Life is tough. Adulting is TOUGH. There are countless roles and responsibilities that each person must juggle in our modern society to not only carve out their own space, and thereby gain a sense of stability, but in order to survive.
This is arguably even more true for us millennials, where the gap between cost of living and salary compensation has gotten exponentially wider over the last few decades. Gone are the days of job security and cushy pension-plans for an early retirement. On top of this, given the enhancements of connectivity brought about by the digital revolution, where office-based work can be streamlined through virtual means of interaction, employers are consistently demanding more from their workers for the pay they do receive. This entails longer work hours from home which may otherwise have been spent to recharge and reconnect with others.
When taking into account all of the other socio-political issues that are currently going on, which only add to a growing sense of uncertainty as to the economic and environmental viability of our future, it is no wonder why more and more employees are taking sick days due to burnout, panic attacks, chronic headaches and body-pain, medically unexplained symptoms, and depression…People are stressed-out!
Stress: An Evolutionary Mechanism
Now, stress in itself is actually an adaptive response to our environment which mobilizes us into action. It harnesses the energy from our autonomic nervous system to nerves throughout our body, which then activate our muscles to what traditionally would be called our fight-or-flight response. Without its propelling force, our bodies would become inert and unresponsive when it matters most.
If we were to imagine our nervous system as a coil, throughout the day there will be certain stressors—ie.getting caught in traffic on the way to work, preparing for a presentation to your boss and colleagues, or acting as a supportive ear for your partner after a challenging day—that exert force, or pressure, on the coil, elongating it a certain degree before springing back to its original state of homeostasis. However, due to a number of factors, including the intensity and duration of these stressors, eventually, the strength of the elasticity of the coil will wear until they eventually break down, leaving us feeling at our wit’s end.
Another important aspect of stress is that much of its origins don’t necessarily come from what is right in front of us, but is predictive in nature. Our evolutionary neurological make-up, which dates back to our hunter-gatherer ancestry, is wired to be alert to possible threats. Being vulnerable in the wild to possible predatory attacks, as well as natural environmental concerns, this complex internal alarm-system is in large part what kept our predecessors alive.
Evolving Conceptions Of Stress
While humanity has made great strides to evolve, introducing more complex and nuanced social identities and interactions with an expanded hierarchy of needs (ie.love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualizing) and values, so too has the concept of ‘threat’ developed. Anything that seems to jeopardize the obtainment of our needs will be instinctively felt as a threat, signaling off a cascade of chemicals and hormones in the body to respond accordingly—similar to as if being faced by a wild saber-toothed tiger of times past.
Recognizing the Signs of Stress-Overload
One of the biggest reason people hesitate to seek help for their mental health concerns is because they aren’t aware that what they are going through could actually be symptomatic…it becomes ‘their normal’. This can be especially true for stress-related issues, as we in North American have been conditioned to believe that constantly pushing ourselves to the limit is a desirable quality to have, and that breeds ‘success’.
The body has become regarded as a malleable tool that the mind shapes through grit and will-power. We have even made a science out of this, which we call ‘Life-hacking’ (def: “is any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.”, Wikipedia). Ironically, this method was first used in computing as a means of attempting to solve a problem with information overload, and people have taken this mechanized approach now to humanity. What folks seem to be forgetting is that we are not like a car, in which you can dissemble everything and put back together again. Our sum is more than our parts, and the complex relationship between the brain, the body, and the mind is something that researchers are only starting to tap into.
Therefore, in keeping with the idea—supported by the latest in research development—that the mind and body are inextricably connected, and that if we ignore the warning signs from our bodies long enough a host of psychological and physical symptoms will arise, it becomes essential to develop a competency around the signals of being over-stressed.
Here is a list of the more common symptoms (*as provided in ‘The Tell-Tale Signs of Burnout’)
1. Chronic fatigue
3. Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention
4. Physical symptoms
5. Increased illness
6. Loss of appetite
* for a more detailed list and summary click on the link provided above.
There is Something We Can Do About It!
Reading all this may seem daunting, especially if you recognize yourself in one or more of the symptoms. The good thing is, there is something we can do about it.
Next article I will present a number of both personal and interpersonal exercises that promote awareness-building and effective action to reduce your stress, recharge your emotional batteries, and return you to more balanced state, so that you can go about your daily life with more ease and confidence.
** If any of this resonates with you, then this website–as well as my Facebook Business page (@daveconnectincounselling)–is here to offer you additional resources to add to your tool-kit to recovery and transformation, so that you can not only get back on your feet but hit the ground running. Where that leads is up to you!
Previously Published on Connect-In Counseling