Stress Signals: The Effects of Stress on Your Body Handout (.PDF printable) Plus Journaling Prompts

Young Woman looking Frustrated and Stressed with Handout on her left

Do you soldier on, when really, you should stop and take care of yourself? Do you keep going when what you really need is to say “No” or to rest and relax? If so, you’re not alone—many people struggle to be kind to themselves. 

But stress, while helpful and motivating in smaller or short doses, can be bad for our health when that stress is ongoing—or when we don’t take good care of ourselves during stressful times.

In this article:

Learn why your stress signals are so important, get a printable .PDF of The Effects of Stress on Your Body, along with journaling prompts to go deeper and identify your own unique stress signals.

  1. Why is it so important to know our Signs of Stress?
  2. Our Stress Signals are unique to us!
  3. Get The Effects of Stress on Your Body (.PDF printable)
  4. Journaling Prompts to Identify Your Stress Signals—and Go Deeper
  5. Wrap-up

Why is it important to know our Signs of Stress?

Well, the big idea is that once you know your stress signals, this is your signal to take care of yourself.

Your stress signals are essentially the cue for you to pay attention to what’s going on with you; an early warning system that lets you know you need to take care of you.

So knowing your stress signals is not important—it’s essential for your wellbeing.

Because when we ignore our stress for long enough, we move from a primary stress response to a secondary stress response, and that’s where we can start experiencing health issues.

Stress Signals are also a reminder to be kind to yourself!

One of the easiest ways to learn to be kind to yourself is to use your signs of stress as a message from yourself that you need some self-kindness.

Yes, ultimately we should always be kind to ourselves 1, but for most of us, this is not yet a habit. So one great way to begin a self-kindness habit is to learn to give ourselves kindness when we’re stressed.

1 True kindness is not always soft and gentle… Kindness can also be tough and strong for example, Fierce Kindness, is a kindness that includes being firm with ourselves, others, or doing something brave that takes us out of our comfort zones…

Our Stress Signals are unique to us!

Whilst I could easily reel off a list of signs of stress (see the Effects of Stress on Your Body handout!), there will be early warning signs: bodily, behavioural and thinking changes that are unique to you.

These changes are what let you know you’re stressed. And if you can tune into those earlier, you can take action to reduce or prevent your stress from escalating.

I’ve created some journaling prompts to help you identify your Top 5 Signs of Stress. But first a little help and my personal examples!

The 4 main categories our stress signals fall into:

  1. PHYSICAL changes like: headaches, tense neck/shoulders/jaw, increased heartrate, dizzy/nausea, stomach cramps, breakouts, a sinking feeling, flushing, feeling heavy, hyper, fidgety etc.
  2. EMOTIONAL changes like feeling: sad, tearful, on edge, grumpy, angry, easily frustrated, bad, shame, guilt, grief, wistful/nostalgia.
  3. THINKING changes like: foggy or slow thinking, racing thoughts, increased self-judgement, thinking you are unlovable or unlikable, globalisation (everything is going wrong/bad/stupid).
  4. BEHAVIOUR changes like: making unhealthy choices, cravings eg. sugar or fatty foods, rushing, more indecisive than usual, withdrawal from others, being snippy or intolerant with others, over-sensitive/reactive, swearing more.

Here are my top 5 stress signals

Here’s an example of what I mean by unique stress signals:

  1. Tense shoulders/jaw/neck
  2. I start swearing!
  3. I rush things unnecessarily (and often make silly mistakes)
  4. I crave snacks (esp. sugary foods)
  5. And bizarrely yet helpful if I pay attention: I have this strong urge to tidy things and make lists to get back ‘in control’!

This list is super-helpful, because now when I notice one or more of these signals, I know it’s time to slow down, check-in and be kind to myself.

And this is what I want for you too!

Grab Your Effects of Stress on Your Body & Warning Signs (.PDF printable)

In this handout you’ll find common physical signs and responses to 1) primary, immediate stress and 2) ongoing, untreated stress as well as 3) warning signs to look for.

I created this handout to give you some ideas of what’s going on in your body—and mind—when you’re stressed. The goal is to help you both identify your own stress signals and also to highlight the negative impacts of untreated stress.

Effects of Stress on Your Body Handout Image
Journaling Prompts to Identify Your Stress Signals and Go DeeperHand with Butterflies

So, are you ready to go deeper with some journaling prompts to help you identify your unique signs of stress? If so, grab your journal or ponder the following questions over a quiet cup of tea or coffee.

  1. Start by reviewing The Effects of Stress on Your Body Handout .PDF.
  2. What are the signals your body, mind or behaviour sends you when you’re stressed? What are your unique stress signs or ‘tells’? The more specific you can be, the better!
    1. ___________________________________________________________
    2. ___________________________________________________________
    3. ___________________________________________________________
    4. ___________________________________________________________
    5. ___________________________________________________________
  • TIP: Imagine the last time you were stressed. Think about what you did, how you felt (both physically and emotionally), what you said to yourself. If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, what might a loved one or colleague have noticed? What might a stress expert say?
  • Can’t think of 5 things? Use this as an opportunity to pay attention over the next little while and begin to figure out your unique signs of stress!
  1. What are some of the COMMON STRESSORS in your life that cause your stress? Make a list.
    • Who is involved? Why and under what circumstances do these come up?
    • HOW OFTEN these stress signals appear. Whilst these may not be regular would you say roughly several times a day? Every 2-3 days? Weekly, Monthly?
    • What is your role in creating these stressors?
    • What could you do differently?
  2. What is the IMPACT of these stressors on your health, relationships, career, confidence, enjoyment of life etc.? Make a list.
    • As you ponder what you’ve learned about your stressors and the impacts on you, how has your thinking about stress and self-care changed?
  3. What are SOME IDEAS you’ve been having of things you could do to be kind to yourself, or changes to make in your life—however small? Make a list.
  4. What are you willing to take ACTION on? Write out at least ONE action to reduce/eliminate a stressor in your life.
  5. Finally, write out your Top 5 Stress Signals somewhere you’ll see them often. Then over the next month or so, make an effort to notice when they occur. Then each time they do, ask:
    • What would be a Kind thing I could do for myself now?
    • What would be a Fiercely Kind thing I could do?
    • What’s the minimum I could do
    • What will I do?

Wrap-upFierce Kindness Logo

I hope you loved this article and Stress Signals and Warning Signs .PDF Handout!

Remember that your signs of stress are the first step to taking care of yourself and doing something about it. After all, you can’t change something you’re not aware of…

It’s also important to remember that when we ignore our stress signals, when we keep going anyway, there can be serious impacts on our health and experience of life.

And finally, taking care of ourselves when we’re stressed boosts our resilience, making us stronger and better able to withstand difficult times.

I’ll leave you with a quote that helps me when I’m stressed:

Something’s got to give. Don’t let it be you. Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins Quote

Image of Stressed Your Woman grimacing with hands in the air by Freepik

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