I want you to start this article by asking yourself the following questions and I want you to really reflect on them before you continue reading.
How much stress do you have in your life? How well do you handle stress?
Stress has been a hot topic in my life the past year because I learned firsthand how dangerous stress can be. Let’s dive into what stress is, how to be aware of it and how to intervene but first, let me tell you a story of stress knocking me out…almost literally.
It was December 2017 and I was working at a radio station about 25-30 hours a week. I was also a rep for a clothing line so I was posting on social media constantly, managing packaging and shipping and hauling my entire inventory to events. I was also seeing clients for therapy and doing home studies for adoptions.
It was a. lot.
In fact, it was too much but if you were to ask me last December how I was doing, I would have told you I’ve got it all under control. Literally, I had a friend that every time we’d chat she’d say something along the lines of, “I don’t know how you do so much.” I would smile and say, “Actually, everything works together really well!!” It makes me giggle to read that now because things weren’t working even though I didn’t realize it until it was out of control. My hair stylist was telling me for months that she noticed my hair was shedding at an alarming rate. She suggested I see a doctor, that’s how concerned she was. I did see a doctor and got blood tests done. Everything came back normal so I thought I was fine but just going through a seasonal hair shed. You know, because I’m an expert on seasonal hair shedding. It wasn’t until the stuff really hit the fan that I realized I’m pushing myself too hard and my body has been trying to tell me to slow down. It was a Wednesday night and I was scheduled to have dinner with a friend. I had a crazy busy day but I didn’t want to cancel so I went to the dinner and proceeded to feel lightheaded after the meal. I thought I was going to pass out. Now, I have a history of passing out so this feeling isn’t completely strange but it is strange for it to happen after dinner with a friend. Of course, I decide this lightheaded event was a one off fluke and not my body screaming at me to slow down so I kept going full force. The next day I had appointments with therapy clients. In the middle of a client session, I felt so lightheaded that I had to stop the session and ask my client to leave. Talk about mortifying and scary!! I called my doctor, told him my symptoms and he suggested I come in immediately. I obviously couldn’t drive and Mike was out of town so I called my friend Megan. She came and got me and I went and got an EKG and blood work. Everything came back great! Nothing was wrong with me from a medical standpoint but there was DEFINITELY something wrong with me!
Stress is defined as ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.’ I would like to point out that stress can also come from ‘good’ or happy situations as well. Think of the last time you planned a party. That can be VERY stressful even though the end result is a fun party! Not all stress is ‘bad’ stress but if you aren’t taking care of yourself and acknowledging stress in your life, even the ‘good’ stuff can have adverse effects. Physical symptoms of stress can be headaches, hives, perspiration, rapid pulse, dizziness, neck pain, stomach pain, cold hands and/or feet, and nervous tics. Some psychological symptoms include panic, confusion, withdrawal, despair, moodiness, loss of memory or concentration, anger and impulse behavior. The symptoms I listed above are just some of the symptoms people can experience.
Something I realize looking back is that I was totally unaware of how stressed I really was. I wanted to think I was handling everything just fine even though I was having physical and psychological symptoms that showed otherwise. Even in the few moments I was aware of how stressed I was, I would rationalize my stress and convince myself it was no big deal. I thought if I just made more lists, was more efficient, took extra vitamins, etc, etc, that I would be able to get everything on track. Maybe this rings true to you… maybe if you just hired the right people, signed up for that 5K, got up an hour earlier, read that extra book then everything would be just fine. Keep reading.
Now, I check in with myself regularly to make sure I never go back to where I was last December and this is how I do that. Imagine your health and energy are a cup of water – I know, this is one of those cheesy metaphors but stick with me here. Your health and energy are a cup of water. The things that fill the cup in your day to day life are inputs like sleep, nutrition, laughter, exercise, stretching, and other forms of recovery. The things that empty your cup in your day to day life are outputs like stress from work or school, relationship problems, strenuous exercise, or other forms of stress and anxiety. If you are under a lot of stress and not taking care of yourself, your cup will eventually be empty because you won’t be putting in as much as your getting out. We all want to think we are Super(wo)man and we can ‘mind over matter’ anything and the truth is, we can’t. We have limitations and it’s a good thing we do so we know when we need to take care of ourselves. Using the cup metaphor, get out a piece of paper and write down everything you’re doing to fill your cup and to deplete your cup. Look at the lists and decide if you are replenishing your cup with sleep, nutrition and other forms of recovery. If the answer is no, you need to reprioritize your life and that means you need to implement some interventions. Luckily, I can help with interventions!
Here are 6 interventions to deal with stress that have worked for me…
- Be honest with yourself. This is a big one because you can’t help what you aren’t aware of or are in denial of. Get really honest with yourself about the stress in your life and how you are handling it. Get a therapist or a life coach or ask a trusted friend for some feedback. It’s okay to not have everything under control 100% of the time. It’s called being human.
- Set boundaries! Boundaries are for your protection. Again for those in the back, boundaries are for your protection! They let you tell the world what you are okay with and what you aren’t okay with. If your cup is always empty, set some boundaries, say no, and take care of yourself.
- Attend to all of you – body, soul, spirit, and mind. Just because you CAN say yes to everything and micromanage your life, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Take an honest inventory of your life and adjust where you need to.
- Healthy choices in connection with others – choose ‘life giving relationships.’ If you have a friend that sucks your energy or makes you feel guilty or bad about yourself, limit the interaction with that friend. This also applies to family members!
- Ask for help. (This is a hard one for most people, myself included!) Embrace the support around you, get a therapist or life coach and learn tools to deal with stress.
- Find healthy means of escape. Find ways to put stress, work or dismissive thoughts on a shelf for a while. You can always come back to them but give yourself a break. Emphasis on HEALTHY on this one. If escaping means getting blackout drunk anytime you want to not think about stress, that’s adding another issue to the table. Find healthy ways of coping.
Now, I know some of you have gotten this far and thought to yourself, ‘I’m TOTALLY managing my stress. It’s just XYZ that’s the problem.’ Hi! I was you last December. Are you experiencing any of the physical or psychological symptoms I mentioned above? If you are and you’re still telling me you’re handling stress well, I’m politely going to call BS on you. I’m also going to encourage you to review your life, get honest about the stress you’re experiencing, change some things up and get some help!
**I want to add that some stress is unavoidable and some of our circumstances make it impossible to implement a lot of self care. A completely stress free life doesn’t exist. There will always be stress in your life, it’s when it’s out of control that it’s a problem. Also, some of our circumstances prevent the implementation of self care or stress reduction. People working multiple jobs to make sure their kids have food/shelter/etc., for instance, may not have a lot of wiggle room and I understand that. Also, people dealing with trauma, grief, or some other kind of psychological issue would benefit from processing those thoughts and feelings with a professional.