The Stress of Being Stressed
Yesterday I was really quite tired. All day. As an adult you tend to expect a certain amount of tiredness at all times, but yesterday was different. The tiredness required a lot of effort to pull out of. Eventually I gave in and went home, instead of powering through. I couldn’t power through. This doesn’t happen too often.
I think I was experiencing the initial stages of burnout. For me, this is when you are burning the candle at every end imaginable. You are stretched too thinly across each avenue of life, and eventually you begin to fatigue from this stretching.
I’ve always exclusively associated stress with negative life sequences. Stress happens when things are going poorly. We’re struggling to make rent, work is going badly. We’re going through the ringer and stress is the reaction. Therefore, I also associate burnout with negative life circumstances too, but this isn’t always the case.
This year – 2022 – has been the most lifechanging so far. Writing has been going well, opportunities have revealed themselves – I’ve been extremely lucky. And yet, no one tells you that you can get stressed from good things, too. As the calendar fills up, and my time is needed and requested in new and exciting places, you’d assume that I’d be buzzing and excited – which I am – but there’s also stress. New stress. Different stress.
Although things are good, there’s more pressure now than ever. There are higher expectations. The higher you go up the mountain, the longer the drop becomes. And so, if you do fall, you fall faster and harder.
I think yesterday’s tiredness is a result of this new stress. Because opportunities are a new thing in my life, I’ve been keen. I’ve said Yes to everything, because these are all things I want to do. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I have the bandwidth to do everything – in fact, it is clear I do not.
When people talk about stress, they often talk about developing the ability to say No. Being able to turn things down is essential. But this isn’t enough context. It’s easy to say no to things that make you anxious, that you don’t really want to do. But it’s exceedingly difficult to say no to things you want to do, things that excite you. You’d absolutely do the thing if you had the bandwidth. And so my inability to say no isn’t a fear of letting others down, it’s because these are all things I wish to do.
And this results in taking on too much, having little free time to relax. No days off despite a clear need for days off.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you have this expectation that things will always be fun and easy when you start achieving your goals. That the opportunities will come and be enjoyable. That there will be no stress. But this isn’t the case. Stress isn’t exclusive to negative life events. It can happen with good things too, and it’s even harder to spot in the good because you want to keep going. You want to keep going and you’re barely keeping up. This is when you need to rest, but you don’t want to, because you don’t want to lose the momentum.
To make a long, whiny post short – stress happens even when life is going well. There’s an instinct to feel guilty about this. You don’t want to complain. But at the same time, you can’t live in perpetual stress. So, even though it may be the last thing you want to do, sometimes you have to take a break, even though you want to keep sprinting forwards.