By Linda Kelly, MSW, RSW
It was actually a Redditor who described this scenario to me once, and I have to say that it really stuck. You’re locked in an enclosed room, and the floor is made of very slowly-moving sandpaper. It would be the most subtle form of torture. At first it’s not a big deal. Just keep moving. You could probably keep up for hours without an issue. But then as time passes, you wouldn’t be able to sleep or rest, not for longer than 30 seconds anyway.
Imagine trying desperately to just close your eyes but having to continuously roll over or get up and move to the other side of the room to try to prolong the short moments of peace. Imagine trying to calm yourself because you have no idea how long this ride will be.
You’d probably experience anger, frustration, anguish. Sadness. More anger. Hopelessness.
You’d probably go through all of those feelings that we try to suppress whenever we are bothered by something that we feel we can’t fix. Something bad is happening, but it’s not a massive disaster that’s over as soon as it began. It gets worse as time goes on, but only enough to make the frustration grow, and not enough for us to feel justified in yelling for help.
That’s chronic stress. Imagine what that would do to a person’s ability to cope, to handle new stressors, to even manage their emotions effectively.
So why are you beating yourself up so much for being emotional when you've been under so much pressure for so long?
For those of you who experience guilt for getting overwhelmed, for wanting to give up, or for losing your temper from time to time, the key is in learning how to temporarily stop that floor from moving, because continually getting up to move yourself out of the way is just addressing the symptoms and avoiding the cause.
If I can leave you with anything here, I’d tell you this: figure out what is the primary cause of your chronic stress (what's moving the sandpaper) and force it to pause long enough for you to rest, recuperate, and regenerate.
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