Archive | December, 2014

The Hurry-Up Syndrome

21 Dec

A very identifiable “cousin” to post-traumatic stress syndrome is the “hurry-up syndrome.” The nervous tension which remains in our body after a traumatic incident or perhaps a traumatic upbringing gives rise to an underlying hyper-vigilance. This state of constantly being on the alert has many manifestations. In this article we will examine through vignettes some common examples of this type of anxiety.

One example of the hurry-up syndrome is when a person has to cover all the bases in his/her life. In this vignette we will introduce Mary. Mary was in training to be a physical therapist, but because she planned to practice in a rural setting, she had three practice locations she had to visit on a weekly basis. In order to promote the benefits of physical therapy, Mary also managed to obtain speaking engagements at local hospitals and community centers. When she wasn’t busy with her patients, she was either traveling around to these different locations, making progress notes on her patients, writing down notes for her speeches, or taking care of her children and her home. Often she would eat her “dinner” — a sandwich — in the car while driving from one location to another. Mary also had financial concerns and often ruminated over whether she would be able to support herself and her children through her chosen profession, especially since she eventually hoped to open her own clinic and would be self-employed.

In covering all these bases, Mary failed to take into account the amount of pressure she was putting herself under. At night she would not easily fall asleep, burdened as she was with thoughts about how she would pay her bills; how she could better assist a particular patient; what was going on with one of her children about whom she had recently had a parent-teacher conference; and so on and on. She would bring these thoughts obsessively into her nighttime world, unwittingly causing more stress and robbing her of much-needed relaxation and rest. The next day she would hurry around trying to cover all her bases — her training, her patients at the three centers, her children, her household duties, and her finances. The hurry-up syndrome was devolving into a state of stress exhaustion.

Here is another example of the hurry-up syndrome: Joe was an industrious worker in an engineering firm. When given an assignment, he set about examining the parameters of the assignment right away and then noting down the major steps needed to complete the project. He became known in his department as the go-to person on project management. However, as Joe continued to build up his reputation in the company, he began to notice that he was having trouble keeping up with the demands of coworkers, bosses, and demanding customers. The hurry-up syndrome took hold of him to such a degree that he rarely took time away from his desk for lunch. When he noticed that a boss or customer was trying to reach him, he immediately began to feel a sense of doom. As it was, he was having to take work home several evenings a week and most weekends. He began to dread going to work, and his anxiety began to show up as anger toward his wife and children. He reported always feeling on edge and no longer being able to have fun. In fact, anyone close to Joe could note that he had lost his sense of humor.

Here is a third example. A young girl by the name of Bonnie was essentially a quiet child who enjoyed reading and being in nature. Although she had several school friends, she also enjoyed being alone, writing or coloring in a notebook. Her mother, by contrast, was an extraverted person who enjoyed having people to the house and giving parties. She had a hard time understanding how her daughter could just retreat to her room and entertain herself in such a quiet fashion. Bonnie’s mother was not only outgoing, she was also quick in most things she did. She could whip up a dinner in a flash or get ready to go out, changing into a flamboyant outfit, in no time at all. Her daughter Bonnie was the exact opposite. It took her “ages” to get ready for school and still longer to get some household task done which her mother had assigned her. Bonnie later said that she had never been able to please her mother, simply because she had not been quick enough. The hurry-up syndrome was thus something that Bonnie learned as part of her growing up. Naturally an introspective, reflective person, she began in later life to do things impulsively, which often led to bad consequences, both emotionally and physically. She experienced a number of falls, which would have been preventable if she had not been so hard on herself to do things quickly.

In each of these examples, we see how a person can internalize the seemingly unavoidable demands of a situation. These individuals were all unaware of how they were allowing external conditions to dominate and eventually control their lives. We ask the question, “Is there a way to stand back and regain internal control of situations which are leading to stress exhaustion or to generalized anxiety disorder?”

The first step obviously is becoming aware of how we allow a situation to control our inner being. From that point, we can go on to engage in a number of techniques to help us regulate our “inner environment” so that we can regain a sense of being in the moment, inner peace, and possibly even joy! We will talk about some of these methods in our next installment.

After the Trauma …

6 Dec

In “Trauma or a Lesser Cousin,” we introduced our readers to the concept of trauma and the effects it has on the nervous system. Today we will explore the stages of recovery from traumatic stress and how you can boost your own resilience. In our next article, we will talk about the “cousins” we fer to in our initial article.

The shock of experiencing a trauma is the body’s way of responding to a horrific event. Moving beyond shock into resilience is a process that not only restores our mental, physical, and spiritual health, it also strengthens us to meet everyday challenges.

The first step in recovery is acknowledging that the event occurred and accepting the experience per se. At this stage it is often helpful to be part of a group of persons who may have experienced the event, each individual in his/her own way. The sharing of how the event went down and what each person’s emotions were (and are) can be helpful and comforting. This stage can sometimes reframe the event in wider terms, permitting us to view the event from others’ perspective as well as our own.

Elisabeth Kuebler Ross is famous for outlining the stages of recovery when a person receives the news that s/he is dying. The anger stage and the sadness/depression stages apply to the experience of trauma as well. Shock sometimes gives way to anger or even outrage: “How could that have happened to him, to her, to me?” The nervous system is responding with the energy of anger.

At another point in time we may feel sadness, deep bottomless sadness. It is helpful to “tend” our sadness so that it does not devolve into depression — an energy of inertia — which robs us of the opportunity to move toward resilience. Yet we need to acknowledge the sadness, to give it expression in our journal either in words or in “drawings.” These can be the colors and forms which a small child would use to express on paper how s/he is feeling.

Both with anger and with sadness, it is helpful to have a guide to go with us into the wilderness, or better said, the wildness.

You will find that sometimes what you hear or see may trigger memories of the traumatic event, and you will find yourself momentarily thrust back into that horrible, timeless moment. You may also find that you are behaving in a hyper-vigilant way. If, for instance, you had been accosted in the darkness of a black alleyway — or worse yet, raped in such a place or during a “date” — then your nervous system may be on high alert whenever you go out into an unknown place or when it is becoming dark. The same is true if you felt during your childhood that you could never please your parent. Then you may now be on high alert trying to please your boss, your spouse, or whomever. If your spouse was unfaithful to you in a certain way, you may find that whenever you see or hear or even smell something that reminds you of that experience, it is as if your body is trembling. Your body is re-expressing the trauma which you experienced earlier.

We were all innocent children at one time, and we may currently have our own children whom we are currently raising. Trauma strikes children especially deeply, because they cannot typically identify or express what they are feeling and they cannot “digest” traumatic events. Sometimes it is also beyond an adult’s coping capacity to deal with a particular traumatic event which has occurred in the recent past or many years ago.

I will present three ways to help yourself, two of which you can at times pursue in the privacy of your own space. The other will require the aid of a therapist.

  1. Breathing techniques: Breathe in through your nose as deeply as you can. Then purse your lips and breathe out slowly through your mouth. With practice you can make the out-breath quite long, and this is calming. You may also want to add visualization to this deep breathing technique. I like the image of the wave swelling out in the ocean on the in-breath and then its breaking and spilling onto the shore with the out-breath.
  2. Autogenic healing: This involves meditation and progressive relaxation, among other practices such as yoga, tai chi, and so forth. Listen to a number of CDs to find one which really speaks to you in that “still, silent voice” to calm your nervous system. There are a number of CDs designed to provide bilateral stimulation via earbuds to both sides of the brain. You may also want to try progressive relaxation beginning with your toes and moving through each body part, saying to yourself, “My toes are heavy and warm” three times before moving on to the next body part.
  3. The third technique, administered by a trained professional, is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). EMDR moves you beyond traditional talk therapy because it heals the nervous system by potentially combining five modalities for healing: (a) the mental images of the traumatic event; (b) thoughts that plague you about the event; (c) emotions with which you invest the remembered event; (d) physical sensations called forth by the memory of the event; and (e) the belief you have about yourself due to the consequences of the traumatic event.

Since traumatic events abound in our world today — in our own lives, in those of our friends and neighbors, in our communities, and in the whole world — we are literally surrounded by trauma. If you find yourself “on pins and needles,” being hyper-vigilant, or experiencing racing thoughts or heartbeat, you may be experiencing traumatic stress (or one of its lesser cousins).

Don’t be tough on yourself — that is the last thing you need to do. Instead take time to reflect and write a short daily log, containing your thoughts and feelings and any bodily responses to your surroundings. In that way you will discover whether you may indeed be a victim of post-traumatic stress.