Remember those old commercials about going noseblind? Where the homeowner walks into the room thinking it smells fine, and then their friend enters and the couch morphs into a smelly dog-couch hybrid?
Funny and relatable, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can be stressblind too. Stressblind is when you’ve been so stressed for so long that you get used to it. Yes, I know it’s not a real word, but I’m making it one now because it truly hits home.
So, what are some examples of stressblindness?
Need I continue? Sadly, these are all real-life examples from real-life stressblind folks.
To sum up- you may be living the life of this graphic… You’re smiling with bags under your eyes and all the while your nervous system is ramped wayyyyy up, on FIRE, and you have no idea. Why? Because it’s been going on so long it’s your new normal.
Let’s talk about how stress can become a habit. Stress can actually be a helpful, wonderful thing. It’s a very normal part of life. And any time we go through a change, good, bad, or neutral, we are experiencing a stressor. When something stressful happens, our bodies, wanting to keep us safe, go into our emergency response mode or fight-flight mode. We get a boost of hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine; which are helpful during dangerous situations. These hormones make us more alert, so we can respond quickly and effectively to a threat. Our heart rate increases, getting more blood to our muscles so we can hit our enemies harder when we fight or so we can hit the ground harder when we flee to safety. Our respiration rate increases to get more oxygen into the lungs. Our digestive processes pause so all our energy that’s normally for processing food can now be spent on survival. This is all well and good when we have to unexpectedly speak at a meeting, need to slam on the breaks in traffic, or need to survive a life-and-death situation. These physiological changes can increase your stamina, strength, reaction time, and focus; helping us to fight or flee. And after the stressor is over, we are able to return to equilibrium.
But what happens when we get stressed over and over again? Our nervous system can’t tell the difference between a physical and emotional threat, so we respond to all stressors as potential life and death situations. In other words, your body may react to a work deadline or fight with a loved one in the same way it would react to a car crash! Yikes! And to put some salt in those wounds, the more your emergency response system is activated, the more you get used to being in emergency mode. You become less reactive to stress, seeing it as the norm in our go-go-go society, and your hyperactive stress response system gets easier to trigger.
Eventually, we get used to being in this constant state of stress. Basically, our stress is happening on the reg and we never get a clear signal to return to our normal level of functioning. So, we get used to being hyper-vigilant, our body waiting on high alert to protect us from that next bad thing, and because that’s the new norm, we don’t. even. realize. it’s. happening.
Stress can be sneaky that way! And all too often, we don’t realize it’s a problem… until it becomes a bigger problem. What was once the helpful emergency response now contributes to a decrease in proper functioning in the cardiovascular, sleep, immune, digestive, and reproductive systems.
What’s the problem with being stressblind? It sounds kind of nice to not know you’re stressed, right?
Wrong! This too can be a problem. The more you push down, ignore, or deny your stress, the louder it gets. Piling up higher and higher until it begins to manifest physically, emotionally, and relationally. The more you are stressed, the more exposure you are getting to stress hormones. This exposure can lead to more serious concerns such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity, insomnia, hypertension, stroke risk, ulcers, GI issues, sexual issues, suppressed immune system, chronic fatigue, and more long-term health concerns.
Not only does stress impact us physically- muscular tension, fatigue, headaches, stomach aches, and more. But it can also show up mentally and relationally. This looks different for everyone, but could include depression, anxiety, irritability, constant worrying, racing thoughts, moodiness, anger, difficulty concentrating, focusing on the negative, withdrawing from others, using drugs/alcohol/cigarettes to relax, and oh so much more!
But honestly, to me, the most dangerous thing about stress is the possibility of stressblindness. Your stress goes from something you react to and then recover from to your typical day to day experience. You may notice it when it starts taking a bigger toll on your physical, mental, emotional, or relational health. Or you might not. And that’s pretty freakin scary.
So what now? You know you’re stressed. And maybe you even feel me on the whole stressblind thing. So how do you turn it around? I’ll break it down into a couple of easy steps.
So you’re ready to make a change, to increase your awareness around your stress and stressblindness? Great! Not only will this help you to decrease your stress levels, but it will also increase your resiliency. This is your ability to bounce back to equilibrium after a stressor. The more you practice tiny steps for down-regulation (going from fight/flight to rest/digest), the more you can tolerate, and the impacts of stress on the mind and body greatly decrease.
Want a little support in improving your stress radar and stress reduction skills? Feel free to reach out for compassion fatigue or burnout therapy session. Or contact me to schedule a compassion fatigue training for your company.