Stress, anxiety, burnout: how could I possibly escape - isn't it just the modern-day equivalent of air? When should I start to worry about the amount of worry affecting me?
How have you been? Oh, crazy busy? I hear you! ...Me too, I really haven't had a break since.... well, I don't remember when. I'd really like to catch up... it's just...Oh you too? Isn't life just insane these days!
You could be eavesdropping on just about any person walking down the street on a phone call.
But I'd guess that overhearing this wouldn't surprise you in the least.
Stress seems ever present, the modern world survives on it, right? You must have efficiency and ever-increasing productivity at all costs. Hustle culture! Don't be left behind!
So it's really quite tricky to give the right answer when someone asks: "Is it okay for me to feel this stressed out?" - or "Is it normal for my stress and anxiety to never go away?"
Why? Because normal doesn't necessarily equal what's healthy or desirable here.
Stress in short bursts is part of life - but when it becomes so chronic and intense you can't function, it's important to know the potential fallout - and it's even more important to recognise the signs in yourself.
The line between the mental and physical is a blurry one here. If you've been feeling physically 'off' from stress, beyond the usual medical check-ups - we always advocate for having a psychological check-in.
If you're in need of some outside perspective on your stressed-out state, reach out to us. Having an objective expert can feel like a life-line, and can help you give yourself permission to hop off the treadmill to recover.
As much as we humans like to view ourselves as having conquered nature, there comes a point when we have to admit... we are still really animals. Perhaps just with some more advanced brains and tech.
We ignore the weather and control the thermostat with a remote control. We can beat many diseases, and sometimes cheat death with a few of the right pills. We view the technological advances of society as giving us a lot of power - and rightly so.
It's forgivable to forget that we are still living in bodies that didn't get the update that we're not living in a hostile natural environment, foraging for food and escaping from predators anymore.
The mismatch? The brain and body systems used to keep us safe took a very long time to develop - millennia in fact, and the pace of modern life doesn't quite gel with those systems so easily.
Sure, heightened attention (alongside the raised heart rate) is a fantastic response if you're hunting, but unfortunately, it's how our bodies and brains also respond to looming deadlines and financial worries.
The constant barrage of notifications and pressure mean that recovery mode - when you should be home safe after the hunt, never really comes.
Cultural norms vs what's actually healthy
It's one thing to be feeling rubbish because of the very real effects of chronic, toxic stress - yet another layer of difficulty is added when we can't even admit (as a culture) that this is a problem.
Busy-ness is glorified, and you won't be too hard-pressed to find quotes and articles of successful businesspeople sacrificing sleep for their morning routines, or humble-bragging about their burnout.
Sheer exhaustion with a side of high blood pressure
Chronic stress isn't solely about the mind; it has profound effects on the body too. It can lead to sleep disturbances, digestive problems, and weakened immune function.
What about fatigue, muscle aches and headaches?
Maybe some chest pain, high blood pressure, indigestion and heartburn?
It's no fun - and made even trickier as the symptoms can seem to point to other serious medical issues. Yet what about when your GP can't find anything "physically" wrong with you?
Your mind and body probably don't think of themselves as separate, and it's not surprising to see the effects of stress being shouted at you by an exhausted body.
Just a bit of overthinking - or a diagnosable condition?
Chronic stress can cloud your thinking, making it harder to concentrate and make decisions - yes, some serious brain fog.
When these symptoms stick around, they can pave the way for more severe psychological conditions - yes, including anxiety disorders. What might start as a continuous state of worry can escalate into panic attacks and generalised anxiety.
Understanding this progression can shed light on the importance of managing chronic stress early on, or gaining help to manage things when they have progressed to a "clinical" level of importance.
Looking to modern hustle culture can give you great business ideas, but may not give you a great picture of a happily-functioning mental state.
Imagine a thriving entrepreneur who appears to be conquering the world with their ceaseless drive and work hours that stretch into the night.
On the surface, they epitomise success, but beneath this facade, the relentless pressure to constantly outdo themselves might be taking a toll on their mental well-being. The picture-perfect Instagram posts and entrepreneurial success stories often omit the challenges of chronic stress and burnout that can silently lurk in the shadows.
How much can I really do? (AKA am I doomed?)
Chronic stress is like having that alarm blaring non-stop, putting a strain on your mental and physical well-being.
Ok fantastic, I hear you say. But what can I actually do about it?
Will meditating my way out of stress solve my perpetual busy-ness and make me the resilient individual my mum always told me I could be?
The reality check? We know that there are elements of your environment that you can't change - and perhaps some you can. What about your own mindset - your experience, your reactions? Surprisingly, both of these aspects are incredibly important.
There are perceptions that seeing a psychologist might just persuade you into some form of good-vibes-only toxic positivity, where you're encouraged to gloss over the bad in hopes that your positive attitude conquers any negative effects.
“Look on the bright side - It could always be worse. Just be grateful for what you do have”
In short, no.
Rather - one helpful way to approach the topic of stress, anxiety, and burnout - is to be realistic and honest when you're experiencing symptoms that are hard to ignore. Combining tweaks in your environment, with a little insight into the way our reactions interact with our situation, can set us up very differently to deal (or not deal) with stress.
What are some important ingredients?
Connection. No, not the internet kind
Australia had a bit of a national debacle when it came to the rollout of the national broadband service. Because what - the internet is kind of important to most people these days?
Yet what else is crucial things to humankind? Yes, I'm talking about that real kind of human connection!
Findings from research into stress and anxiety show that we're hardwired to reach out to the support systems around us. To other real human beings!
Paradoxically, those support networks are often a little sparse if you've been spending too much time enveloped in your career or similar.
A few decades ago, a major study discovered that insufficient social connections can actually harm your health more than obesity, smoking, or high blood pressure.
On the flip side, having solid social bonds? It's akin to increasing your odds of living longer by 50%, boosting your immune system, recovering faster from illnesses, and potentially extending your lifespan.
Unravelling the grip of chronic stress
Sometimes, navigating chronic stress requires more than self-help strategies. Consulting a mental health professional can provide personalised insights and coping mechanisms tailored to your unique situation.
Therapy, whether individual or online, can offer a safe space to untangle the complexities of chronic stress.
By understanding its mechanisms, psychological impacts, and management strategies, you're better equipped to navigate this challenging terrain. With the right approach, chronic stress can be transformed into a catalyst for positive change in your life.