Recently, I have received calls from several people seeking assistance with similar challenges. They are all experiencing physical, mental and emotional symptoms from chronic stress secondary to being successful. All of them report chronic and intense morning fatigue, an energy surge in the afternoon, short term memory challenges, feelings of apathy at times, passion for their work, body temperature regulation problems, short tempers, irritability, being more controlling than is typical and feeling alone.
All these people are professionally successful and their careers are beginning to have a myriad of negative consequences as a result of their fatigue and difficulty functioning. I spoke to each person about stress and how long-term stress, even from success, can actually cause sickness. I reminded them that any stress on the human system is still stress. Whether we label it good stress or bad stress is just that, a label and the stress impact remains. In fact, the body feels stress and the consequence on the system is the same regardless of the cause of the stress. These successful people were ruling out stress as part of the physical cause of their problems and they were looking for something else; something outside of themselves.
With these challenges also comes beliefs that underlie the need to be successful. Many people suffer from the deep seated need to be needed which causes amazing stress and discord within the body. With years of this drive to be needed, a perfectly healthy adult can be eventually nearly incapacitated because of the drive to be needed that is often relentless. It actually takes on the same cycle of any addiction and eventually the person is not able to get enough of what say they do not want – to be needed.
These folks who have called me also suffer from a grouchiness and irritability with others; especially those who care about them and are showing concern. In fact, one caller asked to me tell their family that nothing is wrong and that the problems are caused by the family’s pressure. I declined to make that call because in truth, the problems are self-inflicted. Until the inflicted person takes responsibility for the solution, the problems will not only persist but will worsen.
One common denominator with these 4 people who have recently contacted me is that they are action oriented doers. They are successful. What I found to be remarkable was the fact that all four people were externally motivated to take action to stop the sickness. What I mean is that they all focused outside of themselves for solutions, accolades, gratitude and the like. When I began to talk about their inner motivations, none of them could respond. Each one had lost touch with their own inner motivations and locus of control. By being externally focused and motivated, each person had made themselves a slave to the outside fickle world. No wonder they are all tired and exhausted. Spending all your energy pleasing others and working for others does not work in the end.
These people are suffering from is often called success sickness. In other words, the pressure and stress of their success has been unbridled for long enough to make them physically sick. Now, when getting out of bed is a challenge, they are finally addressing the issue that had been brewing for quite some time. What to do from here, each one asked.
I told each one that they have to come home in order to begin to reverse the effects success sickness. Coming home is the decision to refocus their locus of control from external to the internal. After discussing the impact of stress on their body, mind, emotions and spirit, I outlined several universal actions to help stop the madness and pain.
These are the initial suggestions I shared with each of them:
- Breathe – Air is your friend. Take time at least 3 times a day and stop activity. Take 3 long, slow, deep breaths starting with an exhale. Anything you feel stressed, stop and breathe for a few minutes.
- Imagine – Imagine the stress and heaviness leaving your body as you breathe as well as when you are in the shower. Use your power of imagination to break free of the cycle of compulsive doing.
- Say When – Begin to stop when things are satisfactory. Work to dismantle the obsessive compulsion of perfectionism by stopping when things are good. Healthy success comes from a secure sense in being worthy and enough. You do not have to drive yourself into the ground to prove your worth or value.
- Abandon the need of ownership – Ownership emerges from the erroneous belief that we can actually fully “own” anything. I suggest that you focus more on possession rather than ownership. In fact, you can own nothing yet possess everything when you are spiritually connected in gratitude. The stress related sickness in third world countries is nil. Many own very little yet they often possess real gratitude for life itself. Materialism is not your friend.
- Practice Peace – Peaceful people who can be calm amid a storm have the ability to have what is often called planned ignorance. You do not have to know everything about everything. You do not have to be in the middle of every action and conversation in your world. This is not only exhausting but agitating because it is impossible. Practice peace by breathing and focusing only on what is yours to do.
- Say No – When someone approaches you with their good idea and attempts to get you to make it your idea, it is called piggybacking. Having clarity of your own vision and being willing to state it and follow it decrease success sickness. It is possible to be going fast and successfully in the wrong direction. Say No to those things that do not align with your mission in life.
- Eat Clean – Consume healthy plant based food at least 3 times weekly. This gives your digestion a much needed break. Chronic stress over time causes problems with digestion so eating easily digestible foods help ease the stress on your organs.
- Journal or write letters – Handwriting is good for the brain. Writing in script actually helps harmonize the brain. This will help de-stress the system.
- Hydrate – Drink enough good quality water each day. Remembering that you hydrate today for tomorrow. If you feel thirsty you are already significantly dehydrated.
- Connect – Connect with nature or any other spiritual practice. By allowing yourself to be connected to the greater good of the universe, your mind, body and soul can decompress and begin to heal the damage from the stress.
There are many other suggestions that can also aid in helping you or someone you know recover from being sick because of success. The long term stressors can wreak havoc on your body as well as your mind and emotions. It is vital to pay attention to your mind, body and emotions while not taking them for granted. Understand that success sickness is a real issue and it happens to many, many people.
As one of my clients shared after he started feeling better and could work full time again: “It is easy to make the changes when your back is up against the wall and you have no other choice.” You don’t have to get as near the breaking point as he did in order to turn the tide away from success sickness. It has been a few years now and he is doing well. He has learned consistent action to maintain his alignment and health. We all have the power to be successful and joyful.