What Drives Our Stress & Anxieties?
Two nights ago the shrill pulse of a house alarm rudely awakened me. Three in the morning isn't my favorite time. I seem to have a threshold, which if crossed, means I just stay awake. And so it was. The owners of the house and its very loud alarm were away so I waited for an hour until someone arrived to switch it off, after which I couldn't get back to sleep. Last night, the phone went off, again at 3 a.m. This time it was a minor family crisis that was thankfully resolved very quickly. Today, I feel grim.
Lack of sleep is a well-known feeder of stress but anxiety is a pretty pervasive emotion too. Are stress and anxiety one and the same thing? No, but it's easy to get confused between the issues. Stress is our natural response to pressure or some perceived threat whereas anxiety is more along the lines of an, often irrational, level of fear.
Anxiety can gnaw away at someone for hours, days, and weeks at a time. Some people seem to live with it most of their lives. High achievers aren't exempt from anxiety either; in fact in the pursuit of perfection they may even suffer more than most, as their anxiety tends to be associated with perfectionism. How can you tell if you're a perfectionist? According to psychology professor Gordon Flett, perfectionists reveal themselves in three distinct ways:
First, a "self-promotion" style, that involves attempts to impress others by bragging or displaying one's perfection (this type is easy to spot because they often irritate other people); second, by shunning situations in which they might display their imperfection (common even in young children); and third, a tendency to keep problems to oneself (including an inability to admit failure to others).'
Moreover, according to Flett, ‘certain forms of perfectionism can be linked to a host of emotional, physical and relationship problems, including depression, eating disorders, marital discord and even suicide.'
I guess perfectionism varies in degree and extent. I know plenty of people very keen to do a good job and do it well, but I certainly wouldn't regard them as self-promoting or irritating. Perhaps one unifying factor is anxiety. That awful moment when someone feels they have fallen behind, forgotten something, or some relatively trivial problem won't get out of their head.
People have always been anxious of course, but does the steady climb in treatments for anxiety suggest we're becoming more anxious, or just more willing to declare our emotions and do something about them? Our lifestyle must also have a bearing on these issues. In the eighties people were chasing their tales because of a consumer boom. These days the financial crisis, gloomy news reports and more, leave people feeling more insecure and vulnerable.
Whatever the reasons, and they will affect people differently; the good news is that anxiety and panic are treatable. For some people it's a case of slowing down, for others it relates to organizing their life differently and even, in some cases, doing more rather than less.
York University (2004, June 14). Perfectionism Can Lead To Imperfect Health: High Achievers More Prone To Emotional, Physical And Relationship Problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2004/06/040614074620.htm