Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Fight or Flight

So, I've got myself a little job freelancing for a couple of weeks with an old Producer friend and I must say, it's the first time in a long while that I am enjoying work. I was worried that the longer time I had off, the harder it would be to get back into it, but, you know what, it's not too bad! Obviously, with a wedding to save up for and possible house purchases, I couldn't stay away from work forever. Also, that damn "lucky" carp scale that we have been carrying around for the last few days brought us exactly zero winnings on the lottery at the weekend. It went from looking like a beautiful shimmering piece of shell to looking like a grey, dry, curled up tramp toe nail clipping in approximately 2 hours and brought us no financial luck whatsoever.

My other worry about working again was to do with stress. When I quit my job last year, I was very stressed so am trying to not to get myself in too many stressful situations from now on. I think its something that people don't really talk much but I also think a lot of people have symptom's of stress without really knowing what is wrong with them. I spent a lot of last year inexplicably bursting into tears which was not only very inconvenient and embarrassing but also a sign that all was not well. But I kept pushing myself each day to go to work and keep going, until it got to the point where I was pretty much terrified about what each day would bring. The week that I handed my notice in was the peak of it, I kept thinking I was going to either be sick or go to the toilet (I know, horrid) and on one evening I couldn't even walk home from the station. The dear Wig had to come and collect me. It was terrifying, particularly as I didn't know what was happening to me. But now, I know it was stress and I was having panic attacks.

Life is very stressful a lot of the time, but if you can have some balance then its more manageable. I have always put myself under a lot of pressure and everything I have achieved in my life has pretty much been down to me. I worked my way through University to fund my degree, when I moved up to London and got my first job, I knew nobody in the industry, I have bought my own flat with no financial help from anyone but the pressure got to me last year when I realised I couldn't push myself if I wasn't happy. The scales of my life were out of balance so to speak. But just as I had put myself in that situation, I was the only one that could take myself out of it. And even though some people were not very happy about it, I felt I had no other choice. So, now I understand it all and find it very interesting how stress can have such an impact not only psychologically but also physically.

Just before Christmas I attended a 'Stress workshop' , I had no idea if I would get anything from it but went along anyway. The first interesting thing about it was that out of 17 people due to attend, only me and a freelance TV Producer turned up. This confirmed my thoughts that the media industry can be a pretty stressful environment! (Actually, a small non-English speaking lady turned up late but she didn't come back after the lunch break as she thought 'work shop' meant it was a shop for work and she was looking for a job...). I was asked what I hoped to get from the day and I said I was interested to learn about the physical symptoms I had been experiencing so that I could deal with them better and move forwards with my life. What they talked about, I found fascinating and since I have talked to other people about it, they have also (unless they were being kind) found it interesting too. This blog was never intended to be particularly serious and I have thought a lot about whether I should write about this but I think this is quite an interesting subject and might make sense to other people too.

Basically, I learned all about the Fight or Flight response. I will try to explain it the way it makes sense to me although it will be very basic. As cavemen/women we developed something in our brain as a survival instinct. If we felt threatened or under attack certain physical responses occurred. Our blood would rush to our muscles, to make us strong and ready to fight or run away. Blood would also drain from areas that the body did not believe to be essential at that particular time ie from our brains and from our stomachs. Then we would fight the lion or the bear of the pterodactyl, the blood would be restored to its original areas, the testosterone created would be used up through the fighting/running around and we would have a delicious lion/bear/dinosaur pie for tea cooked over an open fire under the stars. Delicious.

But in the modern world, while we don't get attacked by wild critters, we can still feel we are being 'attacked' when we are in any number of stressful situations. This fight or flight response is still inside of us and hasn't really developed even though the world around us has. When we are feeling stressed this response kicks in and our body tries to protect itself. The blood drains from our brains (so our minds go blank in stressful situations, or we stutter and can't speak) and it drains from our stomachs (so we feel sick, or need to go to the toilet, this is the brain saying to the stomach "we don't have the resources to digest that food properly, just get rid of it quick!"). But then all the blood that has moved to our muscles, making then tense up (and giving us bad backs and stiff necks etc) has no where to go. We never have the physical fight (maybe we should!) so it stays in the wrong place making us feel anxious and horrid. It's also why we can have trouble sleeping which I know can be a big problem, as our insides are all mixed up! This is why physical exercise can be so good for you if you are feeling stressed or worried or cant sleep, it restores your body back to normal as much as is possible in the absence of wild animals to wrestle.

So that's basically it. And now I understand this, it makes sense to me and I think it should be taught in schools. Knowing this will help me make different decision's, like what jobs to work on for example, and what situations to avoid, and hopefully mean that I'll never not be able to walk home from the station again. Life is definitely too short to feel stressed.

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