bombardment stress

by Dr Natalie Flynn, clinical psychologist

For 22 years I have been working with people who are suffering, emotionally and psychologically. Despite the differences among my clients, they share many of the triggers for psychological pain: rejection, relationship challenges, loneliness, poor coping strategies, trauma, mood disorders, addiction.

But over the last decade, and particularly over the past five years, I have been seeing something different, a new trigger causing suffering among my clients. I call this trigger BS – Bombardment Stress.

What is it?

BS may sound irreverent, but it is very real. Those suffering from it have lost sight of, and confidence in, their internal compass. That’s their primary tool for making decisions that reflect or support their own values, emotions, needs and logical reasoning.

The reason for this loss?

Instead of trusting their own instincts or reasoning, sufferers of BS rely instead on the ever-changing, often-unreliable torrent of information from others, including well-meaning but ill-informed friends, the anachronistic advice of relatives and, increasingly, from social media.

Overwhelm

Simply put, Bombardment Stress is what happens when an individual is overwhelmed by a mass of contradictory opinions, information or advice, often coming from multiple sources, and commonly expressed as reliable, even absolute, facts. Sufferers of BS experience feelings of confusion and self-doubt, resulting in inertia, paralysis or repeatedly changing course.

Bombardment Stress is, perhaps, an understandable outcome of our frenetically-paced, digitally-driven, time-poor modern age. Add in feelings of self-doubt, loneliness or vulnerability, and it is little wonder that BS is becoming a ubiquitous psychological phenomenon.

The following examples of BS are hypothetical but informed by real-life experiences of clients and friends.

Bombardment Stress with a baby

You are a new mum with a 10-month-old baby. Here are some typical BS ruminations:

I just don’t know how to care for my baby well enough. I know he seems safe and well, but I just can’t decide which parenting approach to take. Routine-led or baby-led? I’m losing sleep over what to do and I know that can be dangerous. I Googled what could happen if I don’t get enough sleep and I’m scared I could get depressed again, but I also read that if I leave my baby to self-settle, he might get stressed and his cortisol levels could lead to permanent damage. But then a friend told me that she’s read online that cortisol levels can’t be accurately measured. White noise gets him to sleep which means that I am less fragile, but I read that he could develop autism from white noise. Also, I would like to go back to work but I read that for my relationship with baby it’s better I stay at home. That’s what my mum did with me. But what happens if my husband’s work starts drying up? I’ll need to help pay the mortgage, but that means putting baby in childcare. I don’t want a stranger looking after him, especially if he hasn’t learned to self-settle…

And thus it continues.

Of course, before the internet and a multitude of how-to books, our parents’ faced their own parenting challenges: fewer choices to make, less effective medication for perinatal disorders, addiction to sleeping pills. But they also had space to think, to reflect and to listen to the advice of the seminal baby guru of the time, Dr Benjamin Spock: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”

BS and the dating game

It’s not just new parents who suffer from BS. Dating in the modern age can present a raft of opportunities for self-doubt and rumination. Here’s an example:

I’m a 47-year-old dad of two grown kids. I’ve been divorced for eight years and I really want to start dating again. I’ve been online dating and have been out a couple times with a woman who I really like. But she doesn’t make much eye contact when we’re talking or having dinner. I did some online research and read that a lack of eye contact might mean that she has social anxiety, which I would find hard because I also read that I am an ambivert, which means I am both an introvert and an extrovert, and I need to connect with people in a meaningful way or I’ll lose interest. I also read that poor eye contact might mean she really likes me, or that she has something to hide, or that she doesn’t find what I am saying is interesting, or that she might find me physically unappealing. I can’t decide what to do. I don’t think I will call her. What do you think?

The diagnosis

If a client presents with BS, I of course check for underlying problems such as depression, general anxiety, OCD, trauma, hypomania, or psychosis.

Often, my clients have a clear bill on those fronts.

“Well,” I say, “You have BS.”

The reaction is usually shockWhat?!” (Did my psychologist really say that?)

“Bombardment Stress,” I say. And then I explain what it is.

OK,” they say, “I get it – it’s so true. But how can you help me?”

Intervention for BS

My intervention for BS is a targeted, two-step approach:

  1. Learn how to separate science from opinion or misinformation.
  2. Next – the hardest part – learn how to make decisions based on your values, your needs and your wants. In other words, discover how to trust yourself again.

So, how to cut through the Bombardment Stress and come out on the other side? When it comes to separating fiction from fact, there are key cues to consider:

  1. Who is disseminating the information and what are their qualifications?
  2. Is the information science or evidence-based? If there a number of studies with different findings it is likely that there is, as of yet, no definitive answer.
  3. Think about the language used. People who are trying to sell an idea for money, or just because they want to vigorously defend their opinion, often use words like “must”, “the secret is”, “10 bad things about…”. Solid research usually uses phrases like “shows a relationship between”, “trend towards”, “could mean that”, “preliminary results”.

As for step two – learning to tune in and trust yourself –  it can be a slow process that necessitates reflection, self-compassion, patience and mindfulness. Up against these internal tools, Bombardment Stress doesn’t stand a chance.

 

Acknowledgment

Dr. Natalie Flynn is a registered clinical psychologist with three young children. She has a thriving private practice, Emotional Health Services. Natalie is a perinatal specialist with an interest in mental health prevention and early intervention. Alongside the practical application of therapies Natalie has a strong interest in research; she was awarded a Bright Future Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship and was lead research psychologist for the Auckland Eating Disorders team. Recently, Natalie has become interested in working with women in the business sector. You can contact her at natalie@emotionalhealthservices.co.nz.

Trackbacks and pingbacks

No trackback or pingback available for this article.

Leave a reply