You know what it’s like when you’re down to the wire on a project and suddenly that jolt of adrenalin kicks in and gets you to the finish line? That’s stress. In small doses, stress can give you a welcome energy boost and the increased focus you need to get the job done. But when you’re dealing with massive doses of stress – especially unrelenting stress with no recovery periods - it can take a physical, mental and emotional toll.

When your brain perceives danger – real or imagined - your natural survival instincts spring to your defense and you go into “fight or flight” mode. Your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tighten, your focus sharpens and your blood starts pumping faster. Stress can protect you by increasing your reaction time so that you’re able to slam on the brakes and avoid hitting a car that suddenly pulls out in front of you. Stress also keeps you sharp when you’re giving a presentation or studying for final exams.

The problem is that the amount of stress in your life can elevate without your even realizing it. I call this stress creep. It’s not hard for our stress to creep up on us in our ultra-driven society where we seem to pride ourselves on being crazy, busy, slammed on a 24/7 basis. And it’s literally 24/7 since our cyber-gadgets and social networking systems have added a right-now urgency and around-the-clock accessibility to our lives like never before.

So how do you know if your stress is under control or off the charts? Get a quick snapshot by answering the questions below with the following scores: 4 always, 3 often, 2 sometimes, and 1 never.


1. Are you drowning in deadlines?
2. Has your stress increased over the past year?
3. Are you juggling multiple responsibilities?
4. Have you lost or gained more than 10 pounds in the past year?
5. Is achievement important to you?
6. Are you able to relax, nap or enjoy down time?
7. Do your ever feel guilty that your prioritize work over family or friends?
8. Are you impatient or irritable?
9. Have you taken a vacation of more than 2-3 days in the past year?
10. Do you loved ones ever beg you to slow down?

Now, add your scores and see how your stress levels stack up.

While it’s good to be laid back in moderation, you’ve got so little stress in your life you’re probably not achieving much. You may also lack excitement or stimulation. Could it be that you’ve traded stress for stuck?

You’ve got a good handle on managing your stress, juggling your responsibilities and living a well-balanced life. Continue to keep your stress under control while you start getting more aggressive about getting unstuck. You can handle it!

31 – 40 OVER THE TOP
You are waaaaay too stressed. Get it under control or you may be heading for some serious repercussions. Start some de-stressing tactics immediately and consider scheduling a full physical. How are you going to get unstuck when you’re recovering from a stroke or heart attack?

If you landed in the “too laid back” category, maybe you’ve already written yourself off as an unmotivated, low-energy loser. Or, perhaps, you’re at the “over the top” end of the spectrum, but think your headaches, nausea and sleeplessness are just part of being a high-achiever. Wake up and smell the cortisol! We’re fooling ourselves to think that feeling bad is causing our stress when, in fact, it’s the other way around. It’s often our stress that’s making us feel bad. Lots of us, apparently, because numerous studies have indicated that between 60-90% of doctor’s visits are stress-related.

Not convinced yet that stress could be creeping up on you right this minute? Let’s go a little deeper into how stress presents itself in your life physically, behaviorally and emotionally. While it may not be unusual to suffer from some, or even many, of the symptoms from time to time, ask yourself if yours have become more pronounced or prolonged in the past year. If so, that could be a sign of unchecked stress creep. Look over the checklist below and circle any of the symptoms that you experience on a regular basis. Take this list to your next check-up or, if you’re concerned, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away to discuss your stress levels.

Fatigue Headaches
Constipation/Diarrhea Sleep problems
Back pain/tension Clenched jaw/teeth-grinding
Weight loss or gain High blood pressure
Sex problems/lack of drive Fatigue
Increased sweating Skin breakouts/rashes

Mood swings Constant negative thinking
Restlessness Guilt feelings
Sudden job dissatisfaction Resentment
Anxiety/Insecurity Inability to concentrate
Burnout Feelings of anger
Forgetfulness Sadness/depression

Drug use Increased smoking
Overeating Under-eating
Excessive drinking Outbursts of anger or blaming
Lack of productivity Irritability
Crying bouts Relationship problems

Getting unstuck is hard work. Stress robs you of the energy, focus and enthusiasm you need to change your life. But stress doesn’t just keep you stuck, stress kills. It can elevate your blood pressure, raise your risk of heart disease and stroke, and suppress your immune system. In the most stressful year of my life, I went through a divorce, left the corporate world, started my own business, published my first book, bought a house and my dad passed away. I ended up with at least half of the symptoms on that checklist and wouldn’t wish a year like that on anyone. Everyday life can cause plenty of stress, too. And, believe me, it’s not pretty which I learned the hard way back in my entertainment days. I was working on a talk show one day when I realized I had a little itch on my forearm. I pulled back my sleeve and, to my horror, there were all these red spots. To my greater horror, one of the producers standing nearby caught a glimpse of my rash.

“Hives,” he said in exactly the same tone I imagined he’d use to say “leprosy,” before banishing the poor leper to a distant island colony. I went to the doctor, got a shot and figured I'd be back in action the next day. Boy, was I wrong. When I woke up the next morning, I looked in the mirror and saw that my entire body was covered – and I mean scalp to toes - in hives. You couldn’t tell where one welt ended and next began.

But I could still talk on the phone, so I continued to work from home until I started feeling woozy. I went to bed and woke up hours later to a knock at the door. My loyal staff had sent me a vat of chicken soup. I took it into the kitchen, set it on the counter and promptly passed out cold on the kitchen floor. But, because I’d been planning to make some calls after I finished my soup, I had fainted clutching the phone in my pock-covered hand.

I speed-dialed my assistant who rushed me to the internist's office. That’s when it all began to go downhill. There was a crisis at the office that apparently only I could solve so I spent the afternoon on the phone with a bunch of executives and attorneys and press people. I still had so many hives, by the next morning my throat had started swelling, and, too embarrassed to call my assistant again, I called my girlfriend Sara who spent the day in the ER with me getting x-rays and cortisone shots. Turns out I had a virus made worse by a food allergy (I’d been chugging pomegranate juice for a week thinking it would make my bug better). According to four different doctors and a $1900 medical bill, I should have been able to fight off both the minor virus and the minor allergy. They all agreed it was my stress, pure and simple, that put me over the top.

I’d always thought my tolerance for stress was fairly high, but I definitely hit my ceiling with the hives incident. We all have different levels of stress tolerance, or course. Some people thrive on the high-pressure lifestyle, while others have a much lower threshold. It’s important to recognize your personal tolerance level so you don’t go beyond it, at least not on a regular basis. Luckily, there are some inherent conditions that enhance people’s ability to handle stress. See if you are fortunate enough to possess any of the following factors:

• A solid network of supportive friends and family
• Openness to change and an ability to roll with the punches
• An optimistic outlook about life
• A sense of humor and cheerful attitude
• A belief in a higher power or life purpose
• Self-control and confidence in your ability to cope

If the characteristics above describe you, keep reinforcing your stress-busting lifestyle. You’ll need it as you work to get unstuck, pushing forward into new areas of life change which, inevitably, will bring new stresses. But even if those factors aren’t a strong part of your natural make-up, you can still develop coping mechanisms to keep stress in check. Learning some basic relaxation techniques is the ideal de-stressing starting point for combating stress creep.

Author's Bio: 

An entertainment industry veteran, Libby Gill spent fifteen years heading public relations and corporate communications at Universal Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Turner Broadcasting. She was also the branding brain behind the launch of the Dr. Phil Show.

Libby is now an internationally respected executive coach, speaker and bestselling author. She has shared her success strategies on the Today Show, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, CNN, NPR, Oprah & Friends Radio Network, Fox News, CBS Early Show, and in Time Magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, O Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Self and many more.