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.

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