“Stressed Out” Should Not be Your Normal
While I was driving in my car yesterday, and debating on whether or not to get my ends trimmed soon- I had an epiphany. Growing up my hair has always grown long during the warmer months, and then I cut off quite a bit. I realized in my college years, though, the cycle had stopped. In fact, my hair didn’t grow nearly as fast in these past four years as it did growing up. As I drove and pondered why this might be, I could only attribute it to one thing -stress.
You see, I am a go-er and a do-er. I’m motivated by the amount of weight that’s on my plate at any given time, so that means I load myself up with duties and commitments until my plate is so full that sometimes (though I hate to admit it), it folds under pressure. The past few years weren’t any different with my business classes, being heavily involved in my sorority, running Her Campus, maintaining my social life, managing my relationship & getting engaged, and then working anywhere between 20- 60 hours a week at my various internships.
There was one particular summer that I was balancing two positions in my sorority, taking 9 hours of very hard classes, working, and of course balancing everything else. I was sitting in the library, where I was for 10 hours each day studying for my classes when it felt like a pair of colossal hands were gripping my neck. I’d had panic attacks before, but nothing like this. I rushed to health services on the other side of campus and burst through the door not able to breathe. After they put me on some oxygen and got my breathing to steady the nurses sent me straight to the counseling center to get help for my anxiety. Did I stop overloading myself? No. Did I try to find ways to decrease my anxiety? No. Why? Because the amount of stress I was under had become my “normal,” and I didn’t know how to function and get things done without that pressure weighing down on me like a lead weight.
Chronic Stress is the New “Black.”
Considering the fact that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S (an ADAA Stat), I’m not the only one going about my life this way. These disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. Having anxiety no longer holds any stigma either. If you walk through any college campus, students wear this stress like a badge of honor. Students who are cracked out on a mixture of caffeine and Adderall will proudly proclaim,”I’ve only gotten two hours of sleep in the last three days, and I have to stay up tonight after I get off my eight-hour shift to study for the three tests I have tomorrow.” The person they’re talking to will either try to one-up them on the stress/things they need to get done factor or feel guilty that they don’t have that much on their plate. I know, because I have proudly been one of those college students who held my withering torch high while having enough caffeine in my body to kill a horse and too little sleep. Once you enter the real world, this unhealthy behavior doesn’t change one bit. Bosses brag about working fourteen hours days, because they have so much to get done, and expect you to do the same. As Dr. Stephanie Brown said in this New York Post article, “Over-scheduling and double-booking, have been signs of progress and belonging for two decades. Practices that used to cause embarrassment became proudly rationalized as multi-tasking, a new skill to master. You juggle ten plates while you brag about your 90-hour week and pop your Ambien to get to sleep”. If that doesn’t describe modern American culture, I don’t know what does.
What is all this stress doing to us, though?
Have you ever noticed that when you lose your phone for a while or don’t have one that after the initial panic you feel a sense of peace? You realize that life without checking your work email every two minutes, seeing what everyone else is doing on social media. And not having access to contact or be contacted 24/7 really isn’t that bad. In fact, its liberating. Eventually, though, as soon as you get your iPhone back, you are back to the same old habits, and for some reason, you can’t pinpoint feeling stressed again. While stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to both good and bad experiences that can be beneficial to your health and safety, long-term stress causes a slew of physical and psychological issues. Here’s a chart from that goes over the effects of stress on women’s bodies:
Not only is it wreaking stress on our bodies, but it is changing the culture of our society. Since we cannot stop to manage the stressors that are causing our physical and psychological issues, so we have to treat them with medication. Not only that but the technology that was supposed to make life easier is making it harder to process information. The need to act, need to be online, robotically always checking your email, phone, and social media. Multi-tasking stimulates internal chaos and fragmented attention. This loss of focus takes away from our personal relationships, which are suffering as well.
“Stressed” Should Not be Your Normal
For the past four years of my life, I have only known a life that is motivated by pressure. When I graduated a few weeks ago, I was still running full force. Not having a job or any real responsibilities to manage these past few weeks though has forced me to slow down, and reevaluate my life. It’s honestly been alarming to me that I base my self-worth and happiness around how busy I am. I find it hard to be motivated to do simple things like go to the gym, eat, or get out of my apartment since I don’t have an array of responsibilities and places to be weighing down on me. This time of reflection has shown me that not only is this not healthy, but that addictive inner pressure and chronic stress can no longer be my “normal.” Sure, I know there are going to be things that raise my blood pressure a bit along the way as the fact that I don’t have a job right now (hire me), someday in the very near future starting a family, and other things life throw’s at me, but I refuse to wear my stress like a medal of honor no longer or let it control my life. So, the next time I feel like giving in, I won’t, and neither should you. Stress should never be our normal.