Living On The Edge
You crawl into bed at 11.30pm, knowing your alarm is set for 5.30am. You lie there, staring at the ceiling thinking, “Go to sleep!” By 3.30am you’ve already woken up. You’re not sure why so you go to the bathroom, then you go back to bed again thinking, “ I’ve got to get back to sleep,” but you can’t.
Eventually you hear the birds and notice the morning light filtering in through the blinds, and then you hear it – the garbage truck coming down your street. You spring to attention and sprint down the hall, tripping over your stupid cat. Eventually you’re outside, swearing all the way.
With your bin now out on the street, you can relax for a second, and then you smell it: not the garbage truck, the dog crap you just stepped in. While searching for something to scrape the turd off your foot, you look up to see the garbage truck driving off in the other direction. Your bin is still full, you missed it.
You find yourself aimlessly making coffee. You’re annoyed, frustrated and tired. You slump into the lounge, spilling your coffee in the process, and try to work out what the hell just happened.
Into the car and off to work, you’re already running late. While you’re stuck in traffic you notice that you forgot to put deodorant on. The fuse has been lit and it’s a short one, you feel like you’re about to explode.
Sound familiar? If this scenario is a metaphor for your life, it’s probably fair to say you’re flying the stress banner nice and high. There are many different forms of stress, and different people respond to stress in different ways.
Perhaps the simplest way to understand stress is by examining the Demand-Control Model. Here, we look at the various demands placed on a person, both physically and psychologically, and look at the amount of control they have over the outcomes within that situation. Put simply, if demand on someone is high and they have low control over the situation, then stress levels go up.
So, how much control does our friend have in the situation described above? Let’s look at other forms of stress to give this some perspective. Firstly, not all forms of stress are bad. If you find yourself stuck in a rip at Tamarama and feel you’re being sucked out to sea, it would be fair to say you’re in a stressful situation. The adrenaline will kick in, your fight or flight response will hit all-time highs and, with super human strength, you’ll manage to drag yourself up onto the reef, exhausted but safe.
There’s also the type of stress that you might feel before an event, such as competing in a race, giving a speech or meeting your in-laws for the first time. In these instances the stress is leaning more towards nervousness and excitement, which may actually help you perform better – well, maybe not for the in-laws.
There are many personal, situational, and even biological factors that contribute to stress. The big three causes of stress in Australia, according to a country-wide survey back in 2013, were finances, family and health. With this in mind, it’s fair to say the Demand-Control Model is what most people would relate to when they think of day-to-day stress. This type of stress is unpleasant, and a lot of the time you don’t really know why you feel stressed, you just do – you feel taxed and unable to cope. This feeling of depletion and exhaustion can have negative effects on your health and can result in anxiety and even depression if it’s not dealt with properly.
On the surface, our poor friend may just be feeling the hassles of everyday life. But if left unchecked, he might find himself in the vortex of something deeper, with the consequences having a direct impact on both his physical and mental health. His immune system could suffer, along with a decline in physical appearance, fatigue, headaches, changes in weight and eating habits, and loss of libido, among others. His emotional symptoms may include apathy, frustration and sadness.
How people cope with stress is the key to feeling better. Whether it be problem-focused coping or emotion-focused coping, by appraising the situation and being proactive, one can make efforts to remove or modify the onset of a stressful event. If you’re burnt out and feel like you’re running on empty, you should talk to someone, ideally your GP, counsellor or mental health professional.