Some weeks ago I encountered a rattler in my backyard, I became stressed and with adrenaline running through my veins I sprung into action. The encounter and subsequent engagement with the rattler lasted less than three minutes, even after it was over I could still feel my body in a state of arousal, as it gradually calmed down while I inspected my yard for the possible point of entry.
My stress was a good thing, as a father of two young children, who periodically love to go out and enjoy the swing set in the backyard, the idea of this rattler encountering my children sent me into a state of panic, which resulted in my decision to engage the rattler. My stress was a good thing, because as beings who evolved to survive in the wilderness, our experiences with stress was only designed to last a few seconds to minutes. This is because a few seconds to minutes is all it takes for an encounter and engagement between a dangerous animal and a human being.
However, what about stress that lasts more than a few seconds? What about stress that lasts for hours, days, months and even years? The sad thing is that the biological process we go through when we experience an encounter with a potential life threatening situation, is the same biological process we experience when we are faced with significant inconveniences, such as the possibility of dealing with a loss of primary source of income.
We go into a state of hyper arousal, and we remain in that state of hyper arousal until the inconvenience, (or threat of), that we are going through reaches some type of a conclusion. However there is more, after prolonged exposure to our hyper arousal state, we become numb to our experiences with stress. When we become numb, we remain in varying states of hyper arousal. A condition we are not fully aware of, while the stress wrecks a slow and steady damage on our blood vessels, vital organs and immune system.
So if you have become numb to your experiences with stress, how do you know if you are experiencing stress?
Keep in the forefront of your mind, the flight or flight response system. Now, consider my personal encounter with the rattler in which I made a decision to fight. I made this decision because it was one rattler. If faced with an infestation, I would have fled the property with my family, and hired professionals to tend to the problem. Flight is a typical response to stress when an immediate solution isn’t available. In the example I gave, I stated I would flee with my family until professionals had removed the problem, so what happens in everyday life when a solution isn’t immediately available in the near or even far future? When people feel overwhelmed without immediate solutions, they resort to flight like behavior, and they can remain indefinitely in this state, until the issue resolves itself or they perish.
Here are some examples of flight like behavior: chronic tardiness, lethargy, procrastination and addiction. These four terms all have something in common, they all involve the process of avoidance. It is as if the brain is subconsciously instructing you to delay as much as possible in following through with your commitments, so as to reduce contact with stressors.
Next to lethargy, the most damaging of the four flight like behaviors is addiction. You see knowing there is a poisonous snake in your backyard is pretty hard to ignore. Even if the snake had dodged me and crawled into a hole, I wouldn’t have slept that night until I had flushed it out. However, when it comes to issues which present with the same amount of stress, but not life threatening in nature, people have a bad habit of using their gift of imagination against themselves. They simply deny to themselves that there is a problem, and when the contradictions become hard to ignore, they distract themselves with pleasurable habits. Habits that don’t help them solve their problems, and in some cases, make their problems worse, thereby adding to their stress.
So if you find your self over indulging in food, drugs, alcohol, porn and gambling, to name a few, you might be suffering from prolonged exposure to stress.
I am currently writing an ebook on how to overcome long term stress. This time, the publication will happen relatively soon, and unlike my most recent
book, I will be releasing the book in kindle and ebook versions only.
Stay tuned.. And thanks for reading.
Ugo is a Psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling and life coaching private practice.