Over the past year most of us will have felt stressed or anxious about the effects of the pandemic. These feelings might have been made worse by having no choice but to work remotely and speak to family and friends over a screen. We may have found ourselves without our regular support network around us or feeling pressure to do extensive amounts of additional work in order to prove that we are being productive.

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?
  • Do they become quickly frustrated or easily overwhelmed
  • 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

People can be resistant to acknowledging when they’re suffering. They may seem withdrawn or are avoiding engaging with others. If you do suspect someone you know isn’t coping with stress, have the courage to start a conversation. 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. Questions like “How have you been feeling?” and “Are you OK, I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself?” are more effective than simply telling them that you’d like them to tell you what’s wrong.

Depending on your relationship with them, 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?

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 – around half a million people in the UK claim stress at work is making them ill – 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.

CABA provides lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff and their close family members. Learn more about how to strengthen your mental wellbeing and support others on our dedicated hub.

If you’d like to know more about support from CABA, make an enquiry today or chat with a member of our Support team at caba.org.uk/letstalk.