The many faces of stress

There have been times in my life when things have started to feel out of control. Of course I mean this relatively speaking since I’ve never had to endure any serious hardship – my issues are the proverbial “first world problems”.

But there are days when I wake up and start to think about what I need to tackle and my stomach just clenches. I’m an internalizer when it comes to stress so unless you really know me, you will not be able to tell that I’m screaming inside my head.

This is what stress can look like:


Pretty scary, huh?

What my calm demeanor and smile don’t reveal are all the hives that appeared overnight and my inability to digest thing properly. Frequent blinking also hid my twitching eye and I’m “fortunate” enough to get some weird variation of migraines, in which I’m not in pain, but my entire left cheek feels like its been slapped so hard it’s gone numb.

True story: I was once reprimanded for NOT looking stressed enough (apparently my calm demeanor implied I did not think the issue was serious). Yes, because I was not losing my shit in a more visible or “conventional” way, I obviously didn’t care about what’s going on.


This morning I stood beside my son as we waited for his luggage to be searched before heading off on a school camping trip and I quietly asked him if he was okay. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders – the universal sign for “Mom, please.” I reassured him it will all be cool once they get going and he will feel better.

Because it was obvious to me that he was nervous and, as a kid that likes to know what going to happen next, a bit stressed. It was obvious because of how he held himself and how he was covertly watching what others were doing. However, to everyone else – he was fine and maybe even bored.

Seeing this made my stomach clench harder and I smiled at him.


Have you ever taken the time to notice what your employees/colleagues are like when things are going well and not-so-well. Notice a difference?
Sometimes, it’s very minimal.

Don’t assume that because someone is calm and collected that they aren’t stressed out.

And don’t mistake (over) reaction for passion.


4 thoughts on “The many faces of stress

  1. Julie, I love this post. I was just talking to someone about stress the other day. I told them a short story about when I was working with an EAP and I learned much about myself, and my symptoms of stress. I too internalize my stress, and people can’t really tell when I’m stressed. Funny story, when I was with the EAP one of my colleagues asked me how they will know when I’m stressed. I told them (jokingly…taking advantage of the nature of an EAP) “You won’t know, I just bottle it all up and take it out on my family.”

    They got the joke.

    However, there was a little truth to that. What I learned was to recognize my own symptoms of stress. I soon learned that when my behaviour changed a certain way, that i needed to find a way to identify the cause of my stress, and make some changes.

    And I think that’s the key…at home, or at work…

    Recognizing my own triggers, situations, environment, etc. if I can recognize those things, I am able to make changes, or get assistance.

    And I think it’s the same in the workplace. I trained many managers on how to recognize a potentially “troubled” employee in the workplace. Sometimes it’s the subtle changes in behaviour. As a matter of fact, the best thing to do is get to know how your people behave “normally”…then you’ll know if something is out of place. Then you’re able to relate it to a workplace performance or expectation…then offering ways for them to manage it.

    Anyhow…that’s my 2 cents worth (even though we’re not using pennies anymore!)


    • Tim

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your story. I completely get the feeling, the joke and sentiments behind it.

      You are absolutely right about watching for warning signs and signs of stress; however, I find that managers (and others) are still hesitant about getting involved or even just asking “are you all right?” Have you seen this improving – how to help eliminate this hesitation with managers?

      Like you I’ve tried to determine my stress triggers and look at better ways to deal with them other than just smiling.

      Really appreciate the comment.

      • You know…that’s interesting. Let’s be honest, as HR professionals, we are not counsellors or therapists. So I think that’s where much of the hesitation comes from. I’m sure many would like to ask “Is everything all right?” But the fear of someone spilling all of their personal problems holds us back. So, what we tried to do when training managers on how to approach the situation, was to teach them how to relate what they see (behaviour) to a workplace expectation or performance. If you can use that as the point of interaction, you can then ask the open ended question “Is there anything that you would like to offer as a reason for this?” Take for example the situation of attendance, or the change in attendance. Perhaps there is something going on with the employee in their personal life that is affecting their workplace performance. Now, as an HR professional, we can’t help them with the personal issue, but we can help them get the assistance they need (like an EAP). But we reiterate the importance of the performance issue.

        This helps the HR person to approach the issue, and also helps the employee to get the assistance they need.

        Much better than making assumptions or drastic decisions..

      • Great insight and advice Tim – I agree with your approach. Yes we have work to do and a business to run, but we can still afford the time and effort to humanize our interactions and reach out when it’s needed.

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