Drained. Worn out. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. Fatigued.
Sound familiar? We all encounter stress in our lives – it’s a challenge each one of us will meet, guaranteed. We experience stress ourselves, we witness it affecting our loved ones, we see it taking a toll in the office. As if that weren’t enough, we can observe stress anytime, anywhere, at just about any public place.
We’re not just imagining all this stress – research has demonstrated that stress soared 18% for women and 24% for men from 1983 to 2009.
The Dizzying Consequences of Overwhelm
It’s no myth that when we’re under stress for long periods of time, we start to look physically worn. Stress is often considered to be a cause of premature aging, as well as countless ailments from everyday maladies like gastrointestinal upsets and headaches to serious disorders like heart disease and diabetes.
In fact, The American Institute of Stress presents a dizzying list of 50 common signs and symptoms of stress. Stress affects every key body system we have:
Nervous System: The “fight or flight” response leads to increased heartbeat, a rise in blood pressure, and changes to the digestive process.
Musculoskeletal Systems: Remember the last time you felt “tense”? That’s because stress causes our muscles to contract, potentially leading to headaches and other conditions.
Respiratory System: When we’re stressed, we start to breathe rapidly – this can quickly lead to hyperventilation and even trigger a panic attack.
Cardiovascular System: Is one stressful episode cause for concern? Not necessarily – but over time, instances of acute stress lead to inflammation in the coronary arteries. This may eventually lead to other, far more serious conditions.
Endocrine System: Stress affects our adrenal glands and liver as well. When we’re under stress, we produce cortisol and epinephrine, which are aptly dubbed “stress hormones”.
Gastrointestinal (GI) System: When we’re overwhelmed, we may consume more (or less) food than normal. We sometimes turn to unhealthy foods or even alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, which only add to the negativity we’re already experiencing.
Reproductive System: Stress is a real downer for the reproductive system, causing women to experience irregular, infrequent, or otherwise dysfunctional menstrual cycles. And, both men and women can experience lowered sexual desire when stressed.
When Secondhand Stress Strikes
So far, I’ve explained the profound effects stress and overwhelm can have on you. But, did you realize that “secondhand stress” can directly impact you, too? It makes sense – just think of how you felt when you witnessed someone close to you going through an extremely challenging time.
A recent HBR article tackled the issue of secondhand stress, presenting an array of stats that might surprise you… Even observing someone who is stressed – whether they’re giving off verbal or non-verbal cues – can instantly affect our own nervous systems. Bankers on trading floors that are separated by glass walls can still sense the stress of someone across the room working in a separate market, simply by picking up on nonverbal signals.
HBR authors Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan assert, “As the research has become more sophisticated, we see that the negativity we “catch” from others can also impact every single business and educational outcome we can track, and most recently has been shown to impact us down to a cellular level, shortening our lifespan.”
Wondering when secondhand stress is most “contagious”? If you guessed from a romantic partner, you would be correct…researchers found that secondhand stress is more contagious from a romantic partner than from a stranger.
As the late Hans Selye, a pioneering Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist once said, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” We know this is true, but living it – changing our reaction to stress – is another story.
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Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Colleen Slaughter, Proud Executive Coach to the UN World Food Program, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
As an Executive Coach for Women in Leadership and Transformational Facilitator, my intention is to help leaders in positions of high influence to understand their worth at a profound level.
Supporting women leaders to truly thrive and step into their greatness, while succeeding in male-dominated industries and spaces is my native genius.
My technique and approach show you how to achieve incredible career success without compromising any part of who you are and what makes you magnificent.