Our body and living/working environment communicates with us when we have been running on adrenaline for too long and need to slow down.
Many common illnesses are an indication that our system has become overloaded with stress chemicals. Yet, more often than not we over ride these signals and force ourselves to keep moving forward until we are physically forced to press pause and recover.
Physical and emotional stress stimulates the central nervous system, in a similar way to some recreational drugs, creating the experience of a natural high. According to addiction specialist Jim Pfaus, 'stressors can also wake up the neural circuitry underlying wanting and craving - just like drugs do'.
Although stressful situations may give us an enjoyable short-term buzz, our bodies are not designed to handle excessive stress on an on-going basis.
In stressful situations when we override our intuition to rest, restore and replenish our bodies and force ourselves to run on reserves, we continuously trigger our primitive fight-or-flight response. This response has helped us handle stress since the days when our ancestors lived in caves and had to fight off or escape the attack of wild animals.
In the modern western world the threat of wild animals is no longer present, but our mind and body continue to handle stress by activating the same physiological response. Our brain therefore registers our boss yelling or the approach of a work deadline as if it were a lion - releasing adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream to help prepare our body to run or fight.
While this response helps us to be mentally alert and focus on problems at work, it can be counter-productive because we are often unable to exert ourselves physically in order to metabolise the corresponding surge of hormones sent to our muscles.
Stress hormones build up in our bodies as a result, which can lead to adrenal fatigue linked to disorders of the autonomic nervous system and immune system, in addition to psychological and emotional problems.
This chronic cycle often continues until eventually the adrenal glands reach a point of over-fatigue and send symptoms signaling that we need to stress less, exercise, and/or get rest.
University of Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky PhD explains that constant triggering of the stress response system can lead to severe damage of various organ systems within the body including:
- Cardiovascular system - resulting in damage to heart muscles and blood vessels.
- Digestive system - causing debilitating diseases and problems with digestion.
- Reproductive system - negatively affecting ovulation and erectile function.
- Immune system - impairing immune defenses, resulting in more frequent, prolonged or severe cases of diseases ranging from mononucleosis to the common cold.
The body will break down under stress. If you refuse to follow the instructions from your conscious mind to retreat, back off, and unload some of the pressure, your unconscious may, paradoxically, instruct you to get sick to survive. The body says no, but the head says go. The body refuses to continue to acquiesce to the demands of the mind and, as a result, breaks down. Often an accident occurs or a set of symptoms emerges which requires rest and removal from the prolonged, imposed stress. Dr Herbert Freudenberger
Failure to address on-going stress can result in burnout and in extreme cases death.
BBC TV Presenter Andrew Marr experienced a moment of enlightenment when he nearly lost his life due to the effects of overwork. He made his first television appearance in April 2013 after suffering a stroke early into the new year and shared publicly that he had 'been very, very heavily overworking' the year prior to his experience and was 'frankly lucky to be alive'.
In a brave, emotional interview with the Daily Mail newspaper, Marr shared that overwork must have been a key contributory factor to his stroke:
I was working too hard. No one made me do it, that's just the way I am... I'm a gulper, a gobbler-down of life. I wolf experiences down and, that year, I pushed my body and my mind too hard and far.
When we fail to take care of ourselves properly we can become too tired and preoccupied to notice other areas in our lives that need our attention. The result of ignoring guidance often leads to other things in our lives breaking down, exploding, burning out, falling apart or disintegrating.
If we take notice when this happens, and explore the hidden meanings, we enable ourselves to choose what we need to make better or mend, both on the inside and out.
But if we push on regardless, further illness, accidents, breakages and break-downs are sure to follow until we stop, rest and reevaluate.
◘ Dead plants or flowers in your home or office
◘ Relationship breakdowns
◘ Reduced sexual intimacy with partner
◘ Children demonstrating behaviour problems
◘ Cars, appliances, central heating systems, computers and electronics breaking down due to neglect
◘ Clumsiness, forgetfulness, losing things
◘ Car accidents
◘ Making absentminded mistakes like leaving keys in the front door
◘ Cluttered home/office environment
If you have a dead plant on your desk take note. The conscious act of replacing it and simultaneously choosing to prioritise self-care could save your life.
Note from the author of Burnout to Brilliance: Strategies for Sustainable Success:
Blue Screen of Death
The blue screen of death frequently occurs in Microsoft's home desktop operating systems Windows 95, 98, and ME. In these operating systems, the BSoD is the main way for virtual device drivers to report errors to the user. It is internally referred to by the name of "_VWIN32_FaultPopup". A Windows 9x BSoD gives the user the option either to restart or continue.Wiki
I had the great pleasure of meeting German film maker and photographer, Lukas Rapp at Corinthia Hotel in London for the UK launch of my book. Lukas is working on a fascinating project titled "Blue Screen". He chose the title because he cleverly noticed:
Burnout is a signal you should stop what are you doing right now and think over, in the same way the function of the blue screen is to stop the operation system before it gets really harmed.
This summer he will be showcasing a series of photographs focusing on burnout syndrome, how it affects people and the opportunity it offers for them to transform their lives.
Life is moving at a pace that is no longer good for us. Burnout is often described as a fashionable illness, but the reality looks different. Corporate leaders and executives working 60+ hours have a huge responsibility and need to cope with large-scale stress. My project aims to share the stories of those who have been through burnout, to help a wider audience better understand how it can effect every one of us. If more CEOs would talk about their experience of burnout the taboo would be diminished and it would be easier for those suffering to speak out in public about its severity. Lukas Rapp, Film Maker and Photographer
Lukas is currently looking for volunteers to share their stories with him and help play a part in creating the much needed shift in global corporate culture, away from overwork and overwhelm, towards sustainability and wellbeing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Blue Screen Photography Exhibition & Symposium
Venue: Ambika P3. University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS
Private Viewing: Thursday 20th August 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Open to Public: 21st August - 29th August (Daily) 10am- 6pm
Symposium: Saturday 29th August, 3 - 5pm