how to spot the tell-tale signs of stress

Stress can affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can impact our health, productivity, and relationships. It’s much further reaching than we think. Here’s how to identify stress in yourself and others.

Small amounts of stress can be useful, but a constant feeling of overwhelm can have a real impact on our physical and mental health.

While you may be coping well with your own stress levels, dealing with someone else’s stress is a very different story.

But knowing how to spot spiralling stress levels in your colleagues, friends, or loved ones could help stop things from getting worse.

“When I first spoke to caba, I could tell straightaway that I was speaking to someone skilled and experienced. I felt understood very quickly and I was so relieved that I’d put my hand up to ask for help.”


caba client

This will have a positive effect not just on them, but on your own wellbeing, too, since you’re less likely to carry the weight of other people’s emotions.

Here are some of the main things to watch out for, plus a few practical suggestions on how to support someone dealing with stress.

physical signs

Our bodies react to stress in lots of physical ways. That’s because our autonomic nervous systems – which controls our heart rate, breathing, vision, and more – go into overdrive.

This “fight-or-flight response”, is designed to help the body face stressful situations, but it can be difficult to spot in other people. Some of the signs include:

  • sweating more than usual
  • twitching
  • dizziness or shaking
  • smoking and/or drinking more than normal
  • digestive problems, such as IBS or nausea
  • eating unhealthily, or a loss of appetite
  • sleeping issues

emotional signals

Stress also has a powerful impact on how someone feels and behaves, so look out for changes in other people’s moods and what they say/do. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • do they seem more anxious or irritable than usual?
  • do they become quickly frustrated or easily overwhelmed?
  • are they losing their temper more quickly than they used to?
  • are they constantly worrying?
  • do they overthink things?
  • have they lost their sense of humour?
  • are they suffering from low self-esteem (especially if they didn’t used to)?
  • do they struggle to concentrate or make decisions?
  • do they shy away from difficult situations?

start a conversation

It’s not easy to admit we’re struggling. Someone feeling stressed may therefore become withdrawn or avoid engaging with others completely. If you think someone you know isn’t coping with stress, start a conversation with them.

You don’t have to be a stress counsellor, just a good listener. Allowing them to talk things through could help them find a solution on their own.

Don’t order them to tell you what’s wrong – this could cause them to close up. Instead, try open questions like “How are you feeling?” and “Are you OK? I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself lately.” These begin a dialogue that can lead to open and honest discussions.

“My husband said he hadn't realised how far he'd strayed from his values and where he wants to be. We were able to discuss the need for peace and tranquillity and talk about some goals together.”


caba client

find out if work is stressing them out

If the person feeling stressed is a work colleague who isn’t coping with their unrealistically heavy workload, persuade them to talk to their manager about it. They may be able to get their workload reduced. Admitting that they can’t do it all is the first step to getting things back under control. Suffering from stress at work is alarmingly common. Around half a million people in the UK claim stress at work is making them ill.

“I first got in touch with caba on behalf of my husband. He's a chartered accountant and had recently been unwell, which made both us think about how we handle stress in our lives.”


caba client

By talking to their manager, they can identify the important tasks and stop worrying about low-priority jobs.

You can find more tips on tackling workplace stress and reducing workload here.

suggest getting active

Depending on your relationship with them, you could also encourage them to get involved in activities that may help them cope better.

For example, regular exercise often helps calm people down, which allows them to see their concerns more clearly, and maybe even find a solution to their source of stress. 

You could suggest going out for a walk in the fresh air. Getting out in nature has proven benefits to our mood and mental wellbeing.

know where to get professional support

However, if you don’t feel comfortable having these discussions, or feel the individual needs professional advice, encourage them to seek help from their GP.

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Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW)1, ACA students2, ICAEW staff members3, and the family and carers of members and students4

  1. No matter where your career takes you, past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales (ICAEW) are eligible for caba’s services for life, even if you change your career and leave accountancy 
  2. ACA students (ICAEW Provisional Members) who are either an active student or have been an active student within the last three years are eligible for caba's services 
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  4. Family members and carers of either an eligible past or present ICAEW member, ACA student or past or present employee of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's support. We define a family member as a: 
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    2. widow, widower or surviving civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    3. divorced spouse or civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    4. child aged up to 25. Please note, children aged between 16 and 25 are not eligible for individual financial support 
    5. any other person who is or was dependent on the eligible individual supporting them financially or are reliant on the eligible individual’s care 
    6. any other person on whom the eligible individual is reliant, either financially or for care 

You can find out more about our available support both in the UK and around the world on our support we offer  page. 

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If you need financial support, we carry out a means test where we consider income, expenditure, capital and assets.  

*Please note none of our other services are means tested. 

I’m an accountant, but not a member of ICAEW, can you still help?

Unfortunately not. We only support past and present ICAEW members, their carers and their families. If we are unable to support you, where possible we will point you to help elsewhere.

caba has supported me in the past; can I receive support from caba again?

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