The World Health Organization names stress as THE 21st Century Epidemic. The Statistic Brain Research Institute reports stress costs the U.S. $300 billion every year. And that 3 out of 4 people suffer from chronic stress which is BurnOut. Even though we can put men on the moon, clone sheep, and build a particle accelerator, we seem to constantly forget how to remove stress from our lives. So, is stress the new norm?

Your body actually needs stress to survive. There two types of stress: good and bad. If you stay in a relationship you secretly loathe, you’re choosing bad stress. If you decide to push yourself to run your first 5K, you are choosing good stress. If you know the food you eat is crap, you are picking bad stress. If you decide to learn a new language, you are choosing good stress. If you elect to abuse yourself with unending hours of work and no break, you are choosing bad stress.

Stress comes at us in the short term and long term. Short-term stress is brief, think car broken down, you stub your toe, a client is furious, or a bill is late. Your fight or flight, otherwise known as the nervous system kicks in to handle the job. And, that system is good for the short term. Let me repeat: Short. Term. This part of our nervous system is not meant to be on full alarm for lengthy periods of time. It’s designed for immediate solutions to short-term problems.

When you have chronic bad stress you get BurnOut, a physical and mental collapse caused by overwork and stress. The crazy thing is, since stress appears to be the new norm, most of us don’t even realize how much stress has subtly crept in. Plus, we’ve gotten “good” at maintaining under large amounts of stress. But eventually, we boil. You’ve certainly heard the old adage: Put a frog in hot water and he will jump out immediately. Put a frog in cool water, heat him up slowly, and he won’t notice what’s happening until it’s too late.

Here are a few subtle physical and mental signs that the water is heating up around you.

The Angry Insomniac. You have more and more days of exhaustion. When those days come you are certain you’ll sleep like a log once night arrives. You place your head on your pillow and BOOM, your mind lights up like the Fourth of July—thoughts, worries, ideas, play-by-plays of the day take over. By 3:00 a.m., you are on the brink of sleep-deprived insanity.

The Forgetful Professor. You’re confused and asking: Why is the cat in the fridge? How did my wallet end up in the spice cabinet? Intensely focused on the challenges of your life, everything other than how to survive the next 20-minutes is subconsciously deemed irrelevant and chucked off the memory shelf. You’re emotionally teetering while drinking more coffee and saying, “Yes, I know what I am doing and where my car keys are. Really, I’m fine, totally fine!”

The Ferris Wheel. In an effort to fix your life, you speed up. Except for everything only starts to get messier. However, you can’t slow down. If you do, everything will come toppling down. You know your current mess, any new version of that feels too overwhelming. At least you know this style of chaos.

The Grey Cloud. You fantasize that the world would be a better place if you were permitted to binge on Netflix Series all day, every day. Living other people’s fictional lives is easier than living your own.Your pride is probably telling you that you’re not losing interest or feeling anxious. But if you were honest with yourself, you’d know that cloud is not shaped like a bunny.

Things are uber-sucky. As bad days start to stack up, you can easily rationalize things that aren’t in your favor. “This day sucked so bad! I deserve a LOT of Cheetos. Thank GOD someone invented Cheetos!” Ever so swiftly, you forget what it’s like to actually eat vegetables.

Zest has flatlined. You start out ready to save the world: you have the vigor of a blowfish, the prowess of a tiger, and the determination of a camel. But the journey turns out to be harder than imagined. The big problem becomes the incongruence between where you are and where you want to be. This sparks a prolonged monotonous beep in your brain.

Excuses and rumination rule. You find yourself giving oddball excuses for your performance, “Well, my cat swallowed a button, what are you going to do?????” While badgering yourself with the question, “Did I get anything done today?” In an effort to avoid the little things that are driving you nuts like, if Jerry doesn’t stop staying ‘sooo’ at the end of every comment, you’re going to poke your eyes out.

If stress has become your new norm, what do you do now? My advice is, to take the temperature of your life? Is the water around you getting hot? When you have bad stress, ask yourself, “Is this what I want to choose?” Decide to pick this as an opportunity to change what isn’t working in your life. Which means it’s time to CARE MORE about how you feel on the journey of your life than the final destination. When you care how you feel; it gives all of us the privilege to do the same!

This post is the first of a six-part article series written for Oblique Magazine in Charleston SC. Originally published at