How do you know when you're stressed out?
Stress affects your body and your mind.
Stress is a disruptive condition occurring in response to adverse external
influences and capable of affecting physical health, usually characterized
by several of the following signs:
- increased heart rate,
- a rise in blood pressure,
- muscular tension,
An effect of stress is that you build a picture of the world in which
you can convince yourself that there is no choice except continuing
to do precisely what you're doing, even though it's clearly not working:
"(he/she) enters a shut-off, impregnable but wholly convincing
world where every detail fits and each incident reinforced (his/her)
-- A. Alvarez, in The Savage God
The following extract from a New York Times article illustrates how
stress affects your overall health and lifestyle.
"Researchers are also finding links between stress and disease
at the molecular level. At Ohio State University, for example, Dr. Ronald
Glaser, a viral immunologist, and his wife, Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser,
a psychologist, are reaching across disciplines to understand how stress
"Working with other researchers at Ohio State, they have studied
the immune response of people who live with an enormous burden of stress:
people who care for a spouse who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease,
and who are, on average, 70 years old. The immune systems of the caregivers
are clearly compromised, they found.
"What we know about stress is that it's probably even worse
than we thought," Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser said.
"Their most recent work focuses on cytokines, molecules produced
by white blood cells, and in particular interleukin 6, which plays a
beneficial role in cell communication. Like cortisol and adrenaline,
interleukin 6 can damage the body in large and persistent doses, slowing
the return to normal after stressful events. It has been linked to conditions
that include arthritis, cardiovascular disease, delayed healing and
cancer, Dr. Glaser said.
"The immune systems of the highly stressed subjects,
Dr. Glaser said, "had the levels of Il-6 that we saw in the
controls that were 90 years old," which suggests that their
experiences "seemed to be aging the immune system"
These results might be especially important for older workers. "If
you're 50 years old and you hate your job, you're going to be stressed;
that probably translates into immune changes," he said.
Sick of work, by John Schwartz. The New York Times, September 5, 2004
Running away from yourself
A client shared with me the following quote from Sebastian Junger (author of The perfect Storm). I’d like to share it with you.
“The people I know personally who cannot sit down and chill out for a while are people who have not really come to terms with their emotional, inner story. They’re staying a step ahead of it. I did that through my twenties and thirties. In my forties, I stopped working so hard for a bit and confronted a certain amount of stuff about myself. I think that one of the impetuses for working outrageously hard and traveling constantly and always being on deadline is that your personality can’t catch up with you.”
My hope is that, as you let your personality catch up with you, it feels like “the beginning of a beautiful friendship”—as the Humphrey Bogart character says at the end of “Casablanca”.
The pattern of an increasing sense of pressure, isolation and despair can lead people to extremes, including suicide. The following paragraph, excerpted from a New York Times article about the demise of a top executive in a troubled institution, poignantly describes how this can happen:
“Mr. K., 41, began working nonstop, sometimes returning home only to change clothes, colleagues say. He was losing weight and telling friends that it seemed impossible to appease everyone — regulators, lawmakers, investors and other executives — given their competing demands. Someone was always angry with him, he told one friend. And no matter how many hours everyone worked, it seemed as if the economy and homeowners were still slipping farther into the abyss.”
NY Times April 23, 2009
Mr. K.’s situation was extreme. But it is part of a continuum. It’s not so rare for people to feel that their goals are a moving target. To feel pressure to keep performing even harder as the task feels more and more impossible. To feel more and more isolated. It’s not so unusual for people to have the fleeting thought that death would be a relief. Fortunately, in many cases, this is just an idle thought. It can be a wake-up call: Death is not a good exit strategy.
- Stress and pyschosomatic pain,
- Back pain
- What is stress? What can we do about it? Proactive Stress Management with Somatic Experiencing