I recently saw a man who manages 9 fast food chain restaurants. He was following up on his initial visit in which he sought relief from physical symptoms that were the result of occupational stress. The things he was stressing over were labor problems, vendor problems, monitoring embezzlement attempts, increased travel between stores, missing inventory and so forth. If you are a fast food manager you know what it's about. He’s been doing this for over 15 years but over the past year and especially several months he’s been feeling the heat.
He complained of intermittent chest pains, rapid heart beats, some shortness of breath, waves of melancholy, waves of nervousness, headaches, dizziness and weakness. At his first visit he was concerned he had a heart problem or some other internal problem as he had been doing this type of work and handling these types of problems for years. However, he was surprised when his blood work and tests revealed there was nothing physically wrong with him.
For many years, in spite of being the workaholic he was, he sprinted through his day. He was constantly in motion and had always found it difficult to stay still even when the demands let up. He was an excellent multi-tasker. He could brush his teeth and comb his hair simultaneously. While evacuating his colon he at the same time used an electric shaver. While in conversation on the phone regarding one issue he could do calculations and accounting on his laptop and keep up with the news on TV. And so forth.
We discussed how and why he was experiencing these physical symptoms which were basically the manner in which he had begun to react to the individual work problems that presented to him each day.
The medical literature now describes this condition as “hurry sickness.” It affects people whose sense of time is pathologically contracted and has now been found through studies to carry a high risk of premature heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. Hurry sickness eventually causes the body to produce adrenalin-like hormones that cause the body’s internal processes to speed up – even when you yourself are not physically in a rush.
There was a study done on persons with hurry sickness in which subjects were taken into a room and told to close their eyes. At the sound of a tone they were to tap a table bell when 60 seconds had passed. The majority of people with hurry sickness would ring the bell around or before 40 seconds. One guy had it so bad he tapped the bell at 12 seconds!
In trying to reduce their stress most people try to eliminate the problems that they feel is causing them the discomfort. Not a bad idea. But the discomfort we feel that we call stress is not so much the event itself as it is our reaction to the event. The example I often use is two people traveling in a car through an intersection and narrowly escape, a near-fatal T-bone collision. They’ve both experienced the same event but may have totally different reactions to it. One passenger frets and worries about it for a
month, constantly reflecting over how short life is, that he could have been killed, that he realizes he doesn’t have enough life insurance, talks about it constantly to his friends and co-workers and so forth. The other guy is shaken for maybe a couple of hours but is thankful he was not hurt and becomes more aware of the importance of defensive driving – and then forgets about it and proceeds about his life.
Their coping skills are obviously different. Why did they react differently?
You can actually acquire or improve your ability to not react in a malignant way to adverse events. Kinda like in the same way you learn to play an instrument, ride a bike, or type. In the same manner that a weight lifter works out to increase his arm and leg muscles, you can also increase your mental strength and tenacity in acquiring the mental and emotional skill in not reacting to events. The weight lifter slowly increases the weights or repetitions he uses to coax his muscles into becoming larger. In the same way you can do a similar thing. You begin by practicing what I call “quiet times.” With no intent or purpose in mind, you temporarily stop what you’re doing. If you’re in an office shut the door, turn out the lights and, to begin with, for 2 minutes just sit. You don’t need to meditate, or pray, or do anything other than sit. This is usually very uncomfortable for many. But after you master the 2 minutes, you begin to slowly extend the 2 mins to say 4 mins. Of course practicality dictates some of this. But the more frequently, at or away from work, you’re able to do this the faster you will become a Non-Reactor. Eventually, you will discover you will automatically, without thinking, fail to experience the gut-wrenching reaction towards unpleasant events (road rage, for example). You will deal with problems of course as they should be dealt with but you won’t become consumed by the “stress” of it.
The better you get at de-stressing, the happier you’ll be and less likely you will need prescription medicine to control what you can control on your own – not to mention reduce your visits to the doctor’s office, or even better yet – the hospital.