By Dr. Kate Siner Francis

Each person shows signs of stress in different ways. However, our pattern of showing stress remains pretty consistent. As leaders we are sometimes so busy coping with stress we lose sight of the problem. This can lead to unnecessary problems. Likewise, when we are unable to see the stress of a co-worker, we might mistakenly take her behavior personally or engage in actions that inflame and not soothe the issue at hand. Learning to spot your own and others' signs of stress is helpful in mediating problems and even avoiding them altogether.

Keys to spotting stress are found in emotional symptoms, mental symptoms, and changes in behavior.

Emotional Symptoms:
Changes in mood – specifically, changes for the worse – are often signs of stress. Long-standing changes in mood are important to note because they might be signs of an underlying physical or mental condition such as depression. However, if you see yourself or a co-worker being more negative, being critical of herself, crying more, losing motivation, or starting to withdraw, these are signs to be concerned about.

Mental Symptoms:
Just like changes in our mood, changes in our mental clarity are sometimes signs of stress. People who are under stress for a long period actually experience changes in their frontal lobe. It becomes less active, and they become unable to make the same quality decisions they did when not under stress. Signs of stress-induced changes in mental functioning include confusion, inability to concentrate and poor memory.

Changes in Behavior:
Many women under stress see changes in their eating habits – eating both more or less, increased use of substances such as alcohol and tobacco, changes in their sleeping habits, and less productivity or decreased attendance at work. It is easy to attribute these changes to something besides stress – for example, it is the holidays, or I have just been a little busier than usual – but these changes in behavior, especially when paired with mental and emotional symptoms, can be indicators of work-related stress.

Oftentimes, we are not able to see our own stress, but someone else can: just as we might be able to see the impact of another person's work-stress but they cannot. While it is kind and helpful to talk to someone who is experiencing stress, not everyone responds to this information in a positive way. A stressed person might feel criticised instead of being supported. You will likely be most effective if you truly have the wish to help, pick a good time and place, and let go of the outcome. Letting go of the outcome means not expecting immediate reception of your perspective and not needing to force the issue. Odds are, in time, your co-worker will thank you for caring enough to try to help.