4 Unexpected Stressors That Are Slowly Killing You (and How to Fix Them)
Stress and anxiety are assholes, except most days, assholes are actually useful. Excluding those fighting for their lives in third world countries and warring nations, I could argue that most people could live every day without stress and anxiety.
But alas, here you are, waging an internal battle against two of the fiercest villains of the 21st century.
Stress is inescapable and anxiety is, in part, a natural reaction to worrying about stress, so it seems that for now, you’re stuck dealing with them. No big deal, you just need to learn how to manage. Since anxiety is a-whole-nother beast, I want to focus on stress today.
Identifying the major causes of stress is fairly simple. If it has to do with money, major life changes (think buying a home or getting married), disease, or work, chances are those are causing you major stress. These are universal stressors everyone deals with. For the most part they can’t be avoided, so you have no choice but to learn how to cope.
Smaller stressors are a different story. It’s actually these smaller ones that sometimes cause the most harm. They sneak up on you every day for years, until they’ve compounded into a swarm of health issues.
At a company I used to work at, we had a speaker come in and give a talk about stress. Before he began, he handed out rubber-bands to everyone in the audience and told us to slip them on our wrists. Then, he started his talk.
Thirty minutes later as he finished up, he asked the crowd about the rubber-bands. I had completely forgotten about mine! When I first put it on, it was tight and irritating, but after just thirty minutes, my wrist had gotten used to it.
Once I brought my attention back to the rubber-band, the irritating feeling returned. It never actually went away, I just stopped noticing it.
I thought that was cool as hell, although a little frightening. Stress on your body is exactly like that rubber-band — it kills you slowly, without you really noticing.
What can you do?
Unlike major stressors, smaller stressors can be mitigated, if not eliminated. But in order to do this, you need to know the source.
Let’s zoom in on some of the lesser-known stressors in your life, and what you can do to remedy the situation.
Raise your hand if you told a lie today. If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re probably a liar. Everyone lies to some extent on a daily basis. It’s part of what keeps the human race operating effectively with one another.
For example, when your partner asks you how she looks, you say “gorgeous, honey” no matter what. Or when someone asks you, “Hey, how’s it goin’ today, Jason?” You say “good, and you?”
White lies like these are all around you. They help get you through the day. But at some point, lying becomes detrimental to your health. Telling little white lies to keep the peace is fine. Telling lies all the time, especially harmful ones, is not fine…
- The spouse who’s cheating on his or her partner.
- The friend who’s always borrowing money and never paying it back.
- The family member who lies about petty things to look better than everyone else.
Chronic liars usually know they’re not fooling anybody, but they do it anyway. Once you’ve been identified as a chronic liar, it’s sad, but the only person you’re really hurting is yourself.
Psychopaths and serial killers might be able to lie without a care in the world, but I can’t. And I’m guessing neither can you.
Those who lie frequently add unnecessary stress to their life. When you lie and are afraid you’ll get caught, this causes stress. If you repeatedly lie, and repeatedly fear getting caught, this causes chronic stress.
Chronic stress is proven to create a vast array of health issues, from cardiovascular problems to depressed immune function, and everything in between.
When you have chronic stress, your body is in an elevated state of awareness, i.e. fight-or-flight mode, all the time. This causes damage to your body at the cellular level, aging you and shaving years off your lifespan.
A little bit of stress is good for you, but it’s damn hard work being stressed all the time. To ease the stress from lying, it’s best not to tell harmful lies.
If you’ve already dug yourself a hole, it’s probably time to come clean. If that’s not possible, at least accept the truth for yourself, take responsibility, and move on. Then, do what you can to keep harmful lies to a minimum, ideally zero.
I know that for me, even the dumbest lies I tell eat at my insides. It always feels better to let them out, or when I don’t lie at all.
I suggest taking a hard look at the way you’re living. Are you living in a fantasy world, governed by your lies? Or perhaps one big lie that’s killing you on the inside?
Whatever your story, it might be time to come clean or start anew. Your health depends on it. If you want to live longer — and let’s be honest, who doesn’t — then lie less and reduce the chronic stress on your body.
For most people, being alone sucks. Turns out, it kind of sucks for your health, too. There’s growing evidence that suggests people who spend most of their lives alone die earlier, have increased stress levels, greater risk of depression and suicide, and a multitude of other health issues.
One reason why loneliness causes stress is because when our ancestors were lonely, it meant they were cast out from the tribe, forced to live on their own in isolation.
Back then, being away from the tribe meant fending for yourself and a much greater chance of death by starvation, the elements, or gruesome mauling.
Whitney Cummings mentions this on Joe Rogan’s podcast (1 minute 15 seconds into the video.)
Long story short, loneliness isn’t fun and can be much more stressful on your body than you know.
Spend some time building up a rock-solid support group — one you can count on to help when life gets tough.
Family is your best bet to start with, but I know not everyone is blessed with having a loving family. If that’s the case, fostering a high quality group of friends should be your next option.
Surround yourself with people you can talk to about the important things. Ones who care and look out for you. If you can’t think of anyone in your life like this, now might be a good time to find someone. Put yourself in situations to meet new friends, or perhaps a partner to spend the rest of your life with, or at least the next few years.
Stable relationships are the best relationships, and healthier for you, too (instability leads back to the tribal thing and worrying about being abandoned).
Seek friends and lovers who offer stability and consistent comfort. Otherwise, when they leave, you’ll be left feeling worse off than when you started your search.
You probably already knew that your long morning commute, especially on a crowded bus, train, or in heavy traffic, causes stress to go through the roof. But what about a normal day driving your car, without any traffic? Would you have guessed that could cause stress, too?
When you drive, your brain is in a heightened state, especially cruising on the highway at 70 mph. It knows that you’re hurling down the road in a large metal object at ridiculously high speeds, even if you don’t always notice. As a result, your brain kicks your body’s awareness factor up several notches.
This heightened state puts your body on edge. That’s why when someone cuts you off, your gut feeling is rage. This is the reason road rage consumes so many people on a daily basis. At least now you have an excuse to justify your actions.
Anytime your body is in an elevated state, stress ensues. And so your troubles begin.
Previously, the recommendation when it came to driving and stress was to reframe the situation in your mind. If you viewed the situation as stressful, then it would be, meaning all you had to do was relax and not stress out.
Clearly this is harder than it seems, and it still doesn’t fix the problem.
For thousands of years, the human body has responded to stressors in the only way it knows how. You can’t fight that many years of biology by simply telling your brain there’s nothing to worry about.
The best and only thing you can do is minimize the amount of time you spend driving. Telecommute to work if and when possible. Consider alternate methods when you have to run errands.
Just the other night, I jogged to the neighborhood Walmart about a mile down the road. In the midst of writing this article, I said:
“Screw the car. I’ll run.”
It was cold as heck, but felt refreshing, and probably helped me sleep a little better that night.
If hoofing it isn’t an option, taking the bus or train could also reduce the amount of stress your body experiences. Play around with different possibilities on your daily commute. You never know, you might find something you enjoy better than driving.
Drinking alcohol is a lot of fun. It can be especially fun when you’re out on the town enjoying the company of friends. There’s also the occasional glass of wine at home, and having a “night cap” before slipping off to bed, which can both be fun in their own ways, too.
While you might think alcohol helps to relieve stress, it’s likely doing the opposite.
Alcohol causes a lot of stress on your inner organs. It is a poison, and your body’s immediate reaction is to eliminate it, working your liver and kidneys overtime to get it out.
I used to be alcohol’s biggest fan. College Jason was a lot of fun, but he also learned the hard way what happens when your body’s had enough. I ended up battling through a couple hellacious years of crippling anxiety.
During those times, I used alcohol to make me feel better. It was what I knew, and in the short term, it worked. I could function as a normal person and enjoy life, offering a few hours of solace from my problems.
But once the alcohol wore off, everything got worse. I’d become shaky, on edge, and depressed. I could feel myself slipping away. I thought alcohol was helping, but it was stressing me out more.
Once I cut the booze from my diet and started engaging in healthier behaviors, my anxiety slowly dissipated.
The next time you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, try going for a run instead of reaching for the bottle.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m inactive for long periods of time, I get restless. After running or lifting weights, the feeling goes away.
I’ll be honest, today I do still enjoy the occasional drink, but it’s usually planned and well controlled. I realized that relying on alcohol to ease my problems was a bad habit, so instead, I’ve replaced it with healthier behaviors that work in the short and long run.
You have more than enough stress and anxiety in your life. We all do. That’s exactly why you don’t need other things unknowingly contributing to the madness.
Unfortunately, none of these problems above are things you can get rid of in a day. But over time, eliminating or minimizing these activities can have a profound impact on stress levels and your health.
Stop ignoring the rubber-band on your wrist and take it off. Your well-being depends on it.