If the anxiety of being laid off doesn’t hit you these days, the stress of a growing workload on the job will.
Add people-pleasing, a role that many learn in childhood, ignoring stress-related health problems, and a habit of internalizing external stress — and cancer is within reach.
Vancouver physician Dr. Gabor Maté points to a recent newspaper article in which former MP Belinda Stronach’s brushes off stress as a precursor to her breast cancer, saying she just ran her body too hard.
“What the cancer was was her body saying no to being run too hard. So if you don’t know how to say no, your body will say it for you,” said the downtown Vancouver physician whose book When The Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress has been translated into 10 languages.
On Monday, as the guest speaker at Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour for Health and Housing’s first annual staff development day for the community, Maté said people don’t perceive themselves as being stressed because that’s what they’re used to and they ignore their own needs.
“People can take on a lot of stuff. It’s this automatic or compulsive need to take it on that kills them.”
Women are particularly susceptible.
In the 1940s, the incidence of multiple sclerosis was equal among men and women. Now three times as many women are diagnosed.
“What’s changed is that women have taken on a lot more. They have taken on an economic role. What they haven’t let go of is the traditional role as the emotional glue in their families and being the sponges for their spouses stresses.”
It all starts in childhood, he said.
“There’s very few parents in this society that are able to give their kids that unconditional loving acceptance so we have to develop roles in order to get approval and acceptance. Then those roles become who we think we are.
“What makes you sick is the conflict between who you are and who you’re forcing yourself to be.”
So back on the job where desks are piled high with paper or at stores where clerks are run off their feet, Maté said putting a stop to stress before it becomes an illness comes down to making the decision they know is right for them.
“If (the boss) gets it, great. If he doesn’t, your options are either stay there are not stay there. If you stay there, choose it.”
And don’t try to go it alone, he said.
Many Albertans face the strain of living far away from family and friends in Eastern Canada.
All alone, they are more prone to relieve their stress through addictive behaviours, which will only magnify stress, Maté said.
“In the ’30s, there was a tremendous amount of stress. But what there’s less of now is social cohesion. Extended families stuck together. The social support you gave to one another helped to mitigate the stress.”