When does a lack of stress cause stress?

Awareness is a great thing. It highlights issues that may go unnoticed unless you repeatedly check in with how you’re doing. Often just noting a low level of stress can make it go away, or at least seem less noticeable.

But what if an unusual silence raises alarms? I noticed yesterday that my dog-shadow Pete had disappeared. I found him in the back yard, shredding a heavy-cream carton he’d grabbed from the recycle bin. I imagine parents of small children get the same sense of alarm when their children are out of sight and are…quiet.

This sense of unease also kicks in when I’m working through the foundational elements of an autoimmune illness. What social situations trigger reactions borne from early life? I recently transferred from a department where team members worked in isolation, with little communication and interaction. In other words, the team was not a true team. It triggered a familiar feeling in me where I was a child left alone to amuse myself. I didn’t complain because I didn’t have any idea it wasn’t “normal.” The family dog was a surrogate sibling — which explains why I’ve had pets throughout my adult life. They make up for an emotional element that’s been lacking.

My adult self knows that a team should feel like a team. I had a collegial relationship with other reporters when I was a journalist — we watched out for each other. I had a sense that “We’re all in this together.” So the dysfunctional team at my workplace caused me stress. The only time I heard from the manager was when I wasn’t doing things to his standards. Fixtures sitting on the floor are supposed to be two floor-tiles apart. If you bumped one out of place you got a swift, negative reaction. These negative remarks are delivered in a monotone, militaristic tone. If you work in this kind of atmosphere, you know what it’s like.

That’s why I transferred out of there, and now I work with a team that’s quite the opposite. There’s humour, connection and a sense of belonging. That stress of being a misfit is also gone. So why am I worrying about things when there’s nothing to worry about? I think I’ve become aware that worrying is habitual. It’s time to realize that that whirling mind needs to refocus away from negatives (that no longer exist) to acknowledgement of positives.

Speaking of worrying, I was chatting to a supervisor the other day who admits to be a habitual worrier. He said he pays attention to any concerns that arise through the day and writes them down so he can worry about them at a later point in the day, like 7:30 p.m. This frees up his mind so he can focus on more positive things. I doubt there’s much to worry about later. I find writing things down makes them go away, at least for awhile. Thus the blog…

My big worries tend to revolve around “Am I good enough?” The answer is generally “No.” When counsellors ask me this question, I lie. Who out there feels like they’re good enough? How can you feel good enough when your early life dictates that you are not? I have adopted friends who struggle with being “given away” as infants, of being ripped from the womb and sent to live with strangers. Others may be like me, when emotional neglect left them wanting affection and inclusion throughout life. I imagine children who grow up in a home where a parent would rather be intoxicated than present struggle to feel good enough. I had a roofer last year tell me that he worked long hours in the summer so his child could benefit from the income. But children don’t care about money — they care about both parents being present with love and acceptance.

So working on a functional team is similar to being in a good family, one that sees strengths in each person, one that listens to my many questions on why things are the way they are. As for that search for things to worry about, I need to acknowledge that the habit I developed early in life is no longer needed. I can get out of my head and focus on the here and now. Spring is coming. Listen to the growing sound of birds, feel the warmth of the springtime sun and enjoy longer days.

Thank you for following my blog. I appreciate every new subscriber, like and follower. It’s good to feel heard.


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