I'm not sure there's a way out of this cycle except feeling nervous and then noticing it was unwarranted, again and again. If you have some kind of trauma associated with X, you just keep seeing X without the trauma and eventually it gets easier.

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I wanna start with the sentiment that I hope you've found a way out of your cyclical patterns of recognized stress. In the event that you haven't, I want to suggest questioning yourself on why you feel you must obsess about the possibility of failure until it happens. I've been through these patterns before, and one of the only things that helped me towards inner peace was to recognize that when you obsess about failure, you've essentially brought yourself to fail twice. This can be helpful in constructive, and non-cyclical patterns of thought, but when it comes to destructive and depressing patterns of thought, it leads you to feel like a failure, which I believe is unnecessary and far more harmful to your life than most other possible patterns of thought. I know just saying this won't rid you of your negative self-perceptions, but I hope it helps to realize that everything that you view as negative about yourself, is subject to the same levels of change that any other facets of your personality are.

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I've felt what you are describing. From my experience, which you can take for what it's worth to you, is that it's both temporary and probably based on at least *something* that's real - exaggerated in all the ways you seem to recognize.

At a previous job I was so stressed out that I couldn't do any work during the normal work times. I'd sit at my desk and routinely get very little done. Then I would stress out even more, work during evenings or really early (which was easier because I was sleeping about three hours a night), get just enough done to feel like I wasn't going to get fired, and repeat the cycle with even less sleep. I was absolutely miserable at all times. But, I had a job before that where I didn't feel that way. And I have a job now where I don't feel that way. And really, I had several years at the stressful job where I didn't feel that kind and level of stress.

I attribute that overwhelming stress to a cycle that started with and was amplified by having a really bad boss. But it really could have been any number of things - so long as they are real and persistent. Something unreal probably wouldn't start or repeat the cycle, and something temporary would go away after a while and you could probably get enough sleep and good vibes to break out and move on. I've had dozens of temporarily overwhelming experiences, and generally one or two great nights of sleep and/or a few particularly nice experiences are enough to right the ship.

My biggest problem was an unwillingness to consider that something core to my job, my boss who was also part owner of the company, was the problem. Realizing that would have forced me to leave my job, and at the time I didn't have another prospect I felt would allow me to support my family. You've mentioned work here a couple of times, so I'm going to suggest you think about what aspect or aspects of your job may be causing you stress, and consider whether you can either fix that stressful aspect or look for another job.

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Yes, this spiral of stress is very recognizable from personal experience. It's still there now, but I'm trying to unwind it.

In my case, a combination of attitude and external circumstances led me here.

Lack of quality sleep has a huge impact on sanity. The most frustrating part -- the recipes for good sleep have been known for a long time and cost nothing. You just need to relax an hour before bedtime, don't look at the phone or computer screen, don't drink coffee after 3 pm, air the room, lie down comfortably. I had another six months of chronic abdominal pain, after seeing a doctor it turned out that all I had to do was watch my diet and relax.

The second time I talk about relaxation, what is it? It's deep breathing and asking rational questions about a problem, in most situations it's enough for me. It helps to keep track of myself, what makes me feel worse, what makes me feel better. A lot of the habitual things in life are just habitual, there is no benefit from them.

Once the body is functioning normally, you can use cognitive therapy techniques for the mind. I use Burns' book "Feeling good" as a guide. It is very lucid and convincing, he offers algorithms for action, step-by-step instructions. In contrast to classical psychotherapy, it works with me almost unconditionally. The book gives working tools and techniques that work!

Now I continue to get out of this cycle,

I can wish you good luck, your texts on how to be poor and rich are very much in tune with me, thank you very much.

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> 2 Almost all people I’ve seen fired for this have been men. No idea why.

Societal balances and expectations.

I would presume that most of the "lazy gals not wanting to do [a] job" sort themselves down the girlfriend / wife / whatever path fairly early on and therefore don't spend a lot of time even doing Job Market Cosplay like their Lazy Guy counterparts are socially required to do.

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Sad to hear you're feeling this way, RC. I know it's harrowing and that there's not much comfort to be found in the moment because it really, truly feels like the dark feeling will last forever and you'll never get out of it. I can't completely promise that it won't either, because who knows? Maybe this particular time really is different from all those other times where you bounced back.

But I believe in you. I think this horrible moment will pass and you'll be able to live a happy, fulfilling life again.

P.s. Not sure what kind of music you like, but I thought I might share this song with you.


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Thank you for writing this and putting it out there into the world. I wish I had some tips for you, but I'm living through something similar at the moment.

If you look at it on the surface, I have nothing to complain about--I just graduated college and I managed to immediately land at one of the best jobs you can get with my degree directly out of college.

But I'm still working through the fact that one year ago, the stress of college nearly killed me. I didn't really eat for a month, because stress wouldn't let me keep any food down. And (as other commenters have said) your body gets used to this kind of stress, until it's too much and suddenly you've lost the 10 lbs you didn't have to lose (or your job, etc.)

Even after the physical recovery from that kind of stress burden, your brain keeps hanging onto the expectation that *massive stressors are just around the corner.* I almost cried today when one of my coworkers thanked me *merely for doing my job,* because I was conditioned by my college that to be thanked, you needed to do some extra-special, Herculean effort.

I'll pray for you that you find a gently-sloping exit ramp to help get your brain out of this bad space, like I have. The thing that's been saving me has been time, patience, and the kindness of those around me.

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I'll go ahead and throw another recommendation onto the pile — Running Scared by Ed Welch [0]. He's part of CCEF and the Biblical Counseling movement and they are really serious business about both Scripture and psychology. Welch's work on depression has been more personally meaningful to me, but I'm recommending Running Scared since it's specifically about dealing with anxiety and stress.

He's good at digging into the heart/sin problems that are always at play in our struggles, without ignoring or minimizing the reality that sometimes our bodies are just messed up and that can cause suffering or difficulty that's not directly related to our choices and beliefs.

[0] https://www.ccef.org/book/running-scared-fear-worry-and-god-rest/

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Interesting piece... I type from my work computer, in the middle of a work day, from my cubicle.

I find that "work avoidance" as a stress reaction is a type of "decision paralysis." Decision paralysis is the phenomenon that accounts for why you might endlessly scroll through Netflix looking for a movie without ever picking one, but probably picked a movie in less than 10 minutes from a Blockbuster 25 years ago. The more options we have, the harder it is to choose.

With the modern (possibly remote) office, we have no shortage of things we *could* or *ought* to be doing, Slack or Teams notifications popping up, incoming emails, and near- medium- and long-term projects and goals.

Having to cut through that "to-do" list and selecting something to work on can leave me in a heightened sense of "deer in the headlights" who then ducks out and into something comforting instead, like reading your fabulous Substack.

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"I probably should have taken the warning up top more seriously" is the thought I had as I got to

>Now imagine that you haven’t been doing so great at work. You can tell that people are slowly maneuvering towards seriously considering firing you. You can tell that even if standards of success are attainable (you aren’t sure they are) you sure as shit aren’t going to hit them. You are headed, my friend, for a firing. Is it the good kind? Probably not. This smells to you a lot like the “nobody comes back from this shameful expulsion” type of firing that leaves you, eventually, alone in a ditch somewhere.

I did get fired after one such instance, but I managed to fall sideways and get rehired a few months later at the same place. It is an unpleasant feeling to have, especially to have it for months, and I don't like that I can have it again just by reading a few paragraphs.

I have managed to reliably fall upward, or at least sideways, so I should probably care less. Just put some spit on the old bear wound.

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> I have no idea whether [stress habituation] is bullshit or not.

It's not, and it's one of the things that can make past trauma such a present problem. You can get to where you don't really know how to feel anything that isn't metaphorically turned up to 11, and start finding ways to get that feeling back even though the original cause is gone. There are healthy ways to manage that - it's a lot like eating far too much salt for much too long a time, I've found; after a sufficiently long while away from the excess stimulus, your palate habituates to subtlety and too much salt starts tasting as bad as too much salt should. But you can end up with kidney stones in the meanwhile, if it goes on long enough. And there are lots of unhealthy options, too, that are easier to stumble over because initially they feel a lot closer to normal. Abusive relationships, drug habits, gambling addictions, stuff like that - anything with massive enough ups and downs, and that feels real enough, will do.

It's not hard to manage if you know what to watch out for in yourself, but it does need managing.

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I know the US sent astronauts to the moon. Because if they hadn't, the Soviets would have trumpeted that to the stars. But the Soviets *didn't* come forward.

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Oct 19, 2022Liked by Resident Contrarian

I had this experience with noise. After quitting my previous job, I had some savings and so decided to self-teach myself AI. Since I wanted to have as much time for this as possible, I moved to the cheapest apartment I could find in a major city. It was a noisy city, with pointless construction everywhere (corruption is near-certain). Whether I was in my apartment or out at a "work/studying space" type of cafe, there would always be some construction project nearby making a racket.

During the winter, I found out that the heating system for my apartment would make a screeching noise, like two metal things rubbing against one another. This "EEEE... EEEE... EEEE..." was completely unpredictable, going steadily for hours, then stopping for five minutes, then starting again, then stopping. It'd keep going overnight, and since this was a tiny studio apartment, the radiator was right next to my bed. So I'd take refuge in my tiny kitchen, laying my comforter out on the floor and shutting the door connecting to the main room to keep the noise from the radiator out. There was also a very loose door to the outside which let in cold drafts even when it was closed, but still, I could sleep that way.

But the real problem was that any particular noise started being a symbol of all of the noise I'd ever heard. This made even minor noise far more distracting than it had any right to be - I couldn't think while it was going on, my mind just shut down and waited until it stopped, which of course it never did.

I left the apartment when the year lease was up, having made approximately 0 progress in my studying in that whole time, and moved into a more expensive apartment in a much quieter city. It was like a dream. I could just walk around my apartment and think, and nothing would stop me - I kept waiting for the shoe to drop, like, is it OK for me to just be left in peace and quiet? Won't someone stop me? But after a while I realized it really was OK.

Since I've moved in, a few problems have revealed themselves - a construction project started nearby, which I can't hear from my apartment but is annoying during walks; also, some neighbours moved in upstairs who have very heavy footsteps. Early on this was difficult for me, because at that point any sound still symbolized all the noise I'd ever heard. But now that I've been here a few years, it's no problem. Before, if I heard any construction noise all my thoughts would grind to a halt until it stopped; now I sometimes catch myself so lost in thought during my morning walks that I don't even notice the beeping and banging.

When it comes to problems that exist mostly in your head, like noise sensitivity or stress from Slack messages, there's no easy answer. I still think there's some sort of mind-over-matter way to stay relaxed and in control, like the sketch Matthew Carlin linked, but it's not an easy thing to do. The more practical method that actually worked for me is getting into better circumstances + time. You've already done the first part, and so it might just be that time is all you're missing.

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Oct 19, 2022Liked by Resident Contrarian

I think evolutionary psychology is a great framework to understand stress. Basically, we get stressed because we do what would have been wrong for our ancestors to do. For example, I suspect that lack of physical, tangible work can cause stress because in the world of our ancestors, "doing something" mostly means doing something tangible and physical.

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Oct 19, 2022·edited Oct 19, 2022Liked by Resident Contrarian

I have deeeeeeeeeep sympathy for this. So much of my life is this.

On the other hand, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw

Edit: Also, making yourself physically tired, no matter what health level you're at (I've fallen from an A minus to a C minus myself, working on it), no matter what thing it takes to make you feel that way (whether it be biking up a mountain or taking two walk laps around the block) is an absolute guaranteed death spiral breaker. Not immediately, mind. But do it a few days and the loop will perceivably clear like bad weather.

I hold to what Anthony Bourdain said: "I understand there's a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy."

I don't smoke and never have, but I feel the permanent tug to emptiness and flat and depressed and stressed life periods. The fanciest job I ever had, I ate free oreos all day in a nervous frenzy and paced and did nothing and it did *not* turn out well. But the man is right: you can dedicate your life to outwitting the rough guy inside and you will do better for it. The second fanciest one, I tried hard to fly right and did it for four years and it was very good for me.

You've got this.

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Oct 19, 2022Liked by Resident Contrarian

I read a lot of 'the circumstances of my life have changed for the better' but not a lot of 'I am in better control over my life'. Which either means that you aren't in control, or you aren't thinking about things this way ... and may not have noticed that things are, in fact, more under control these days.

Getting up early every day -- 5 a.m works for me -- and then giving yourself the first best hours of the day to do things that matter to you and not 'work' is a useful alternative way to order your life. But only if you can get things done in the morning at all -- pure night owls cannot use this one.

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