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06.10.2022Elke Jauk-Offner

Rush Hour

When does the “rush hour of life” begin?

Sigurd Hochfellner-I would say that almost all of life has become a permanent rush hour situation. It starts when you enter school. But the density of obligations and variety tasks continues to increase as you get older. In psychiatric rehabilitation, the average patient is 49.5 years old, and applies equally to women and men. The number of younger patients has also increased in recent years. There is a particularly vulnerable phase in the fifth decade of life; overload and exhaustion occur more frequently then. It could be a knock-on effect of the rush hour of life around the age of 35. People then visibly run out of strength – with a delay to the stress situation.

What is it that builds up in advance?

SH – It is a fact that all phases of life can be stressful. It always depends on how well one can cope with the respective demands. Some people manage to cope well with the rush hour of life despite multiple stresses, while others find it difficult to cope even with an easy going life. The ability to fulfil duties increases in principle, but the ability to provide the necessary energy decreases. The personal state of performance and well-being is a result of the energy that one consumes and of what one absorbs.

How does this energy balance work?

SH – The human organism absorbs energy through physical-chemical processes – for example, in the form of beautiful things that we see, hear and experience or in the form of sun rays on our skin, because energy is absorbed through all our senses. Energy is stored in our muscles like a battery. You can measure this energy: A trained person can call up more power on an ergometer than an untrained person.

How does the body react when the energy balance is no longer right?

SH – We are constantly losing energy with everyday activities from getting up to going to bed, with caring for family or finances, with investing in education or in pursuing a profession – even if the job is enjoyable, the energy input/output is rarely balanced. If one permanently consumes more energy than one takes in, a wide variety of disorders, functional impairments, feelings of exhaustion and ultimately mental illness symptoms such as sleep disorders, anxiety, panic attacks, impaired moods or physical discomforts such as pain without a tangible cause can arise. The energy intake must then be restarted, otherwise the exhaustion will persist.

Who are particular energy thieves?

SH – There is definitely electronic media. They rob us of the time to absorb energy in the real world. We see something, at best we hear a sound, but all other sensory organs are not addressed. My advice would therefore be to reduce consumption and not let yourself steal time from life by watching other people live. The virtual world is increasingly becoming competition for the real world, especially for young people.

What are the symptoms of permanent overload? 

SH – The earliest warning signal is the onset of sleep disturbance. This can be followed by anxiety and low moods. In the course of our lives, we unfortunately learn to put our individual needs more and more on the back burner. Instead of playing outdoors, we sit in school, we wait for a break before eating, we have to suppress our feelings and needs more and more. In addition, society constantly gives us the feeling that it is not enough, no matter how much one achieves. “It is enough” is an individual choice. If one can no longer compensate for the loss of energy on one’s own, if two symptoms – such as sleep disturbances and anxiety – occur at the same time and persist for longer than three months, one should seek professional help.

What do we need to pay attention to in order to stay in balance? 

SH – In our culture, taking a holiday is firmly anchored – at least one week, better two weeks in a different environment. Holidays are absolutely essential sources of energy, hotels actually have a tremendous function in maintaining health. I have experienced with a patient that the omission of the main holiday in summer had already tipped the energy balance in autumn and the first symptoms of illness appeared. The problem begins when people stop energetically regenerative activities. They give up holidays, sporting leisure activities, cultural events, social evenings – and thus they no longer absorb energy. Exercise is also a very important aspect.

What is going on in the body during this?

SH – Scientists have known about the importance of myokines for about ten years. These messenger substances, which are released in the body and distributed to organ systems, are the link between physical activity and mental health. It is assumed that they can stabilise moods. Basically, one should gather as many enjoyable activities as possible in one’s life, this is always a good and important way.

So a focus on enjoyment? 

SH – Yes, people tend to exaggerate. But “work hard” also requires “play hard”, but better in reverse order. What is essential is the ability to switch from one to the other, from hard work to intense enjoyment. On the one hand, this has to do with flexibility, but also with cognitive abilities, namely the willingness to assert one’s own needs and protect individual interests. One should not throw oneself into tasks and only then check whether one has enough energy. The goal must always be to maintain one’s energy level in the first place.

About the person

Primarius Dr. Sigurd Hochfellner, a specialist in neurology and psychiatry, is the medical director of the St. Radegund Private Clinic, which specialises in rehabilitation for psychiatric illnesses.

Elke Jauk-Offner
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