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Psychotherapy and Mental Health Questions

A very low threshold for stress tolerance

I find that I have a very low threshold for stress tolerance. I don't have a problem with any particular individual task, but when I feel I'm juggling things or "multitasking," or if I have a huge (or even mildly large) list of work to get done, I get overwhelmed and just shut down. Depending on the situation, I may give up, get angry or irritable, attempt to escape the situation, start crying, or occasionally even lay down and sleep (not exactly fainting, but not a normal nap either).

Come to think of it, I feel the same way about interpersonal conflict and even audio and visual things (can't stand a lot of noise, can't stand a cluttered place or images where there's "too much going on," have trouble talking to more than one person at once).

I have difficulty doing things that others take for granted; I do not own a vehicle because I feel driving stresses me out in this manner. I often avoid visiting friends and family or scheduling doctor and dentist visits or signing up for college classes or any other extracurricular activity because of the potential for stress. I am having difficulty getting things done at work because I feel extremely overwhelmed (I work in a call center and should probably find a simpler line of work, but it's hard to find something simple that will pay the bills.) I have trouble cooking a meal or performing certain grooming things (I am very clean, but I cannot for the life of me get it together with hair, makeup, jewelery, or other typically complicated feminine stuff). I get absolutely overwhelmed if anything outside of the normal routine happens (schedule change at work, bus schedule changes, remodeling the house, someone taking my food from the fridge, etc).

In today's fast-paced world this peculiar problem is really holding me back; I am intelligent enough, I just can't focus on more than one thing at once, and it creates an emotional reaction when the rest of the world tries to fit this square peg (me) into that round hole (modern life).

Now that you understand my problem, here are my questions. Is my current state a mental illness in and of itself, or could it be a symptom of a known mental illness, or is there an option I'm not thinking of? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Is it just that some people are not cut out for the fast-paced modern American lifestyle? I don't come from a slower time or simpler way of life -- I am 23, have always been around fast-paced computers, city life and multitasking, and have always had problems with it.

Perhaps you should know that mental illness runs in my family, so that's why I'm guessing it might be an inherited illness rather than just something being wrong with me personally.

Any advice would be greatly, greatly appreciated. I'm about to go see a mental health professional anyway but I have done a little bit of studying in psychology and I haven't seen a case like this, or a name for it.



  • Dr. Dombeck responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
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