So having been back to the doctor for my first follow-up check, I now have a bit of an understanding of this kind of graph. And I thought it was useful to blog about in any case as a warning and to save me explaining over and over again to people.
I am sure you know about stress and the impact it has on you, especially at times of big change, loss or deadlines. Pressure and stress in themselves are not in themselves bad things; the right amount of stress helps us perform well, which is why when you are in the yellow zone above your performance is excellent and you are not overloaded. This category is the one to aim for. I have worked with young offenders and other teenagers before who sat firmly in the green zone and am saddened when parents or society allow children to remain inactive and not achieve the good things that they could. However, the category most of us find ourselves in most of the time with children, responsibilities in and beyond the home and pressures from society and the wider family is the orange zone, often for long periods.
This is not healthy. If stress levels are not managed at this point you risk burning out and crashing emotionally, resulting in a lack of performance in tasks which is shocking (I just found it too difficult to prepare cheese to go on my daughter’s oat cakes so she’s just got the whole pack of oat cakes instead: the whole day has been like this so far). The warning signs include a dip in performance which is ongoing and stress levels which may be more obvious to others than to ourselves. I have been under sustained stress for some period of time, but assumed that because essentially I don’t do paid work and don’t have a large family that I must be able to keep giving without allowing myself proper rest. So now my medical file includes the words GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK in capital letters.
You can head off burnout by seeing it coming and creating ways to slow down and rest, and you can learn to be kind to yourself and say No when you need to, and realistic about what your personal stress cut-off levels are – everyone’s different.
If you should ever find yourself in the red zone, and I truly hope you don’t, you may be surprised at how many people love you and want to help (and how painful it is wanting to be normal but not knowing if you can just yet), and surprised at how little you can do on any given day. For me, even tasks on auto-pilot wear me out three times faster than they should. Train up your auto-pilot in the way it should go, I strongly recommend; being a mum has meant ‘getting on with it’ so that the minimum tasks of each day are done and I have routines for each day which has helped.
Absolutely everything that can be stripped back has been, and while it is one thing to not have to translate a chapter of 1 Corinthians from the Greek this month, I am disappointed not to be keeping up with friends at various children’s activities.
The doctor has told me that I should expect to take 2-3 months to recover as I cannot build up my performance instantly, even if I do decrease my stress levels. Even now they are constantly on high, and I find myself panicking, stuttering, zoning out and doing my utmost not to get irritable with the family. When the stress levels do drop as I learn to rest more (something I have always found incredibly hard to do) it may even be appropriate to review what I do more and what I should do next. I would love to have great plans and try new things, but I am not built to achieve great things in all areas at all times.
So here’s to rest, and praying that you find ways to stay in the yellow zone.