Some Surprising Things About Stress
We say it all the time: ‘I’m so stressed!’ but do we actually know what we’re saying?
The word ‘stressed’ is over-used as often as ‘depressed’ and usually we just mean that we are overwhelmed/wound up/down in the dumps, but then we go back to feeling ok. And stress is a part of everyday life: Have an exam that you haven’t prepared for? Yep – you’re stressed. Have an important deadline and have left things until the last minute? Yep – you’re stressed.
The examples I’ve given (and I’m sure you can add your own) are just short burst of stress, and actually, that type of stress is designed to be helpful. It’s designed to give you the burst of energy you need to get things done quickly.
Think back to the Stone Age. We needed stress to survive - that sudden burst of adrenaline would stop us from being eaten by a Sabretooth Tiger, or would give us the extra speed and endurance we needed to chase our dinner and catch it. The thing is, we no longer need to do that. We aren’t usually in ‘danger’, but our bodies don’t know that - and so when we feel ‘threatened’, our bodies act as though our life is at risk in the same way they did all those years ago…
Now, as I have said, short bursts of stress are fine; they’re normal. The trouble starts when we feel that level of stress for a long period of time. If we are constantly feeling the pressure of deadlines; worrying about getting into trouble with our boss; feeling tired because we are working too hard and doing too many things at once, we are in danger of suffering from chronic stress and are heading for trouble.
There are lots of things I could tell you about the effects of stress on our body, but for now I will just give you a brief overview of the 3 stages we may find ourselves going through if we are suffering from chronic stress. We will call it ‘stress breakdown’ because that is what will happen when you reach stage 3.
You will feel a sort of ‘free floating’ anxiety – a feeling that something bad has happened/mild panic that you can’t seem to attribute to anything. Usually, we know why we feel like that (like in the examples I mentioned above), but in stage 1 of stress breakdown we can’t quite put our finger on it.
If you start to feel like this it is usually because either you are trying to:
a) Do something too difficult; or
b) Trying to do too much at one time
So you need to stop and think about whether one of these is the case. If it is, you need to try to think of a way to manage what you are doing. So you could, for example, delegate something on your to-do list, or figure out which of the things on there can wait. Or if something is too difficult, you could ask for help.
The other 3 things we humans find difficult are:
· Waiting for an indefinite period of time
· Finding ourselves in a no-win situation
· Having to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances
So perhaps you have found yourself in one of these situations and it is causing that feeling of rising panic within you. In this instance, it may be helpful to employ stress relieving exercises such as mindfulness.
If you decide to ignore the signs that you are in stage one, it is highly likely that you will move into stage two.
In this stage, there are 2 main signs to look out for:
1) You are unable to control your emotions
2) You lack self-motivation
So, for example, when I was going through this, I would cry on the way to work; cry in the toilets at lunchtime; and cry on my way home from work. I was snappy with my husband and children and felt like I was on the edge all the time (You get the picture). Lacking self-motivation is especially difficult if you run your own business, because it feels as though your ‘get up and go’ has got up and gone.
In this stage, you need to remove yourself for a sufficient amount of time from the situation you are finding stressful, if possible, and go to bed. This stage is caused because the neurotransmitters in the brain are beginning to shut down, and sleep is the only thing that will repair them.
If you choose to ignore these signs, and you continue to function in the same way, changing nothing and acknowledging nothing, you will move into stage three – and you don’t want to be there, believe me.
Stage 3 - breakdown
In this stage, you are in danger of breaking down altogether.
The signs to look out for are:
· An apparent personality transplant – you are behaving as if you are not the same person you once were
· You avoid sensory stimulation – it feels too much. You can’t stand bright lights, loud noises, or even the touch of your partner.
· You can no longer ignore or ‘not react’ to things you once were able to ignore – you snap and over-react to the slightest provocation.
Sadly, in this stage, it is also very common for people to wrongly believe that their marriage or romantic partnership is breaking down. They may believe that they no longer love their partner, or that their partner no longer loves them.
This is a confusing time for everyone involved. You see, what is happening, is that the brain's neurotransmitters are shutting down. The overstimulated, overwhelmed brain can no longer process everything and so the neurotransmitters associated with that part of the brain simply shut off – like an overloaded circuit in a circuit board. This means that the things that once held great importance to the over-stressed person no longer seem to matter. They are more concerned with alphabetising their bookshelf than they are paying the bills or tending to their loved one’s needs. And the worst thing is – they don’t realise it’s happening. Why would they? That part of their brain is no longer feeding them information, so they remain unaware that they aren’t doing the things they should be or used to do.
In this stage, they need to be rescued by someone else, because they are past the point of being able to rescue themselves. They need to be taken away from anything that could potentially cause overwhelm, and they need sleep and nutritious food. In this stage, they are at risk of breaking down altogether and needing hospitalisation if left for too long. It’s a scary place, and sadly, many marriages have ended as a result.
This might sound frightening, and I’m sorry about that, but I think it is important that we all know this. Stress is all too common nowadays, and if you don’t know what to look out for, you could be at risk. That said, there are many resources available to help over-stressed people look after themselves and manage their lives more effectively, a simple Google search may be all you need. You could also consider seeing a counsellor - whether it's me or someone else.
Get in touch if you think I can help.