Why your stress is your personal emergency

I am drowning. Are you? Drowning in information, data, ‘how to’ and ‘to do’. But it’s not just the amount of input and stimulation we’re facing; it’s the pace with which we are consuming it. And, most importantly, it’s the effects of this rush—this stress—on our health that has red flashing warning signals going off in people everywhere.

Internationally acclaimed nutritional biochemist, author and speaker, Dr Libby Weaver says in Rushing woman’s syndrome: the impact of a never ending to-do list on your health: ‘Between our cell phones and email systems, our laptops and wireless modems, we are asking our bodies to go places they have never been before …’

She says the rush of modern life is especially damaging for women: “It doesn’t seem to matter if a woman has two things to do in her day or two hundred, she is in a pressing rush to do it all. She is often wound up like a top, running herself ragged in a daily battle to keep up. There is always so much to do, and she very rarely feels like she wins, is in control and gets on top of things. In fact her deep desire to control even the smaller details of life can leave her feeling out of control, even of herself.”

Does this resonate with you? It does for me.

And worse, Dr Libby says most of us are blind to the consequences: “Probably without realising it you now ask your glands and organs, your liver, your gall bladder, your thyroid, your ovaries, your uterus, your brain and your digestive system to cope with your rush … We are not wired to cope with constant pressure, perceived or real … [And] what we are yet to truly realise en masse in the Western world is that the seeming urgency and the pace at which we are living is a disaster for human health, in particular for our nervous system and our reproductive system.”

Experts everywhere share this view. In his book, Crazy busy: overstretched, overbooked and about to snap. Strategies for handling your fast-paced life, leading Harvard psychiatrist Dr Edward Hallowell says we’re facing a ‘tsunami of data’ and it’s leading us to feel like we’re “living in a swarm of gnats constantly taking bites out of [our] lives”. He sums up the ills of modern life as “the rush, the gush, the worry and the blather”:

  • The rush is the “turbocharged speed of life today”.
  • The gush is “the volume of data that pelts our brains like sleet that won’t melt, sleet we must catch, organise, make sense of, and respond to each day”.
  • Worry (and anxiety) he says, “… reduce mental focus and create a distracted state than can look like real ADD.” (Dr Hallowell is a leading expert on ADD and ADHD.)
  • And the blather (and clutter) is … “the colossal, growing mess of words, images, numbers, noises, and physical objects that roll over us every day.”

This is serious stuff. Everywhere we look, scientists, authors and bloggers are deploring the toxicity of stress and imploring us to banish it in whatever ways we can.

By far the greatest eye-opener for me was watching the acclaimed documentary by Australian journalist Shannon Harvey, The Connection, which explores the latest research from experts all around the world on the mind-blowing connection between our mind and our health, and particularly the crucial role stress plays. The Connection exposes “an accelerating stress epidemic” that’s causing chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes to run rife, and creating “diseases our grandparents have never heard of”, such as mental illness, autoimmune disease and metabolic syndrome to become increasingly common.

You can watch a little of it here:

All of this leaves no doubt that our stress is our personal emergency. And we need to wake up to it right now.

So why are we rushing? Why is our stress at crisis level? The answers run from the scientific to the spiritual—and they’re all worth considering for ourselves. There’s the theory our mobile devices and constant online activity give us another handy way to avoid looking at our life, our bigger issues, the parts of our story we don’t want to tell even to ourselves. I like Sarah Wilson’s recent exploration of this topic.

And there’s the notion that we’re afraid of missing out (FOMO!) on seeing something, reading something, being somewhere—so we lose ourselves in trying to do it all and see it all as soon as it comes to hand.

Then there’s the scientific reasons, which Dr Libby and others, such as Dr Sara Gottfried, explore in detail in their books. They look at how rushing and stress wreak havoc on our hormones, which then drive the problem further.

And then there’s this—which is where, for me, the rubber really hits the road:

We rush to outrun the greatest fear every human is hard-wired to face: that I am not enough and therefore I won’t be loved.

Dr Libby says “every human’s greatest fear is that they are not enough and as a result that they won’t be loved. We are born this way. It is human psychology 101. Without love a human baby dies … so this is not some artificial construct that develops over time—this is hardwired into us at our most fundamental level”. Every self-help and spiritual author ever agrees. Louise Hay says: “The bottom line for everyone is I’m not good enough”. Brene Brown discovered from her research that many of us view “exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth” out of our misplaced belief that that’s who we’re supposed to be in order to be loved and not rejected.

Here’s how Dr Libby describes it in detail:

“Human behaviour is the outermost expression of our inner beliefs. It’s that simple … Before our current era of urgency due to the immediacy of the ways many people expect themselves and others to function and communicate—via mobile phones that they are never without, emails that people expect a reply to within minutes, supermarkets that gather food items together, social media posts requiring responses 24/7—our outermost expressions of not being enough, not being loved, and being rejected, played out in the way we ate, the way we spent money, and the way we spoke to the people around us (to name a few). In fact, they still do. Yet, in this age of Google speed, there is now another more obvious, more intense and, in my opinion, more damaging way that this belief is playing out—and that is with women living out the perception that they have to be all things to all people so that they will never, ever be rejected, even though they have no idea that is what they are doing. And to fit everything in, to do all they ‘have’ to do so that they never ever let anyone down and risk being ‘rejected’, they have gone into overdrive. Otherwise, why would you do it, unless somewhere inside you, you perceived that your life depended on it? Seriously. As I love to say, it’s always about love. Everything always is.”

Louise Hay says in 101 power thoughts:

“Life is simple and easy. The laws of life are simple. Far too simple for many people who want to struggle and complicate things. What you give out comes back to you. What you believe about yourself and about life becomes true for you.”

So then, there is another layer: if we’re putting out stressful thoughts, we will be attracting stress back to us. It’s that idea you’ve no doubt heard about: what we think about we attract or our thoughts create our reality. We’re believing in scarcity and limitation and lack. If we’re constantly saying, “I don’t have enough time” or “I didn’t get enough sleep”, then that will be true for us.

In The gifts of imperfection, Dr Brown quotes Lynne Twist, author of The soul of money about this exact phenomenon:

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep’. The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time’. Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of … We don’t have enough exercise. We don’t have enough work. We don’t have enough profits. We don’t have enough power. We don’t have enough wilderness. We don’t have enough weekend. Of course, we don’t have enough money—ever. We’re not thin enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re not pretty enough or fit enough or educated or successful enough, or rich enough—ever. Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds race with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to the reverie of lack … What begins as a simple expression of the hurried life, or even the challenged life, grows into the great justification for an unfulfilled life.”

Some of you might be agreeing, but screaming: “But how can we stop?”. You might think it’s all well and good thinking about theories, but I have stuff to get done! Every day! Some people will just read this and stop. Or they’ll considerably slow down. Others will find it difficult to take even the slightest pause.

We have to decide for ourselves why we’re rushing and how much of it we’re prepared to give up. We can each determine what our stress is costing us in terms of our health, lifestyle and peace of mind.

I am looking at my own reasons for rushing right now.

Nicole from Planning with kids recently took a practical view to analysing why she rushes. And what she discovered really resonated with her readers.

I think the thing is, we all have our story—why we do the things we do and why we feel the way we feel about our self and our life.

As for what we can do about it? Ah, now that’s the good bit … and we’ll get into many answers on this blog. (Hint: it’ll all be about choosing calm over chaos (love over fear) in many practical ways.)

Right now though, please find some time to watch Dr Libby’s recent TEDTalk on the topic of rushing women. It’ll probably bring tears to your eyes:

And, if you have a moment, please tell me the reasons why you think you’re rushing. Or, if you’re not rushing, please tell me how you manage not to. I’d love to start a conversation.







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