For the past two decades, I have been studying my own blood pressure. It started when I went to a doctor for a completely unrelated complaint. At that time, I hadn’t seen a doctor in over a decade and I had to find a new one so it was my first visit. He was alarmed by the blood pressure at the time and started a lot of tests and medications that changed the course of my life. It was a subtle change, but at this point I can say for certain that had I never known about my high blood pressure, the course of my life would have been much different, even if it would have ended earlier.
I worked toward following the advice about medication, exercise, and diet. I tend to follow advice of others, despite my experience that the advice as bad or at least irrelevant. This was in that category. I suppose the medication did help, and also the exercise and weight loss helped as well. The problem is that neither cured the problem. I would still have higher readings and still be prone to very high readings although they were rarer.
It seemed to me that there was something more going on, and probably something very specific to myself. I did not understand why I had the problem in the first place. While I was busy with work, I would not describe my work as stressful. If I described it to others, they too would probably wonder why that would be stressful. I also do a lot of walking, a lower quality exercise but still better than just sitting down all the time.
On thing I noticed early on is that I am very sensitive to adrenaline. I was confident in my work, but each new task at least initially was a challenge as I wondered how I could solve it, with the added complication of solving it the way I wanted to solve it.
Some tasks could have been simple and without the drama. I specifically remember a task that involved tabulating data from a couple hundred reports. This could have been done manually by repeating some operation a couple hundred times. It would have been boring, but it could have been done in a day and with the added benefit of being obviously busy with something so no one would interrupt me. I imagine if I had done that, the task would not have induced any adrenaline. If I always worked that way, I probably could retain my job, and probably would not have developed high blood pressure.
I always complicated the task by figuring out a way to automate it. Sometimes the task would clearly be repeated so automation would be beneficial. Even in those cases, there would be the inevitability that something in one of the reports would change in a way that the automation would need to change, thus undermining the benefit of automation.
There were other times when the task was clearly a one time task that would never be repeated. I still strove to automate the task. One potential benefit is that I am not confident in my ability to do something repetitive without making a mistake eventually. I know because I would catch the mistakes, such as entering the same report twice or skipping a report. It would happen well past the middle of the pile and yet in a random spot so it would be hard to spot. The need to double-check the work could be and acceptable part of the job and it would not be as adrenaline inducing.
There was an appeal to automation in the ability to automate the double-checking or cross-checking. Once I spot a possible mistake, I can automate the checking for that particular condition. Often this would be a bad data value in a report, but that was something that can be detected automatically. A simple calculation of two values would indicate that one of the values was unreasonable. The automation would log the anomaly so I can just look at the logs to see what might have gone wrong.
All that said, the primary and driving appeal to automate was the challenge of whether this particular task could be automated at all. The challenge heightened when the task was more unique or exhibited some new problems that appear to resist automation.
Adding automation to a task heighted the excitement because this means I had to double my work product. First I had to customize some automation, than I had to apply it to the originally requested task. I was confident that once automated, the actual task would run quickly. This only heightened the excitement because I would push the limit so that the last step would occur only moments before the deadline. Not automating would have been saner.
As I mentioned above, if I did the task in a manual fashion, I could put a sign up by my cubicle informing everyone I was very busy. It would also be obvious because I would be intensely studying individual records. People would not interrupt me. Interruption invokes adrenaline because it means taking time away from the task that already should consume my day.
My approach to automation also made me more accessible for interruption. I was confident I had time to complete the task so I would allow interruption. Not only would I allow the interruption to occur, I would give them full attention until they exhausted their reason for the interruption. I then would return to my work. This is also adrenaline inducing because I was fully aware that the interruption was robbing me of time needed for the task. All I had to do is tell the person I was busy and most of the time the issue was not that urgent and they would have left. I rarely turned down an interruption.
I can rationalize a lot of reasons for working this way. I was striving to be a more valuable team member. This made it easier to win a contract renewal, or perhaps a promotion. I think the real reason was the feeling of the adrenaline of making an unchallenging task challenging.
Adrenaline is usually associated with physical activity. The scary situation would require some kind of physical exertion to resolve. The situation itself would require exertion to get into in the first place. The adrenaline I was producing was entirely in my brain. I was sitting down when I created the situation by insisting on automating a manual task. I was sitting down when I was getting out of the situation by doing that automation while pretending to be relaxed enough to be interrupted.
My jobs were exciting inside my mind. I tried many times to describe this to others, and they would always wonder why I would consider it to be exciting. They may recognize it as stressful, but not exciting.
My definition of stress in a job is often depicted in movies or plays where a character is working under an overbearing boss that stops by demanding a progress report every 10 minutes and then rejects the work for some negligible imperfection. I rarely had that kind of experience.
My definition of exciting associated with fun. It is something to look forward to.
I mention these distinctions because the two words are somewhat synonymous. Excitement induces stress in the body. Stress excites the body. I am using the terms as opposites in the sense that stress is something to avoid and excitement is something to seek.
I am thinking that my blood pressure problem is really a result of a misled childhood. While growing up, I deliberately and successfully avoided the kind of physical activities that would involve a lot of adrenaline. At the time, I didn’t like it, and was happy to live without it. This avoidance probably caused me to fail to develop a resilient response to adrenaline. Because I had so few adrenaline experiences growing up, my body grew to be sensitive to smaller amounts. To my body, a small amount of adrenaline would cause a response matching a more adjusted individual’s response to a higher amount. This would have worked out fine if I had pursued a career as historian or something that had no firm deadlines and required only reading manuscripts.
My problem is that I learned to enjoy the adrenaline rush when I was well into adulthood, and that adrenaline came from the challenges I set for myself in my assigned jobs. I deliberated challenged myself to make my job different than what was assigned. The differences supposedly would be a better result, or it would give people a better impression of my skills.
This may sound like ambition. Ambition clearly sets up the same kind of situation. But my work history contradicts ambition because I tend to leave when a more ambitious person would be encouraged to stay. I am not driven by ambition. I am driven by the thrill of doing something new to myself, and new to my employer, when no one asked for anything new.
Blood pressure is tied to adrenaline, so it is not surprising that I would have high blood pressure when my adrenaline rises. It is likely that my problem is that I am too sensitive to adrenaline because the amount I do have should not cause as extreme spikes in blood pressure as it does. Automating some task I could do manually should not be the equivalent of trying to escape some predator. I don’t think my adrenaline is getting that high. My problem is that I failed to develop a robust response to adrenaline when I had the opportunity as a child.
That’s my theory at least.
Recently, I began to notice a different pattern with my blood pressure and this suggested a very different explanation. I was getting high blood pressure even when there was no assigned task, no one to satisfy, and no opportunity for developing anything. I was basically idle, and I should be relaxed, yet my blood pressure was much higher than it was a day earlier, and will be a day later.
Maybe adrenaline may be involved, but I am producing it when I shouldn’t be.
I do not have any way to measure my adrenaline levels, but I do check my own blood pressure thanks to modern technology. I am only speculating that adrenaline is behind the wild swings, but I can observe the blood pressure. In context of the terminology I use in this blog, the blood pressure is bright data, and the adrenaline is dark data. I can measure blood pressure. I expect that it corresponds to adrenaline quantity.
It appears that my blood pressure corresponds to thinking. I can get my blood pressure high by thinking very hard. The blood pressure is low when I’m not thinking about much.
There is no correlation about the quality of thinking. Thinking hard does not mean I am thinking well, and it does not mean I am thinking about something very important. It is just an obsessive thinking, sometimes about a topic that does not need to be thought about.
It is a special kind of thinking. For example, I do not have any blood pressure problems writing these blog posts, even lengthy ones that stray from my main point that I intend to get back to. Whatever you may think about the quality of these posts, the posts themselves does exercise a lot of thinking, especially when I do figure out how to tie the earlier points with the point I originally tried to make.
I came up with a new theory that explains my recent observations and also explains my earlier work examples. My blood pressure is measuring my thinking effort.
I imagine blood pressure being like a temperature-adaptive cooling fan on a computer. The fan goes faster when the temperature is higher. The temperature is higher because the CPU is busier. I recall a time when working on a project requiring a long simulation, I would judge the progress by how loudness of the fan was and the warmth of the exhaust. I also a recall a later problem or recognizing that something was wrong because the fan was blowing when it should not have been, leading me to conclude I needed to kill some process or reboot the computer.
My blood pressure may be very similar to a computer cooling fan. It is telling me my brain is working hard on something. Like in the second computer fan example, it may be doing something unnecessary, and something I didn’t even realize would be happening. When I see spikes in my high blood pressure, it is telling me I am thinking about something too hard. If I don’t recognize it, it might be subconscious.
What I really need is the equivalent to a kill command for a particular thinking process.
This is not a big revelation. I describe it as thinking hard, but it may be more recognizable as worrying too much.
The kind of hard thinking that lead to high blood pressure seems to always be about some topic where I face the risk of disappointing someone, whether that is a particular group of individuals, or just the population in general. This is worrying. More specifically, it is worrying about what other people are thinking about me.
That theory works well with all the prior work examples. It also works with the current situation. The kill command I need to find is the one that stops worrying what other people may think about me.