When we think of stress, we tend to think of the big things that life throws at us that make us want to shut down. The baby screaming at 3 am, the in-laws moving into your house, moving into a new home or going through renovations.

These visible stressors register to us as obviously stressful.

But you look around and you don’t have a screaming child, you’re living in a wonderful house with your family, you have a steady job…

So why are you so exhausted, cranky and foggy all of the time?

Invisible stress is the stress that does all the dirty work right beneath your level of awareness. Individually, they all seem very small and forgettable, but when enough of these silent micro-stressors add up, it can leave you feeling absolutely wiped.

In this article, we’ll talk about what causes five major hidden stressors that can really wear you down to a point where it will even affect your health, and well-being and, yes, hinder your weight loss progression.

More than that though, learn how you can recover from these silent stressors so that you can live a life with more energy, resilience and vivacity.

Stressor #1: Information overload & filter failure

We live in a world of information. And although technology has given us so many great things (can you imagine driving anywhere without Google Maps? I mean, honestly), it’s also given us the inability to decipher between useful and useless information.

We’re left feeling literally bogged down by everything we’ve just consumed over the course of the day.

We have emails, video calls and Slack messages to consume at work.

We have text messages, family calls, ad social invitations, social media scrolling, Youtube videos and clicking on ads for that pair of shoes you didn’t know you really needed all of a sudden.

But here’s the real problem with all this information - because it actually isn’t the information itself that’s the problem - it’s the fact that we don’t know how to pull information that’s important and relevant to us in our own lives.

Think of pulling relevant information as triaging in an emergency room. Learning to take only what’s pertinent to your life at the moment and leave the rest behind is a skill you can learn to develop. Filtering the information you leave in your mind.

Signs you’re suffering from this stressor

Consider if any of the following are true for you:

✓ You feel tired and edgy after spending time on the internet or watching the news.

✓ You don’t spend as much time on your health, fitness, and life goals, because you get distracted by what’s going on online or with the latest Netflix release.

✓ You keep finding yourself somewhere in an information ocean, not sure how you got there.

✓ The idea of a digital vacation feels scary—but maybe also a teeny bit freeing.

✓ You struggle to know where to put your attention, because everything’s trying to grab it.

✓ It all just feels like… too much.

How to recover

A focus filter allows you to consciously choose—with purpose—where you want to place your attention.

Your filter is something that’s developed over time that’s in line with your identity, your values and your goals. Maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom who values time with her kids. Or maybe you’re a health enthusiast who really values getting outside for a good workout every day.

Whoever you are and whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, your focus filter should work to help you navigate your journey in becoming that person (or maintaining the values of that person) or getting to that goal.

That includes blocking out all irrelevant information and retaining important information.

Information overload compounded with a faulty filter will quite literally paralyze us from taking action on our weight loss or health journey. We are being pulled in so many directions with different and conflicting information, we have no idea what’s right or where to start.

A great place to start would be to ask - what’s right for me?

In order to know the answer to that question, you’d need to know what you value and what your goals are.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you read a weight loss article that’s telling you to the only way to lose weight is to stop eating after 3 pm.

Now, you’re someone who has family dinners every evening at 5:45 and you know it’s a valuable time to connect with your family around the dinner table.

With a strong filter, that article has been blocked and you can move on knowing it’s not in alignment with who you are as a person.

Stressor #2: Toxic positivity

If you were growing up in the 90s, you probably have been faced by someone telling you to “find the silver lining” or reminding you that “everything happens for a reason”.

Being positive is important, yes, but when contrived, positivity can actually be counterproductive. It can actually intensify the stress that we’re experiencing.

The problem with toxic positivity is that it actually prevents us from recognizing our problems, which stops us from ever solving them. You cannot just slap an “EVERYTHING’S OK” label on all your problems and expect them to disappear.

Signs you’re suffering from this stressor

Pulling positivity out of a negative situation doesn’t have to be toxic always. For example, believing you can deal with and learn from hardship can make you feel capable, strong, and gritty and can lead to massive growth. And that’s positive.

Toxic positivity, however, generally leads to stagnation.

You’re not moving through challenges with courage and vulnerability. Rather, you’re getting stuck in “Everything’s okay! I don’t have to deal with that because it’s not a problem!”

More signs that toxic positivity is keeping you stunted:

✓ You don’t discuss difficult emotions such as anger or grief.

✓ Repressed negative emotions seem to leak out in other ways: muscle tension, disappearing wine bottles, disproportionate explosions of rage when you can’t find your keys.

✓ You feel guilty or ashamed whenever you experience a negative emotion like frustration or sadness. (“I have no right to feel this. My life is okay and so many other people are suffering.”)

✓ You feel uncomfortable when people around you are suffering, so you say things like “just look on the bright side.”

✓ You’ve unsuccessfully started a million gratitude journals and hated them immediately.

How to recover

Be OK with feeling a full range of emotions - especially the uncomfortable ones. Take it a step further, get even more uncomfortable and talk to someone about all the negative emotions you’re feeling.

When you notice a negative emotion, acknowledge it. Recognizing your emotions makes them really real. And that realness will allow you to work through it.

A part of acknowledging your emotions is noticing how it’s showing up in your body. Does your chest get tight? Neck sore? Headaches? Holding back tears?

Trying to figure out what this emotion is trying to tell you and welcome it into your world instead of repressing it.

Stressor #3: Life’s white noise

Lawn equipment, car alarms, barking dogs, and other noisy goings on are more than just annoying.

They can trigger a body-wide stress response.

In order to survive, we evolved to perceive, interpret, and respond to the world’s sensory information.

Based on the sounds around us, your body will perk up (say, to the sound of a crying baby), jolt you into action (to respond to a blaring car horn), or just do nothing (interpreting the constant hum of the air conditioner as NBD).

We’re well equipped to process much of this sensory stimuli.

However, when this information overwhelms our ability to process it, it becomes a stressor.

Signs you’re suffering from this stressor

Some of us are unusually sensitive to sensory input.

We feel uneasy in situations that don’t bother other people—such as a crowded restaurant with lots of competing conversations. If others around us don’t understand or feel the same way, the stress gets amplified.

You might be unusually sensitive to sensory input if you…

✓ Feel overstimulated and/or uncomfortable in environments other people find relaxing or neutral (restaurants, doctor’s waiting rooms)

✓ Avoid certain environments (like airports and malls) because you worry you won’t be able to handle all the commotion

✓ Have other sensory sensitivities. For example, you reject many foods because of taste or texture, or diligently rip tags off clothes because the little pieces of fabric torment you

How to recover

There is no off switch to life’s commotion unfortunately.

Question #1: How might you turn down the volume on sounds that trigger your stress?

Could you close the blinds during work calls to prevent your dog from barking at the mail carrier?

Wear noise-cancelling headphones in crowded environments to muffle background noise?

Talk to your neighbours about mutually-agreed upon quiet hours?

Question #2: How might you invite more quiet?

Are there ways to build “quiet breaks” into your day?

Can you take 10 minutes to walk outside before going home after work? Can you schedule quiet time in the family where everyone is engaged in a low-key activity like reading, or colouring?

Stressor #4: Emotional labor

Imagine you work in customer service.

All day long, you must pretend to care deeply about the often minor concerns of your customers.

Even when people are rude or offensive, you must adopt a pleasant tone and stick to the script, which in part, involves you repeatedly saying “I’m sorry” for a situation that isn’t remotely your fault.

Nurses, therapists, coaches, and even parents might relate: No matter what kind of day you’re having, you still try to seem caring and cheerful.

That’s emotional labor, a term coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in the 1980s. It’s the internal work needed to actively manage the feelings of others, as well as control our own response.

Signs you’re suffering from this stressor

Consider whether any of the following are true for you:

✓ You feel you must plaster a smile to your face in order to not provoke coworkers who make hurtful, demeaning comments.

✓ You work in a profession that involves concealing your own emotions and prioritizing the emotions of the customer or client. Think: healthcare, law, customer service, social work, and coaching.

✓ You feel exhausted at the end of the day because you spend most of it taking care of other’s emotions.

✓ You’re the one in your household who’s always keeping the peace. Preventing your kids from tackling each other, smoothing over messes, trying to keep everyone calm when really you just want to scream at your kid to pick up his #$&# mess.

How to recover

▶ Create boundaries between home and work, perhaps by not checking work email during dinner, or after a set hour.

▶ Have a crucial conversation with your family during which you explain that you’re no longer the United Nations for their problems.

▶ Schedule 5-minute breaks into your workday so you can slam a medicine ball into a wall, take a walk around the block, or stare out a window.

▶ Get extra support—for instance, from an ally or therapist who understands your struggles.

The best form of emotional recovery will vary from one person to another.

Experiment with options until you find what works best.

Less stress, more recovery

When you see hidden stressors clearly, you have a better chance of being able to take empowered steps to recover from them.

Think about the balance of stress and recovery as a tank that can be simultaneously filled (through recovery) and drained (from stress).

  • Put more in the tank by cranking up recovery practices
  • Slow or plug the leak by decreasing or better managing stress

You won’t be able to eliminate stressors—invisible or otherwise—completely. But by slowing the leak as well as filling the tank, you can feel a little more equipped for life.

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