Daily Archives: February 1, 2012

Reaction to Stress Over Time

Each day Corey has been gone, things have gotten exponentially more difficult. The reactions I was having to things last night were certainly far out of the realm of normal, but it got me thinking about how things have progressed the last 8 days.

So I made a visual aid.

I’m the sort of person who loves visual aids, charts, graphs, you name it. I swear that if I got dumped and the person dumping me used visual aids, I’d probably come out of it thinking, “wow, that was a stellar presentation. You know, they have a point.” You can imagine that I could completely identify with Marshal from the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother, when he develops an addiction to using visual aids in every-day situations. Thank god I don’t work at kinkos, or everyone would be begging me to stop.

Anyway, what we have here is an exponential graph showing how my reaction to stress (the Y axis) is compounded by the number of days (the X axis) Corey is out of town.

The first few days, there isn’t a huge leap in the graph, it is pretty steady. This lead-up portion where I can hold things together while he’s gone increases each time he is away. Kind of like building up an immunity to the stress that initially happens.

However, as you can see, by the 4th day the curve begins to make its ascent. On the 4th and 5th day, my reactions in stressful situations begin to become more exaggerated, but are probably still within the realm of reasonable/tolerable by others. By day 6, people are noticing and tend to be a little dumbfounded by my reactions, and by 7 I’m off the chart.

When I become super sensitive to stress right around day 6 and 7, it is not readily apparent to me that I am overreacting to things. Instead, what I feel inwardly is an immediate sense of being overwhelmed.

For me, feeling exceptionally overwhelmed is usually the staging area for depression. The more I continue in stressful situations, the worse the depressive episode will be.

Just because I’ve had two or three days of feeling overwhelmed doesn’t mean I am expecting a huge depressive episode. I do expect somewhat of a depressive swing, but those big, hospitalizing episodes of depression usually require months of feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. The trouble in the past was that with a full time job, I wasn’t able to take enough time to relax and let myself come out of it. That usually compounds everything even further.

As I mentioned, I don’t always notice that I am overreacting to things, and that’s why I tend to respond to that feeling of being overwhelmed in the following way:

I feel the intense urge to sever all ties with people, the internet, and the outside world. I can still cook or read or work on projects, as long as there is no human contact. The instant I am having to communicate I feel completely overwhelmed again.

To some, that might seem like an overreaction, but I almost think there is something of self-preservation in there. There is red-alert in my brain, a switch gets thrown, and I go into seclusion mode in an attempt to reverse the stress that is being caused by communication.

That was what happened last night, and though I didn’t take any particular action, all I could think about was distancing myself from the rest of the world.

This has been the pattern for as long as I remember, even if I didn’t identify it until last night. And now that I’m looking at it, I can’t say that either way has worked for me. If I trudge on through the stress and keep trudging, I’ve seen the outcome, and it is basically the worst case scenario. If I withdraw, wont I be inviting depression just as equally as if I remained in the stressful situation?

I’m certain there is a secret answer number 3, but I don’t know what it is. If you have any ideas, feel free! I’m going to give my doctor a call, and hopefully Corey’s return today will help restore some of the balance.