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The Dangers of Continuously Struggling

There seems to be a consensus as to what people find inspiring: struggles and overcoming them. It is great to look to people who have run into a problem and have managed to fix it. We can learn from their struggle. See how they have dealt with theirs, and apply it to our own lives. There is a great learning experience to be found there. This is not the most recent trend however; the most recent trend is focussing much less on the “overcoming” and much more on the “struggle” part of the formula. It seems as if struggling in itself has become the goal. Rather than identifying a problem, struggling to overcome it and then move on, we look at the struggle in itself as a process we should strive for. We need not overcome. We just need to struggle.

Now this increased focus on struggling is what has been dubbed struggle porn. It’s nothing sexual. It’s just like food porn, where people have a deep appreciation for good(-looking) food. In this case, people have a deepfelt appreciation for struggling. Both for others and themselves. Apparently, overcoming is not the goal. The experience of struggling is where it’s at. Isn’t that a bit weird?

Imagine this: a friend of yours has decided to start their own business as their job and overall career-path had become unsatisfactory to them. This happens to many people who remain in a respective field or job path for a longer time. Your friend is a smart person. You support their choice to quit and start for themselves because it is believed this is what will make them happy and fulfilled in their work. So far so good. However, it turns out that your friend doesn’t actually have a head for business. They don’t really have a clue what they are doing, don’t understand the market, have negotiated incredibly dumb contract deals with suppliers, and are producing something no one wants. All in all, the business flops. But instead of admitting defeat, giving up and returning to their previous job, or figuring out a second new career path, your friend continues. Why? Because “all things worth having, come at a cost,” and other proverbs that are so context-dependent they often hit the nail somewhere it never was supposed to go in the first place.

The fact that you could struggle is not an issue here. I have been struggling a bit lately myself. I have found it to be quite difficult to keep all the balls up in the air, like the juggler that you are supposed to be. I know I’m “only” a PhD student, but man, it is difficult to cram hours of teaching and its preparation, doing your own research, academic hobbies, residential obligations, blogging, exercising, and being social into 168 hours. Especially as the activity of sleep isn’t even in there yet….

The thing is, I know that I’m struggling and I know that going on as I am now is not a good idea. I know that having your life sorted to a certain extent is a good idea. Sorted meaning: you get done what you need to get done, what you want to get done and still have some actual quality “me-time” left. I know that the struggle in itself is not an end-goal. Because guess what? Continuous struggling is incredibly bad for both your mental and physical health.

You can pretty much equate struggling with experiencing longer periods of stress. Most people are not comfortable “muddling” along when they decide to switch jobs, start their own company, have a family, or make any other type of life-altering decision. Money needs to be made, bills need to be paid, there's mouths to feed, etc. It’s about making ends meet. It is as such, undoubtedly stressful. And it will be stressful over longer periods of time. Long-term stress has been found to directly impact a variety of factors. It starts with increased levels of adrenaline, increased levels of cortisol and as a result the shutting down of systems that don’t immediately aid survival (fight or flight response). If this persists for a longer duration of time, one of the first things to stop properly working is digestion, a second is often sleep. You become unable to properly take in nutrients and rest. As a result, most people have continuous pains, headaches and abdominal and back issues. From thereon, the immune system is unlikely to keep up, without enough nutrients or rest. You’ll very often get sick physically. Cohen et al (2007) discuss a multitude of physical diseases caused by chronic stress quite nicely.

Don’t worry, it’s not all just physical. Your mental state will catch up quickly to your physical state, with longer periods of stress being highly correlated with anxiety disorders, panic attacks and depression (Marin, et al, 2011).

The longer you struggle, the worse it gets. Long-term stress is going to make you less and less able to even be able to continue to struggle, let alone succeed. Things that initially weren’t a struggle will become a struggle as well, due to your lack of time, financial resources or health. It’s only downhill from here. What started as the glorification of “the struggle” has turned it struggling for survival. Is this what you want?!

Want some solid life advice in the shape of a nice cliché proverb? Most things in life worth having don’t come cheap. Sure. Valid. But if the price to pay is your mental and/or physical health, maybe the thing just isn’t for you.

Stop and think how much something is truly worth, and go from there. Don’t choose to struggle for the sake of struggling. If you must, struggle to obtain success, whatever success looks like to you. Struggling in itself is not a goal. It's a trap when entered ignorantly.

References Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Miller, G. E. (2007). Psychological stress and disease. Jama, 298(14), 1685-1687.

Marin, M. F., Lord, C., Andrews, J., Juster, R. P., Sindi, S., Arsenault-Lapierre, G.,& Lupien, S. J. (2011). Chronic stress, cognitive functioning and mental health. Neurobiology of learning and memory, 96(4), 583-595.

Behavioural Science

Personal Finance



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