The neuroscience behind the quiet suffering you know as “working from home”.
Your brain thought “yay! stay in my comfort zone” until your comfort zone became your stress zone – a land mine of distractions and a multitasking nightmare.
What used to be your safe haven has now become your all-in-one stress zone. There are no boundaries now separating you from the need to open your laptop, get on a work call, and tackle the dreaded barrage of emails each morning. Not only that, the demands of your home life (prepping and making meals, your spouse’s needs, your children’s needs, your pet’s needs, the clutter you meant to pick up, the bills that need paying staring you in the face, the laundry that needs doing, another spill on the floor…) don’t stop.
Your brain is on overload and when you are stimulated from every direction the old reptilian parts become activated. Yes, you heard right “reptilian”. The most primitive parts of the brain are hardwired for anxiety – aka survival. It is not just mind over mood. When your brain is activated in a way that is overstimulating and overwhelming all at once your brain chemistry changes instantly without your awareness or control.
Stress triggers an automatic cascade of chemical responses. These responses connect the brain to the rest of the body. It all starts when your body reacts to something with increased heart rate, muscle tension, and a change in breathing. The hypothalamus in the brain responds immediately and communicates with the adrenal glands (located on the top of each kidney) by sending alarm messages through hormones (chemical messengers). In this chain reaction, the adrenal glands then release different hormones which lead to a louder, and better orchestrated set of stress responses in the rest of the body. These chemical actions are completely automatic and they are all supposed to turn off as soon as the ‘threat’ is gone, but when the threat is perceived to hang around for long periods of time, you guessed it, there is no turn off. There are also times when the stressor is gone, but the system still doesn’t turn off. Feeling stressed and anxious all the time has a number of potential consequences in the body including decreasing the effectiveness of the immune system – meaning people are at higher risk of getting sick when they are chronically stressed.
It’s not your imagination. It’s hard to navigate all the demands of your life when you are surrounded by them 24/7. Find time for breaks. Find time to take care of your personal needs. Make these things a priority. Sleep enough, drink enough water, move your body to a point of increasing your heart and respiratory rate with sweating 3-5 times a week and your quality of life and ability to manage stress will improve. Sitting quietly (2min) to find the point of stillness within you is also very helpful in reducing mind chatter and blood pressure. We will see the other side of this crisis. In the meantime, try to be kind to yourself, you are doing the best you can.