When you’re trying to pay bills, meet deadlines at work, and handle all of the other incidental events life throws your way on a daily basis, it is easy to ignore that slight twitch in your eye. But you probably shouldn’t, since Discovery Fit & Health lists a twitching eye as a sign of stress, and stress can lead to serious health concerns like heart attacks. On top of that, it is possible to not realize you are stressed, suffering instead from “hidden stress.”
Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir explains how this is possible. He described cognitive capacity to NPR as a “very limited bandwidth.” When demands in life pile up, our focus narrows, and certain factors — like how much stress we are under — can be lost. “It’s like driving on a stormy night,” Shafir stated. “You’re focused completely on the thing that’s capturing your attention right now, and other things get neglected.”
Shafir’s work has demonstrated that it isn’t only when we are stressed that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Poverty can similarly impair cognitive function. In “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function,” Shafir explains that when a person has serious financial concerns to consider, they suffer the same cognitive impact as if they had lost an entire night’s worth of sleep. The same process is at play when poverty is impeding how we function as stress. We cannot juggle all the moving pieces, and ultimately our cognitive resources are drained.
Needless to say, monetary concerns can often cause stress, increasing the importance of recognizing when our bodies are exhibiting signs of stress — regardless of whether we think we are stressed out or not.