In my capacity as a non-scientist, I have observed that when it comes to stress, there are two kinds of people.
One is the kind of person who feels the effects of stress first in their body; the other feels it first in their mind.
Piggy and I both fall into the first category. We’re skilled jugglers, and we tend to think “Sure, I can add one more ball into the mix.” We don’t really register how stressed we are until we get migraines (her) or muscle spasms (me). Other people in this category might experience digestive problems, insomnia, frequent colds, loss of energy, chest pains, racing heartbeats, panic attacks, and other such unfair bullshit.
Folks who fall into the second category don’t get off lightly either. Stress can make them feel overwhelmed in a way that manifests very strongly in their moods. They might feel agitated, frustrated, moody, avoidant, lonely, or depressed. These kinds of emotions can tarnish their self-image, strain their relationships with loved ones, and make them feel socially isolated when they most need support.
Everyone feels both kinds of stress; it’s just a question of which way it manifests first.
The unfortunate thing about both the physical and emotional symptoms of stress response is that both tend to exacerbate existing stressors. If you’re super busy at work and you start getting stress headaches, congratulations: you’re now both busy and in pain! If you’re super busy at work and you start crying at your desk, congratulations: you’re now both busy and humiliated!
Piggy and I spent a bit too much time in our twenties ignoring the signs our bodies were sending us, and had to learn our limits by suffering the consequences of overextending ourselves.
We are older and wiser now. We know that it’s better to take breaks before you “need” them. And we want to model that behavior for all of you, which is why we took a vacation and publicized it!
Hint hint: we think you should take a vacation too. Here’s why.
The world has changed
In 1930, legendary economist John Maynard Keynes was asked to predict what labor would look like one hundred years from thence.
His prediction? A three-hour work day for all.
Though we can all laugh like a bitter, loveless Disney villain at how wrong he was, we can’t really fault his logic. Electricity and its attendant innovations were transforming the world. Keynes could see automation approaching upon the horizon like the rising sun. He couldn’t have predicted his grandchildren would work fifteen hour days.
There’s a pretty hilarious interview with Keynes’s actual grandchild—he admits to working fifteen hour days.
And his occupation is: retired.
Guy has zero fucking chill!!!
There are a lot of fascinating reasons why Keynes was so incredibly wrong, which I will add to the never-ending list of topics I’d like to cover on this blog one day. But suffice to say, neither the wages of the average worker nor the amount of her leisure time has scaled in keeping with our labor-saving innovations.
It no longer takes us hours of hard labor to wash the laundry, but nature abhors a vacuum. New tasks have rushed in to fill our empty hours—and very few of them are leisure.
80% of people continue to work after leaving the office at the end of the day, and half of them do so because they feel they have “no choice.” Americans are thought to spend an extra seven hours on work-related tasks every week. 68% of respondents checked their work email before 8AM, and 40% after 10PM.
From a TechCrunch article on these findings:
“A quarter of respondents said overtime caused occasional disagreements with their partner. Worse, over half said it did not– apparently, work outside of work is so par for the course, we don’t even care anymore. That’s truly frightening.”
Bitches don’t believe that the human mind was designed to be so constantly and exhaustively engaged. And no matter how desperately we try to keep up, sooner or later our bodies will rebel.
Listen to the small warning signs, because you die of the big ones
Piggy actually likes to run. I don’t get it either. Some people just like tedious and hateful activities, I guess! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Guess what happened when Piggy pushed herself hard and ran every day? She got a stress injury. And after a thorough scolding from her doctor, she now has “rest days” where she doesn’t push her body in the same way that she pushed it the day before.
Your brain works the same way. When confronted with a stressful situation, your brain’s sympathetic autonomic nervous system kicks into gear. It raises your heart rate, constricts your blood vessels, and prepares you for classic “fight or flight” responses. When the danger has passed, your parasympathetic system is supposed to send a reversal signal that relaxes those physical stress responses. But a chronically stressed person might not get the parasympathetic “girl chill” response as often as they get the sympathetic “oh-shit-oh-shit” response. And it can lead to disastrous health consequences.
Chronic stress increases our risk of heart and vascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It also taxes our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to infections. These are life-threatening conditions and we feed our risk of contracting them by putting ourselves into perennially stressful situations.
If you know that stress makes you cranky, or weepy, or prone to overeating, or unable to sleep at night, you would be wise to honor those early signs and take a breather. Because the later warning signs are diseases that might well kill you.
You are not superhuman
You know how much we love reminding you that you are human. (Apologies to any nonhuman super-intelligent dogs, dolphins, or apes who might be reading this.)
As a human being (probably) living in 2017, you are constantly bombarded with encouragement to overwork and the normalization of stressful conditions.
You’re a negligent employee if you fail to respond to emails sent after hours. You’re a shitty romantic prospect if you don’t respond to a text within the span of exactly seven eye-blinks. You’re a bad parent if you’re not constantly chauffeuring your kids from activity to activity. Why do we pretend that the stereotype of the professional woman drinking an entire bottle of wine every night is sooooo funny and unrelated?
All of these expectations are extra-exacerbated if you’re into the personal finance community, as many of our readers must be. Man, if you make a post on a personal finance forum looking for advice on buying a dryer, there is a 100% chance you’ll be smugly informed that dryers are for ~*UnMuStAcHiAn CuCkS*~ and line-drying is for Golden Gods. It makes me want to scream. Especially when it comes to its deification of overworking in all its forms.
You. Are. Human. Humans have complex emotional needs and fragile, meat-based bodies. Constantly strategizing ways to squeeze a few more dollars out of every square inch of your free time is a surefire way to run yourself into the ground.
You don’t have to make a production out of it
Sometimes, going on vacation can require so much planning and expense that it ends up being exactly as stressful as anything else, especially if you’re trying to coordinate things for a family or group. I’ve known a lot of people (many of them mothers) who find traveling to be more stressful than going to work. But going on vacation doesn’t have to be a Ziegfeld Follies number.
Remember that the spirit of the vacation isn’t going somewhere, it’s taking a break. Many people find traveling to be relaxing and enjoyable, and that’s fine, but sometimes a break can look more like hitting pause on your responsibilities for a few days.
If you find yourself feeling stressed and burnt out, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your only recourse is to start planning a trip.
Staycations (where you take vacation time but stay at home) are amazing. I took a full week off in May just to work on different home improvement projects. It gave my brain new puzzles to solve, released my body from the routine of desk work, and improved the value of my home all at once. I look forward to it even more than traveling.
Even if you only do things you love, you still need a break
Finally, remember that even if you love what you do every day, your mind and body still need a break from doing it sometimes.
If you’re one of those people who works at a nonprofit whose mission you love and deeply believe in, that’s awesome! But you still need a break. Same goes if you’re a full-time parent to awesome kids, or a healthcare provider, or self-employed and loving it.
Doing work that you love doesn’t eliminate your need for vacations. If anything, it may increase it. When you do work that you’re ambivalent about, it’s easier to leave it behind at the end of the day. Your passion and your sense of identity aren’t caught up in it.
Whereas when you’re deeply emotionally invested in your job, every choice has greater stakes. And that can be taxing on a deeper level than say, food prep or proofreading or working the front desk at a hotel.
Take this blog, for example! Piggy and I LOVE Bitches Get Riches. Our text chain is a sickening self-congratulator love-fest for what we’ve created in a pretty short amount of time. When we’re doing well, we get comments from people who tell us they’re taking our advice: asking for raises, fighting for promotions, changing their behavior. Hearing that makes me absolutely glow. Yet it also makes me feel a greater sense of responsibility to our readers.
I want to get it right every time. I want to make sure I’m looking at every issue from the “right” angle. Because if I give someone bad advice and they take it, I’d be crushed. Higher stakes gives taking the occasional break a whole new level of importance.
… Wow, I crammed a LOT of internal rhymes into that last sentence without even trying! See? Witness the power of a well-rested mind!
That’s it, my lovelies. We hope the temporary absence of our gorgeous presences didn’t dim the light of your world too-too much. We are refreshed, recharged, and recommitted to bringing you a healthy lettuce wrap of financial advice stuffed with cheese, gifs, and strong opinions about ReBoot villains. Because Hexadecimal was the best character on that show and I will fight anyone who says otherwise!