Recognising situations that cause chronic stress: Staying long after you should have gone…

alarm clock


It’s a warm summer night, but not too warm. The company is great, it’s all very relaxing and although you know you’ve got to get up early for work, you don’t want to be the first person to end the moment. So you stay.

You hate your job, but the money is good. The boss is a moron and your co workers don’t respect you but you’re scared about change and the upheaval a new job would cause. So you stay.

You’re doing a PhD, you know you don’t want to be a career scientist because the thought of living from 3 year grant to 3 year grant is a bit daunting when you have friends in their 40s with broken relationships and mortgages and no secure income. But you’ve already put 3 years of your life in and you’re over half way there, so you stay…

You’re in a shared space and your co-workers don’t respect your needs. You’ve brought the issues up a few times but keep getting ignored, your messages, notes and calls are un-returned and unacknowledged. You know deep down you should go because being “unheard” is making you feel terrible and you’ve gone so far out of your way to try to make the situation work, yet you stay…

You’re managing a team project. One of the team members is not a team player. They make the working relationship harder and harder. Their blatant disrespect for you, the team and the project erodes your self confidence. You know they need to go, but don’t feel like you have many options with your limited budget (and they know it too). So you try to make the impossible situation work by taking on more and more and more and more and more…. and they stay.

The elephant in the room
We’ve all done it, been there, stayed too long, or allowed someone to stay on our team, in our lives, or in our hearts too long.

It’s impossible to really talk about effective long term health and nutrition without addressing the elephant in the room: the situations, habits, stresses and relationships which are causing the havoc in the first place. Like in the leaky boat post a couple of weeks ago, if you aren’t aware of these situations, how to recognise them and how to deal with them then it doesn’t matter how much withania, rhodiola or siberian ginseng you take, you’re going to keep feeling and being depleted.
You’ll spend a fortune on B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, zinc and various other nutrients and blends for “adrenal fatigue”. You’ll take vitex till the cows come home and still have an erratic menstrual cycle. You’ll cut carbs, you’ll cut gluten, you’ll add carbs and cut animal products, but the problem will keep coming back, you’ll still feel tired, bloated, over-weight, underweight, not quite right. Because until you plug the hole in the boat you will just keep bucketing out the water while allowing the real cause of the problem to continue.

• Step 1 is recognising the leak.
• Step 2 is finding an effective way to deal with it.

So in today’s post I’d like to talk about recognising one of the ways you might be inviting drama in your life.

You might be wondering if I am drawing a very long bow here, really, how can staying too long at a pleasant dinner be contributing to your health issues? How can keeping a team member in a project for too long cause your hair to fall out?

Each of the situations above leads to stress especially over the long term. While one late night might not be a problem, a series of late nights can create serious havoc especially if your way to manage is to reach for a stimulant (of a legal or illegal kind). While illegal stimulants have their own set of problems, legal stimulants like caffeine, high energy food and other things lead to their own special kind of biochemical havoc.

Stress from worrying whether you worded your reply email correctly and the fatigue from perpetual late nights. Stress from having less free time because you’ve got to do the work of the team members not pulling their weight leads to a worsening and self-perpetuating cycle of comfort eating, weight gain or weight loss, less sleep, less exercise all of which only make it harder to get out of the situation.

So, no, I don’t feel that this is drawing a long bow.

Why we stay too long: Resisting change

Whether it is because we don’t want to pull away from the warm embrace of our partner or the deliciously squeezy cuddles from our kids in the morning, eventually there comes a time when holding on too long, makes us too late for the next thing.

It’s continuing to say “yes” when we should be saying “no”.

Why do we hang on longer than we should? Why do we continue to work with monsters and morons, stay in relationships which erode our self worth rather than strengthen it and continue to hope that people will respond differently than they do?

I think there are a few different reasons for this:

The two big ones I see are fear and not feeling like we have any other options. Sometimes it’s not just you being afraid to let go, but the other person making it hard for you to leave.

In my personal experience, and in the stories of my friends, and clients who experience similar things, the other person or people in these situations tend to know the “power they have over you” and reinforce the belief that – “if you leave here you’ll have nowhere else to go”.

To stay in the situation or to go? That is the question.

My personal opinion here is to recognise when to walk away and then do it (earlier rather than later). Ideally seek the wisdom of a counsellor or appropriately qualified healthcare practitioner for support with your specific situation and advice on the best way to go about it; but if something feels “wrong” and especially if “bittersweet” is becoming just plain “bitter” and you’re feeling angry, resentful and like you’ve been taken advantage of, then it’s time to do something about the situation before it really takes your health down.

Over the years I’ve had all kinds of health situations caused from the long term stress of staying in a situation longer than I should have. I’ve seen the same in my clients too, from weight gain to weight loss, to menstrual irregularities, fertility problems, hair loss, “adrenal fatigue” and many more.

In all those years and with all those experiences rarely have I seen a situation where holding on long after you should have let go, moved on or walked away has lead to more strength, better insight, self confidence, self respect and/or respect from the people who didn’t respect your boundaries to begin with.

Possibly it’s because you didn’t respect your boundaries either?

When the line was finally drawn in the sand, rarely has a letter been received saying, “Wow, I totally respect you for putting up with my selfish immature crap for so long. You’re such a fair person to have rationally explained to me the many times where I wasn’t acknowledging your needs and I really don’t want you to leave and so I’ve decided to change based on this amazing and evolved example you’ve given me.”

Generally the response is a little more like “I don’t care that you’re gone, but how dare you leave before I replaced you and your things.” And other variations of “You’re so selfish, you didn’t think of me.” To this I can’t help but think of a line from Aussie TV series Kath & Kym: “Moi, moi, moi, everyone’s so self absorbed, no one’s thinking of me!”

How can you prevent this happening again?

The first thing you can do is to recognise that a situation is moving into “chronic stress territory” so if you find yourself reaching for stimulants so you can burn the candle at both ends, or you find yourself reaching for a phone and hear yourself “bitching” about your friends or the people you work with or the work you are doing, then it’s a sign to stop and consider.

If you’ve done everything you can, like discussed the problem of the shared space with the space manager, or discussed the expectations of the team with the team members and been clear about what actions they were expected to take but they’ve blatantly ignored your emails and defied your requests then ultimately I think it all comes down to boundaries: Knowing when to say “No” and “Enough is enough”, knowing what your bottom line is, (actually having a bottom line is a good place to start too); then being willing to respect your own boundaries and move on.

The aphorism “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” is applicable here. Ultimately the only person you’re really in control of is yourself and so if you’ve done everything you could do and you can’t stop the other people contributing to the stressful situation then it’s worth considering how you can take yourself out of the stressful situation.

I’d love to hear what you think. Why do you think people “stay too long”?