This month is National Stress Awareness month…and even if it wasn’t…THIS month is certainly stress awareness month for many of us. I know a lot of us are feeling more on edge than usual. On top of that, many of us are in close proximity with other loved ones and the stress they are carrying too. It’s a lot. I’m taking a moment to send love and strength to everyone right now.
But today I want to get real for a second. COVID-19 aside, a lot of us deal with stress on a daily basis. TLDR: I am very familiar with this demon, and it has consumed life in awful ways at points in the past. Then I decided to stop dealing with it on my own. And I have come to believe that talking about it and openly reflecting on it has allowed to me to observe it more objectively, and learn from it and overcome it. And I hope that sharing my perspective on it can help someone else too.
I’ve dealt with anxiety, stress and depression since I was a teenager. It’s a natural side affect of having a type-A, people pleasing personality. And it only intensified as I chose to put myself in one intimidating situation after the other (moving FAR away from home, pursuing my career in journalism, picking up and starting over again, and myriad of things in between) in pursuit of living life to the fullest. I’ve had really low moments in my life, and my stress has taken as much of a physical toll on me as it has an emotion and mental one.
I promise, this is not a sad story. Even if it seems that way at first.
I have had a journey that’s for sure, but I’ve come a really long way. I have learned A LOT about myself and about stress over the course of it all. And I’ve come to view it as a relationship — certainly a love hate one — but one that I need to be in.
My stress first manifested itself in emotional forms, and that’s usually still one of the first signs That I’ve got something going on. It’s never affected my demeanor at school or work, but mostly takes a toll on my personal life. A lot of dramatic yelling, and crying, and fighting, or alternatively, listlessness and lack of motivation to want to do anything. That usually cues the negative self-talk to kick in…and the circus is in full swing.
Then, as I was nearing the end of college and getting ready to step out in to the “real world”, my stress response evolved, and became very physical. The first thing that happened was that my appetite started to go away. I went from skipping meals absentmindedly to sometimes going entire days without eating. Weight loss wasn’t the only result.
It also affected my blood sugar…and oftentimes when I tried to eat, I would feel nauseous or get sick after a few bites. Of course, this started to affect my digestive system, nervous system and many other aspects of my health. I would frequently wake up with severe morning sickness, which would then cause me to not eat. That would lead to headaches and fatigue. My skin and hair lost vitality over time. I was not able to run or exercise anymore. I had to take dozens of sick days when I was took weak to get out of bed. My physical and emotional capacity continued to wither.
This went on for more than year.
And I wish I could say that one day after that, I woke up and something clicked, or I discovered a way to make it all go away quickly. But I didn’t.
What happened was one day, I found myself curled up on the floor in tears, and decided that I COULD NOT live like this anymore. And I realized that I COULD NOT deal with it, let alone fix it, on my own. It was like a broken bone inside me. I couldn’t will this to be fixed. I needed help.
And it took a lot of work. I had to research, and spend time to find a therapist who I could connect with. She then led me to another doctor, and internist, and then to a nutritionist, until I had a team of people who helped me find the path to recovery. I tried out different medications until we found something that worked for me. I had a special diet made for me, and learned how to get my body used to eating again. I talked and reflected A LOT about what led me to that point.
This went on for more than a year.
But this is where the story gets better.
Now, several years later, I’m in a very different place. I know that recovery is possible, because I’m here. I run and work out again. My appetite and my diet is healthy and normal. I’m happy. I’m slower. I’m reflective. I’m learning how to be more in the moment every day.
But I have accepted that this is also something I will consciously be working on for a long time, probably forever.
I still get stressed and that’s just going to happen. It’s good for me at times, and pushes me to trust my instincts, and take action when I need to.
But personally, my stress is also something I have to keep and eye on, and I do. I acknowledge and observe it and ask questions about it, rather than just resist and fight it. A lot of times, that simple mental trick allows me to get to the root of the stress, and deal with whatever the actual problem is.
I’m not trying to suggest that your stress will lead to the symptoms that I experienced, or that my path to health is a roadmap for anyone but me. But I do want to acknowledge that those things CAN happen, and did happen to me. And I want to emphasize that even after reaching my lowest point, I was able to overcome anxiety and depression, with the right tools.
As we continue to slog through this weird time right now, I encourage you to take a moment to acknowledge any stress that you might be carrying. Don’t get angry or try to ignore it. Be compassionate and curious, as if it were someone you love. Ask questions, and give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Then see what steps you can take. Sometimes that step is asking for help, from a doctor or a friend. Sometimes it’s making a major life or habit change. Sometimes (And this is especially pertinent right now), it’s as simple as slowing down and being more intentional with your daily routines.
Some everyday acts of love to show yourself:
- Make a cup of calming tea, and stop what you’re doing to sit and sip it.
- Lavender essential oil drops. Rub it into your hands and arms and take deep inhaling breaths.
- Take a long hot shower. Somehow this makes me feel mentally as well as physically refreshed, when I need some clarity.
- Write it out. I’m a huge proponent of journaling and always have been. It’s basically thinking out loud to a friend, and the exercise has helped me get better at not judging myself so much, because I don’t do that when other people are sharing thing with me.
- Call someone you love. Even a 5 minute chat can make a huge difference, for both of you.