Stress. It’s now commonly seen as the silent killer. Study after study have come out, emphasizing the negative health effects of a stressful lifestyle, which is perfectly logical if you look at it from an evolutionary perspective: stress is perceived as a signal that one is not thriving in their environment, and if this is so, then perhaps their existence would not be beneficial to the persistence of the species. Thus, their health wanes and they perish.
It sounds a bit morbid, but it certainly makes sense. MedicineNet.com states that approximately 80% of diseases and abnormal conditions can be attributed to or worsened by stress. According to Mayo Clinic’s website, the common effects of stress are broad and numerous.
They include symptoms such as headache, sleeping problems, depression, fatigue, anxiety, stomach problems, hair loss, social withdrawal, a weakened immune system, and even birth defects or a miscarriage for those who are pregnant.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (“Stress-Related Protein Speeds Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease”, 09.04.2013), concluded that a protein, which is activated under stress, is genetically linked to psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression. The protein, called Hsp90, has also shown to accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s thus pretty obvious that stress is insidious and an unhealthy state. Stress contributes to such mental and physical strife yet with today’s ever-accelerating and increasingly complex world, a stressful lifestyle has never been more prevalent or easy to acquire. Attending college or just having a wage-earning job is simply not enough to even be deemed adequate anymore.
This society has effectively put the quality and extent of one’s happiness and well-being on the back burner while our jobs, “obligations” and duties have swallowed up our time and energy. We’re encouraged to get a college degree and work simultaneously, while interning, running a blog, starting a family and playing a sport on the side too.
We have various meetings to go to, social media accounts to run, exams to study for, and dozens of organizations to join. We put ourselves through so much for the goal of future happiness and success, but we are suffering in the meantime.
And if we’re not stressing over school, we’re stressing over securing a career. After finding work, we find ourselves stressing over our jobs. If it’s not our careers, then we’re stressing over the lives and futures of our children, or securing enough funds for our retirement or simply fighting the clock of time. The list of life’s stresses is endless. Thus, do we even reach this objective of future happiness? It doesn’t seem so.
Is living this increasingly complex, involved, and stressful life really worth the health effects and loss in enjoyment? Given the enduring presence of stress and the extent of its implications, the constant exposure to stress for the sake of some intangible future objective is simply not a balanced trade-off.
Instead of spending of our days worrying over the completion of this or the status of that, we should be diverting some of our time to self-care attitudes and actions that emphasize the promotion of personal well-being, happiness, health and development.
Actions geared towards self-appreciation boost immunity to disease, facilitate positive thinking, put stress-related anxiety and depression at bay, and much more. You look and feel better, both internally and externally. The Association of the European Self-Medication Industry (AESGP) calls self-care a “winning solution” to maintaining one’s health and overall happiness.
For instance, an article featured in the Journal of Clinical Psychology (“Compassion fatigue: Psychotherapists’ chronic lack of self care”, 10.29.2002), a study found that psychotherapists would deal with the chronically ill often ignore their own personal needs for the stress-inducing, emotionally-taxing needs of their clients.
This chronic lack of self-care paired with their very busy and stressful job could lead to compassion fatigue, a severe form of caregiver burnout. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include hopelessness, persistent anxiety and stress, a negative attitude, sleeplessness and a decrease in experiences in pleasure. This could be detrimental to the therapist, both professionally and personally.
The article advises attempting to separate work from home life and, more importantly, developing methods to enhance satisfaction and well-being to avoid and/or alleviate compassion fatigue. It is thus an incredibly important yet often overlooked component of our lives; ignoring our personal needs should be a pattern of the past.
Of course, everything is a trade-off: If you’re sleeping then you’re not writing your paper due tomorrow. If you’re enjoying your vacation then you’re not taking care of your household duties. But we should value self-care enough to feel comfortable with this sacrifice.
By going to college, we have already taken the first step to a life that can incorporate self-care. Instead of going straight into the labor market, which would likely not result in a job that maximizes life-long happiness, we are taking the time to investigate our passions and interests in order to find an area of study that truly makes us tick. Then, one day, we would hopefully have the opportunity to work somewhere where we both gain satisfaction and a stable income.
But this isn’t enough. The college route is a stressful one, as we all know. Putting time aside to appreciate yourself—especially at our young and very capable age—is crucial and will probably make our goal of an ideal career much easier.
For instance, if you are working hard every night with no breaks, you may become disenchanted with your collegiate education and your field of concentration. But if your well-being is higher via self-care, you’ll likely appreciate your education more and thus be more productive.
And contrary to what we think, it doesn’t take much to incorporate a little self-love in your day. You can still be hard-working, ambitious and studious while appreciating yourself. Taking yoga or a Pilates class only takes an hour a few days a week and creates a world of a difference.
A 30-minute morning jog is a great way to incorporate physical activity and “feel-good” endorphins into your agenda. Meditation or even a short evening walk for fresh air is effective for relaxation and wouldn’t take more than an hour of your time.
Finding ways to indulge or reward yourself for your accomplishments is also an effective way to treat yourself with care and incentivize hard work. It is therefore very possible to have a both healthy and productive lifestyle.
As I like to half-jokingly say, treat yourself as you would your most precious electronic gadget: You treat it with care, ensure that it’s fully-charged, protect it from damage, and invest your time and money into preserving its condition so that it lives a long and malfunction-free life.
This is how we act towards your iPad; let’s start treating our bodies and minds the same way.
—Angela Della Croce ’15 is an economics major.