It is widely recognised that tension headaches are caused feeling overwhelmed by the pressure we find ourselves under, yet we now recognise that stress causes significantly more chronic health problems than just the odd headache.
Is it any surprise though when you consider the amount of demands we face daily these days? Apart from anything else, the amount of information at our fingertips in this digital age is growing massively and just to get through the average day we are often overloaded with information that we just can’t process fast enough. Not surprisingly this then creates stress although many of us are so used to living like this now that we don’t even recognise we are stressed.
Think about it; there’s 24 hour news, social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, blogs, emails, Xbox, mobile phones etc, all requiring instant responses wherever we are and whatever we are doing. All these overload our brains constantly with information that needs to be processed and acted upon. Is it any wonder so many of us feel overwhelmed these days?
You can find virtually everything online, so why bother reading a book to find some information when you can just open up the browser on your computer and google it? In fact the use of computers increased by 24% from 2006 – 2007 alone, which just shows how much people rely on them these days for everything from work to chatting and shopping. Networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have grown massively over the past few years and although it may feel relaxing to be sitting at the computer ‘chatting’ to your friends, it is still a distraction.
We used to have to wait days for a letter to receive an answer to a query, whereas now it’s so easy to have an instant response that we expect it and become stressed if we don’t receive an immediate answer. In fact this is also when our minds can start adding to the stress by making up a reason why someone hasn’t responded as quickly as you might have expected!
For example, you text someone to ask them if they would like to come out with you one night and they don’t respond that day. How often have you begun to tell yourself stories about possible reason why they haven’t replied, such as maybe they don’t like you, they’re cross with you about something etc? For some people this can build up so they become increasingly anxious and upset, yet it turns out that your friend had mislaid their phone or it had run out of battery!
Technology is growing so fast that our poor brains can’t keep up. In the past we would have had more time to process everything that had gone on during the day, maybe while walking home from work or chatting round the dinner table in the evening because there were no computers and televisions!
The over stimulation from our fast paced lives these days can result in us feeling threatened, and the primitive part of our brain responds accordingly, triggering the ‘fight and flight’ response. Our brain then begins to shut down to all the information as we begin to feel we can’t cope with anything more.
Unfortunately that happens so much that the more stressed we feel, the less we are able to cope with other people’s problems and we become less empathic. This in turn means that others are often unable to help you with your problems, so you don’t feel supported and understood and you feel more stressed!
What has this to do with the Stress Illness? Everything
Physical and psychological symptoms result when the internal emotional pressure has built up so much that it needs an outlet, like in a pressure cooker when the steam is produced. The symptoms are an indicator that it is time to back off and take time out, although unfortunately this is often ignored. The pressure itself might be from old or current traumas, inner conflicts caused by our personality traits or from the pressure of responsibilities, commitments, not enough time etc.
Even if we are doing what we enjoy, but don’t allow time to relax and take time out, it can result in symptoms. Consider for example a child who is expected to play constantly without break. They will get upset and play up if this continues and they’re not allowed to stop and have time out. This is similar to what is happening inside us when we don’t provide ourselves with the time to nurture ourselves. Why is it that we expect so much more of ourselves than we would of loved ones? We would be more than ready to advise a loved one to take a break, not be so hard on themselves etc, yet still we find it hard to be kind to ourselves!
You would be surprised by how many people never sit down for even 10 minutes in a day to just be alone and have the time to ‘feel how they feel’. Is it any surprise that our inner child kicks off if we never listen to them? How often do you just sit and notice how you are feeling without any distraction at all, including the radio? Are you one of the ones who tries to journal with the radio on in the background?
Usually we are too busy being busy and surrounded by technology and noise to even be aware of how we are really feeling emotionally so we automatically stuff down any upsets during the day not realising that this is like stoking the internal pressure cooker. Some people from the moment they wake up in the morning until they go to sleep are constantly surrounded by noise and other distractions. However, if we don’t stop at any time to be ‘emotionally aware’, then we get used to stuffing down how we feel in order to be able to carry on with our busy lives. In the end we’re not even really sure how we feel and what is stressing us!
Consider this not unusual day in the life of a typical student;
- Wake up to the radio alarm and listen to it as they get ready for the day.
- Go downstairs and watch the TV while they eat their breakfast.
- Go to college/school/work while listening to the radio, music, chatting etc
- Listen to lectures/work etc
- Lunch with friends/colleagues, chattering about everything that’s happening
- Listen to lectures/work etc
- Go home listening to the radio, music, chatting, texting etc
- Sit at the computer and ‘chat’ to their friends on and off all evening, interspersed with doing homework, often while listening to music or even the TV!
- Watch TV or play computer games, continue on the computer or reading
- Go out with friends, chatting, drinking etc
- Go to sleep late, often with music on.
When during that day were they able to just sit down and reflect on anything, let alone how they really feel? Yet this is common, not just for students, but for most of us in this over stimulated society. The constant bombardment of information means that we never have a chance to acknowledge how we feel or process anything, which therefore encourages repression. We may feel fed up sometimes, but often we don’t really know why because there is so much stuffed away that we don’t really know what to do about it.
You may say that sitting down to watch TV or reading a book is relaxing. It may be more relaxing than work, preparing dinner, playing on the computer, or looking after the children – but they are still distractions from your underlying emotions, which means you are still not acknowledging them and letting them go!
How much time each day do you sit quietly with your thoughts?
What distractions do you use during the day?
I imagine you will be surprised by how little time you do actually sit quietly doing nothing. It may be because you feel you don’t have time, or for some it’s because if they do, uncomfortable emotions begin to surface that they find too difficult to deal with and distractions will help them function normally.
If you don’t have even 10 minutes a day, then you really do need to look at how you structure your time. Maybe setting some boundaries in your life, deciding on a timetable or even using a life coach could help you prioritise or delegate and incorporate ways to manage your work life balance better.
If you are always on the go because you don’t want to deal with something painful to you, then this is a sign that you really need to deal with them. This could be by journaling, being mindful or using meditation.
Why not find a few minutes each day to sit quietly and become aware of any uncomfortable emotions that come up? It’s not a matter of dwelling in misery because as you allow yourself to actually ‘feel’ an emotion, rather than think about how you feel about it, you will find that although it might build up, if you allow this it happen without resistance, it gradually dissipates. In turn, any symptom triggered by this emotion will also in turn resolve.