I’ve written before about my previous life in advertising. About the stress that punctuated my life on a virtually daily basis. There were peaks and troughs, but stress was a consistent presence in an inconsistent working life.
Being under stress pretty much all the time is a bit like having Stockholm Syndrome. Although you’re its prisoner, you begin to feel a weird sense of pride in how stressed you are. Catching up with work colleagues became a game of who’s the most strung out. Basically if you didn’t tell everyone how busy and out of control you were, you clearly weren’t working hard enough.
And without the pressure, it’s impossible to keep working that hard. Your body becomes fueled by Adrenalin. You’re fighting for survival. If you stop, you die. Which sounds dramatic, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
At a primal level, our body thinks that when stress hormones kick in, there must be a life or death reason for this to happen. Adrenalin and cortisol are the hormones that make us feel stress and are supposed to be released when we are in serious, imminent danger. Fight or flight as they say.
Which is insane when you think about it. The same hormones that helped us to escape from animals that wanted to eat us 10,000-odd years ago, are now kicking in at work. We’re reacting to our email inbox in the same way as if we had a tiger standing on our chests. Which is not good.
What is especially “not good” about my former work life is that those email/phone call/meeting pressures are daily and hourly. A tiger breathing down your neck would have been an irregular occurance I would have thought, by comparison. Which means stress hormones are coursing through your veins pretty much all the time. In my case, for the better part of twenty years.
The way the body experiences stress is pretty complicated. Most interesting is that the role of stress hormones is to signal the body to get ready to run, which tells the liver to release glucose into the blood stream for energy. Unused glucose is generally dissipated once the crisis is over, but during periods of continual stress, it can lead to increased risk of obesity and type II diabetes. Prolonged stress can also cause:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Increased risk of infection
- Skin problems
Next week marks a full year since I left advertising. A full year later, and I still am not as fighting fit as I need to be. I still find myself reverting back to my old stressed self – it’s an automatic response to even relatively low levels of duress. I have trained my body to switch to survival mode, to behave as if every situation is a worst case scenario. It’s not good.