Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why do we feel exhausted when good things happen to us?

For me, the winter season is usually one of intense introspection, writing and general creativity. When I look back over old journals, the sections of winter months are always much longer, which is also how they feel to me: long. Waiting for spring. Waiting for something. I am hoping for the green and 'new', while putting up with the white and gray 'everyday' around me. 

But no bursts of creativity seem to be happening this year for me. I feel tired. Dry. Exhausted down to my bones. And a little bit confused as to the reason why. I was talking to my mom today, and she validated some of my concerns. "This was a big year for you," she said. It was really comforting to hear. Sometimes I forget. 

This was a huge year for me. It was a huge year for Omar and I. 
December: We were married. 
January: We left the country for two weeks to visit Omar's family and to honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. 
February: Omar became a citizen. 
April: I was accepted to grad school
June: I left a gallery managerial job I loved for three years to start a new adventure in adolescent research at a school of medicine. 
July: I received health insurance for the first time in six years.
August: I graduated from undergrad.  
December: I completed my first semester of my MSW.  And so many other things. All of the things listed above are so good. Many of them pivotal life moments and transitions, all of which happened in such a short period of time. And again, this is just the good list.




(scholarship dinner for grad school with Omar and my mom.)

This semester in a mental health class we talked about a concept called 'eustress'. It is technically stress, but it is the stress caused by good things happening (ex. How can I explain this run-down exhausted feeling that I have when essentially everything is good around me?). It sounds 'crazy', and I think many people don't talk about it because it might have a tendency to make a person sound ungrateful. But it is real. It affects our minds and bodies in various ways. 

And it makes sense.

Stress is a mental and physical response to change, whether that change is happening now, or is anticipated in the future. There is positive and negative stress. Eustress, or positive stress, provides fulfillment in our lives. (And we all know what negative stress is like.) And here's where it gets interesting. With either too much positive, or negative stress, our bodies can't tell the difference between to two. It reacts in the same way.

In both positive and negative stress, blood pressure and heart rate become elevated. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released in small bursts. In the right amounts, cortisol actually improves immune functioning, and the ability to respond in dangerous situations (ex. volunteering can be a positive stressor that makes you feel good, and produces the right amount of cortisol). An overabundance of cortisol, which gets produced in highly stressful situations, can impair immune functioning, and create ineffective mental and emotional functioning (ex. being in a car wreck).

Eustress can frequently occur in busy multitasking people who are succeeding, and enjoy their work, but are always wanting to do more (to all my Type A's- this is us).Eventually, with too much of this stress, the body will begin to wear out. 

Continuing stress, both positive or negative, affects our daily functioning. Your brain begins to forget things. I notice that I frequently forget where things are located, like my keys, or where I put my bank card when I am stressed. Stress causes us to make poor decisions. Our decision-making capabilities, literally cease to work.The brain just blocks these things. It doesn't see them as important. The brain and body can truly only endure so much stress, and they can burn out. But the good new is that  the brain is AMAZING, and it heals itself, with time and treatment.

There are a million resources on stress management, so I won't talk about that here, and I am still learning for myself what works best for me. Which may not work for you.

So perhaps this winter season will be one of trying to learning what rest is, instead of reflecting on the busy-ness.  Perhaps it will be a season of existing as a creation of the Father, rather than trying to create so much on my own. A season of being changed rather than creating change. To fill up and rest for the many journeys ahead. 

I pray it to be so. Amen. 

Information in this post retrieved from Ivey, A.E., Ivey, M.B., & Zalaquett, C.P. (2014, 2010). Intentional interviewing and counseling: 
Facilitating client development in a multicultural society, (8 th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning. 

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