Today's executives are under so much pressure that many don't even have time to show symptoms of their stress. Nevertheless, hidden stress can be very debilitating.
Sometimes, all it takes is blowing a few bubbles. But before you can get rid of your stress, you have to recognize that you're experiencing it.
Most executives are alert to the overt signs of stress, such as dizziness, lack of energy, and mental exhaustion. But few are attuned to the more subtle warnings of stress--often called "hidden stress"--that can actually prove more dangerous because they can go unsuspected and untreated for weeks or even months at a time.
According to the research literature, the classic signs of hidden stress include:
Sleep difficulties. Hidden stress can lead to insomnia, or to subtler problems like difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep from which you are easily awakened, or unrefreshing sleep that leaves you feeling almost as tired as when you went to bed.
Mental difficulties. The most common complaint is an inability to concentrate. Complex issues become opaque and you have a very hard time reading anything longer than a page or two. You may also lose some of your ability to remember names and details, to do math problems in your head, or to make decisions and not regret them later.
Emotional difficulties. Unexplainable irritability is a frequent sign of hidden stress. You may also become extremely sad or happy without apparent reason. If you're in touch with your inner feelings, you may suddenly want to cry briefly in the midst of the work day.
Some people express hidden stress as displaced worry--they become overly concerned about the dangers of having a flat tire or their child's seeming inability to get A's in school. They may fear elevator rides or airplane flights, or may expend an inordinate amount of thought and attention on minor matters of dress, appearance, or behavior.
Psychosomatic disorders. A century ago, Sigmund Freud noticed that people could express their emotional distress in very real physical symptoms: stomach problems, sudden weight gain or loss, hives, skin rashes or nervous sensations, even a series of repeated fungus or bacterial infections. Today we recognize that hidden stress from work is also capable of producing such symptoms.