. I had ignored all the signals. Not listening to all the smaller signs, my body gave me a signal I could not ignore. It was time to change things.

In my work as a Human Resource professional, I have seen a lot of people struggling with stress(ors) for very different reasons. Some up to a point of mental and physical exhaustion. Because I had seen the signs daily at the people I was working with, I knew I had to take action, otherwise, I would hit a wall sooner or later and be burnout.

For me, it was time to change things and for you too if you recognize the signs. I have added actions for you to take on short-term, this to give you the tools to change things for the better. You can make a difference for yourself to take a few minutes of your time to read this article, take another few minutes to reflect and make the necessary changes for personal sustainability. Longterm over short-term.

1. Taking work home/ always on

Can’t stop thinking about work when you are at home? Do you work extra hours to get things done? Reading and responding emails 24/7?

Action: Organize yourself and prioritize then disconnect and focus. Organizing is a time-saver. Prioritizing is a necessity. When you have the overall picture, then you know if you are actually busy or if you are busy in your head. Having the overall picture means that you are able to take appropriate action like talking to your manager about your workload, stop thinking you are busy when you look up to a difficult meeting et cetera. Switch off your phone from to time to time and spend time with family and friends. Important is to be fully present. This is only possible when you are organized, otherwise, you are still thinking about work, while your mind fills with anxiety. When that happens, you are distracted and that means you are not recharging your energy level. And that is exactly what you need.

2. Poor selfcare

Stopped going to the gym? Eating easy to prepare/ unhealthy food? Don’t take time to read or do other things that are giving you energy and help you to relax? Stopped attending social events?

Action: Put yourself first! When you are healthy, full of energy, inspired and relaxed, you will be more productive and efficient. This has nothing to do with selfishness. It is choosing what is right for you and therefore right for others longterm. You will feel rewarded afterwards and you will remember how good it feels to workout, to see your friends and how a nutritious fueled body feels.

3. Health problems/ body signals

Headache? Lower back pain? Tense shoulders and neck? Sleep problems? Restlessness? Chest pain? Unconsciously clench your fists or jaws? Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)?

Stress manifests in your body. Your body gives you signals. Your mind tends not to listen to the signals because they are not helping you towards what you think you want. When the head does not listen, the signals become heavier and eventually they can no longer be denied like what happened to me.

Action: Start to notice what kind of signals your body is giving you. What is your body trying to tell you? You can take painkillers, alcohol or even drugs or you can treat the ultimate cause with a more sustainable solution. Start to write down what you feel when. Do you see a pattern? Certain time of day that you feel more or less stress? A specific event causing you stress or a combination of events? If you are able to label your stressors, you can anticipate.

4. Cognitive difficulties

Are you easily distracted? Do you suffer from memory loss? Are you making (small) mistakes? Are you having trouble with decision making and/ or determining priorities? Are you responding more emotional than usual?

You are not yourself, maybe that is making you insecure. You are not able to change your behavior and you blame yourself for being stupid. (Un)noticed you are in a downward spiral.

Action: You need time to recover. Your body is over-stimulated. Putting in more effort or working longer hours will not solve anything. You need to recharge your energy level. Do you know how you gain energy? Go and do more of that. Not for a day or two, but integrate it in your daily life.

5. Dissatisfaction/ losing motivation

Not feeling motivated to go to work? Not feeling satisfied after a day’s work? Reduced performance? Are you in doubt about your job?

You don’t feel motivated by the imbalance between input and the output. The only thing you can think of is finishing your to-do list, but you only see it growing. You are not energized by your work, but you drown in it.

Action: Focus on what is achievable and realistic. Are you organized and do you have your to-do list as mentioned at the first signal ‘Taking work home’? Is your to-do list realistic? Focus on what you do like. When your focus is on the negative, you will see more of the negative. When your focus is on the positive, you will see more of…. yes the positive.

Talk to someone you trust about how you feel and what keeps you busy. Can be a relative, a friend, HR professional, a coach, your manager or your doctor. You are not failing, you are taking responsibility and you do not have to do it alone.

It is important to recharge and find balance. Next is to find out what the ultimate cause is of your behavior. If you do not know what is causing the way you feel, you are not able to change your behavior for the better. You can spend loads of resources on recharging your energy, but it is likely to happen again if you do not know how you ended up in that situation. Focus on a long-term solution, not just symptom treatment. Because you deserve a healthy, energized and happy life.

Did you know it is easier for the people around you to see the signs then for yourself? And that most people think they can still manage when they are actually in survival mode and that is why people ignore pleas from friends and coworkers? Since it is easier to recognize the signs in someone else than in yourself, please share this article with a person who you are worried about as a start of a conversation. You are doing them a huge favor.

Humans are capable of working hard. It is about balancing your energy level and managing your energy gainers and drainers. It is important to pay attention to yourself and to be honest with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. You are unique. What do you need? What do you want? Not: what is expected of me? Meeting up unrealistic standards, doing things that are not aligned with who you are, will stress you out.

You need to take action if you recognize these signs. It will not stop or go away by itself, it will only get worse. Afraid of the consequences? What is more important: your work or your health?

How do you cope with busy times? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, as I like to learn from you.

This article is based on my own experience and on my experience in my career as an HR professional where I have often had to deal with stress-related issues. The article was first published on LinkedIn, because of the medium I focus on work issues in this article. Work is not the reason for having these symptoms by itself neither is the employer or the employee ‘guilty’ of these symptoms/ signs. Several things added up result in structures in someone’s life that no(t) (longer) serve anyone, that is what causes these symptoms/ signs.