Yes you read that right. Due to excessive stress in the work place I had a total mental and physical breakdown, from which I am still recovering. It cost me $60,000 because I lost the ability to earn money for a year. Fortunately for me, that wasn’t strictly true as I was awarded work cover for my psychological injury. The point I am making is, stress is costly. If you don’t have your health you truly don’t have very much at all. It’s true, my stress was caused by extreme circumstances, however these circumstances can happen to anyone of us at any time, perhaps it’s a single factor like mine, or maybe it’s a perfect storm of factors that come together to bring you down.
The purpose of this article is to create awareness around what stress can do to your health and just how quickly that can happen. For me personally, I totally broke down days after leaving my job, a bit like an extreme version of when people get sick on a long awaited holiday. They say the two most dangerous days of your life are the day you’re born and the day you retire… the day you ‘stop’.
I ended up in hospital unable to shut down my fight/flight/freeze response and after that I could barely function for months and months. You would be forgiven for thinking I had some major symptoms leading up to this severe crash, but I didn’t really, nothing to properly warn me of impending disaster. There were many niggly little things that started to manifest leading up to my injury. I suffered constant gut issues from a nervous tummy (I call this ‘emotional puree’), occasional panic attacks at night, random adrenal surges (not unpleasant), derealisation – a weird and slightly disconcerting feeling, dry mouth, tiredness, anxiety and depression, most of this I was managing with the knowledge I was looking for other work and would be leaving as soon as I could find another job. When I finally came unstuck after months of suppressing symptoms, it was like the timing belt snapping on a car, it ruined my whole engine. In my bid to cross the finish line, I’d destroyed my health and I had no idea how far I was going to fall.
I pushed myself. I pushed and pushed and pushed, and I ignored all of the signs for too long. I just wanted to finish my job on a good note (which was impossible) and I wanted to have another job to go to, and I thought I’d be ok. The truth is that our bodies don’t scream and yell at us. They whisper… “Go to bed you’re tired”; “Stop eating, you’re full now”; “Don’t reach for the junk food”; “One coffee is enough”… Ignore those whispers for too long and your body is forced to gain your attention in other ways.
Rick Hanson’s (http://www.wisebrain.org/ParasympatheticNS.pdf) says it rather beautifully,
“Many of us balance a driven and routinely stressful way of life with vacations or the occasional day off. This is a kind of “binge and purge” approach to stress management, but it is not at all effective. You cannot undo the accumulating effects of chronic stress with intermittent respites, even in Tahiti.
There is no way around it: each of us needs to have minimal chronic stress combined with a steady state of relaxed, alert, contented coping that emphasizes PNS activation with just enough SNS arousal to get the job done – whatever it is. In a single sentence, that’s your best-odds prescription for a long, productive, and happy life.”
My final word is that no matter how squeaky clean and healthy your ‘life-style’ is it will never compete with a ‘death-style’ of rampant
oxidative stress, which will not only run behind you undoing all of your good work, but will destroy and eventually tear you down. It’s like carefully tending to a garden that’s in the path of an oncoming hurricane. Pointless.