The other day I went for an after-work drink with friends at a “beach” (AKA a pile of sand dumped on the concrete in front of an office building) in Luxembourg City. We talked about how it’s considered normal to think about our work situation when asked if we’re feeling stressed because “being stressed” generally means being confronted with a huge workload or important deadlines AT WORK. So when we talk about stress, our brain automatically ponders how we feel at work and even if we do indeed feel stressed at work, we’re reluctant to say so unless we believe our workload’s important enough for it to be considered legitimately stressful*.
But come to think of it, most people I know are indeed stressed but not necessarily because of work. This is the conclusion we came to at the beach as well while sipping on our drinks, feet dangling in the sand. One of the girls told us about a doctor’s appointment during which she was asked whether she was experiencing a lot of stress and, thinking of work, she said no. Then she got back home and realised that she’s in fact stressed all the time. The source of the stress isn’t work itself however, but rather the fact that work takes up most of her day and that she can’t do all the things she’d like (and need) to be doing at the end of the day. Hearing her say that out loud made me notice that having to make those daily choices actually causes me a great deal of stress too.
I guess I’m lucky because I can usually leave work rather early compared to other people, but working forty hours a week unfortunately doesn’t leave a lot of room for an abundance of after-work activities, especially since I often need to rest after work in order to make it through the next day (of work). Trying to maintain a social life (hanging out with friends AND going on dates), shopping for groceries and cooking, doing laundry and other household chores, finding time for exercising, taking care of my horses, taking care of myself… All of these activities need to be planned meticulously because I can usually only choose to do one (or maybe two) on any given day. And even then I sometimes have to cancel previously made plans at the last minute because I’m too tired or feeling overwhelmed by everything else that has to be taken care of.
The following picture sums it up quite perfectly:
What I’m trying to say is that having to make those choices sucks, even more so because we often have to stick to a previously chosen activity even though we may not feel like doing said activity anymore when it’s finally time to go through with it. We’re supposed to be responsible adults and therefore have to make responsible choices.
I’d love to hang out with X today, but I have to take care of Y [replace Y by any less delightful activity]. Could I do Y tomorrow instead..? Ugh no, I have an appointment tomorrow, so it has to be today.
I constantly feel like there’s not enough time and as a result, I often end up doing nothing because the pressure of having to choose can be downright paralysing.
My thoughts when I’m at work:
There’s so many things I want to do! Should I do this after work? Or this? Maybe both?
My thoughts when I leave work:
Ugh. So tired. I should rest.
It usually helps to make plans with friends because that way they hold you accountable for your choices and you’re more inclined to follow through even if you feel like chickening out (which happens to me all the time). At the same time, actually doing things is usually beneficial to my mental well-being.
In other words, stress doesn’t necessarily have to be caused by an external factor but can also come from within, which is commonly referred to as emotional stress. While emotional stress is often triggered by external factors, its importance depends on one’s ability to cope. I sometimes feel completely overburdened because I have a lot of things on my mind and when that happens, even the tiniest incident is susceptible to tip me over the edge. This can be difficult to understand for the people surrounding me because what eventually lights the fuse is often quite insignificant, objectively speaking. But that’s the thing about emotions: they’re not objective. In fact, they’re highly subjective, which is why you should refrain from judging people’s emotional reactions based on your own perceptions.
In accordance with the expression “to have a lot on one’s plate”, be aware that not everyone’s plate has the same size: what barely affects you may be too much for someone else, whose plate may also have been fuller than yours to begin with.
* There’s actually such a thing as “boreout syndrome” which is the opposite of the commonly known burnout syndrome, but that’s a whole other topic for a whole other time…