“I’m fine, all good!” How many times a day do we say this and hence start to believe it. There are times when yes everything is fine and systems go. But there are those times when the auto answer of “All is well” may not be so. 

There are some ways in which we can more accurately check-in that don’t involve incessant monitoring of our vital signs. Usually if you are doing these things it’s demonstrating that you are already tuned in and listening. 

Those of you who forget to check in with yourselves these tips might help. This one came up at my child's doctors' appointment. The doctor always ask how things are going and I started to rattle off that we had just moved twice in the last year, there had been lots of travel, family illness……. the list went on, and got rather long. No wonder my kid was acting like a 2 year old, yet he was 5. I myself had become a snickers commercial looking a bit more like Dafoe, not so much Monroe (https://youtu.be/PtYLipxzVN8). 

From this interaction the idea sprang that because it was the welfare of my child the question of well-being was taken with much more consideration. To get a proper diagnosis and assessment I of course wanted to give her thorough and relevant information.

So to better assess your stress level or health status consider yourself with same care you would the welfare of a loved one. Try to think of all the information and be as accurate as possible. Think of how someone that loves you would assess your present status. They would not minimize the stress, or leave things out if they are looking out for you. 

Now if this approach doesn’t suit you can take more of a remote approach but still have the goal of accuracy. Think like an investigator solving a case. To solve this case of “assessing stress” you need to get the right and relevant information. An investigator will gather as many facts and evidence as possible so they can properly “solve the case”. You should do the same.

Other things to consider when assessing your stress level is start small and pan out to the big picture. You can think of the morning you had, then telescope out from there, reflect on the day, the last week,  the last few weeks, months, and even the year. Often times something heavy or traumatic might have happened six months ago and your brain decides to process it now. 

Beyond telescoping time you can zoom out your physical environment as well. How is your body(heart rate, breathing, fatigue, mood, healing time, etc.), your family, your neighborhood, community, and further out to the world? Recently the state of the country and world has been weighing heavily on people and ticking that stress meter up. 


Now you have assessed that your stress is at a 10, while you thought it was at a 2. Don’t stress! Heehee! All kidding aside, in the past stress was demonized and it was recommended to avoid it at all costs. In this TED talk Kelly McGonigal describes succinctly the new research that our opinion of stress is crucial. If we can view stress as important and even helpful our body can handle it better. For example creating less vasoconstriction with the increased heart rate that comes with stressful events. Oxytocin, "hug hormone" along with adrenaline gets released, and the former urges us to connect socially which helps us to thrive and survive. 

Even with this new information that stress is good it's still a good idea to properly monitor it because it can tick up past our tolerance level and create ill health effects. So it might be good to create some respite from the stress. You can think about not adding that extra event on Friday night. Take a morning off on Saturday, and chill in bed. If you have kids tell them it’s a cartoon morning and relax. Take a de-load week at the gym. Take a yoga class instead of the spin class, or better yet get a massage. Hug your cat, or your kid if you have one. When you are being stressed from your inside or outside world you have to recognize it, most importantly tell yourself you can handle it, stress is not all bad, and act accordingly. 

When things are back to an actual 2 on the stress level, now you can add in more of the physical stress to make you stronger for next time. Remember when you are at that 2 your tolerance, and threshold for all input(pain, irritation, screaming child or boss) is higher. Use that time to increase your strength and stamina. Making you stronger is crucial, the stronger you are, it will take a lot more to break you down the next time. I talk about this in this article.  

As always it depends. The amount of stress, load, activity one person can take is not the same amount as the next person. So say you’re doing 8 million things and a friend says you should chill out and rest. So you do your self check-in, and your body and mind is all good. You can thank your friend for looking out for you, but actually this is still below your threshold for that time and space. So all systems are go, good on you. 

Know your physiology and what it can take on. There are those of us who need more sleep and less stimulus, but you can always work to strengthen it and become more resilient, to be able to push the limits more next time.

More caveats as always, on the flip side there are those out there who register every pin prick and minor discomfort. It might be good for these folks to step away from the hyper vigilance seeing every innocuous event as a threat, and take some of McGonigal's advice of seeing the stress as a positive instead of a negative. These people you might actually advice not to register everything. A bit of stress amnesia would work for them. They need to start believing that their bodies are marvelously strong, they just need to convince their mind of that. 

Now I happen to know I need some rest so signing off now to take a nap.

Catherine Cowey