Dark Nights of the Soul, Epiphanies and Stress, The End

In my case, I had quite a few symptoms that, confirmed by a physician, were caused by stress. Once I decided not to let the ickies kill me, I developed a combination of techniques I use to relieve my stress. When I begin to feel stressed, I stop whatever I’m doing and consciously relax any muscles I’ve been tightening. I then take a few deep breaths, focusing on relaxing mind and body. Usually that’s enough to slay the stress monster, but not always.

If that’s not enough, I ask myself a question. “Do you have everything you need, right now, in and for this moment?” The answer is almost always yes. If my car were broken down on the side of the road, those more spiritually evolved than I am might still say yes, but I would say no. Then I would remind myself that my stress is not going to make the auto club get here any faster, nor would it cause my car to mysteriously fix itself. All it would do is impact my mental and physical health in negative ways.

Stress can be a good thing if you are actually in an immediate fight or flight situation. If someone is pointing a gun at you, deep breaths are not a workable strategy! Thankfully, most of us in this part of the world are rarely in such dire circumstances. If you are, your body will respond accordingly. If not, I’ve realized that stopping the stress monster from killing you, until you can improve the situation, is the best and healthiest response.


Dark Nights of the Soul, Epiphanies and Stress, Part II

I had an epiphany, a revelation, a sudden, intuitive understanding of the essence of the thing. Wait, stress, my stress, is actually physically harming me and might even shorten my life! I went from knowing that on an intellectual level to fully understanding, grokking, it with all of my, heart, mind and spirit.

I asked myself if my stress was making the situation better. No, of course not. Was it improving my performance in any aspect of my life? No, just the opposite. Was it causing those icky people or situations to go away? Regrettably, no. Was it harming me physically and possibly even shortening my life? Yes!

If anyone had told me a couple of weeks ago I could just decide not to stress, I would have thought they were nuts. I’ve read that idea in many places, along with suggestions that yoga, meditation, movement and/or mindfulness would lower stress and improve physical and mental health and functioning. I resisted all of that, insisting that I didn’t need to adjust to the intolerable, instead the intolerable needed to knock that shit off right now!

I can, am and will change these situations and relationships that have been stressing me, but I’ve changed my mind completely about what to do in the mean time. I have decided that I refuse to let bad situations, unreasonable people or unavoidable ickiness to harm me anymore. I’ll tell you what stress actually does to you, then I’ll share what I do now to stop the stress monster in its tracks.

Chronic stress leaves your body in a perpetual flight or fight state. Adrenaline and cortisol flood your system, causing your heart to beat faster, increase your blood pressure and mess with your digestive system, including nausea and loss of appetite. Imagine your body, thinking it’s in imminent danger, saying, “What?? We’re in a life-threatening situation and you want to eat???”

Your muscles tense, which in chronic stress, can cause tension headaches, aches and pains and possibly, according to some theories, induce fibromyalgia. (Which I have!) Chronic stress can also weaken your immune system, contribute to, if not outright cause, abnormal heartbeat, blood clots, heart attack, and/or heart failure. Some researchers say chronic stress either causes, contributes to, or worsens 60-90% of illnesses.

It won’t come as a surprise that chronic stress also causes, contributes to or worsens psychological issues such as mood swings, irritability, depression, and anxiety. Maladaptive attempts to deal with stress include using drugs, alcohol, food or any other compulsive behavior. You feel like shit physically and mentally, and you behave in ways you’d really rather not. A lot of these things, both physical or behavioral, can be fatal.

More obvious effects of stress include teeth grinding, neck, back or shoulder pain, decreased sex drive, loss of energy, trouble concentrating, insomnia, nightmares, confusion, lack of organization, memory problems, indecisiveness, clumsiness, withdrawal and fatigue. It seems as though even if stress doesn’t kill you, it may make you wish you were dead.

Important point: Any or all of these symptoms can also be cause by actual illness, disease or other health conditions. You must see a doctor first, before you decide your symptoms are caused by stress. I am not a medical professional, so do not rely on my listing of symptoms to diagnose yourself or anyone else.

To be continued…

Dark Nights of the Soul, Epiphanies and Stress, Pt. l

Inner growth spurts come in cycles. They have uncomfortable periods, but they get better and they’re definitely worth it. I’ve just gone through another one myself and I’d like to share what I’ve learned.

The Universe is nothing if not consistent. It begins with a gentle nudge. You get a feeling of discontent, a hint that things aren’t working. If that doesn’t get your attention, small things will start to go wrong in your outer life. Many of us don’t take that as an indication that inner work is required, so the Universe delivers its message with a cosmic clue by four. Some people still don’t get it and, regrettably, continue to be unhappy and have unpleasant things going on in their lives.  Eventually, you will get physically sick.

When I first moved to Hollywood, years ago, not only was I unhappy, but I held the idea that only dumb, unaware people could possibly be happy. In high school, I had a teacher who used to say, “If you aren’t scared, you don’t understand the situation.” Substitute “miserable” for “scared” and you have my philosophy. Thanks, Mr. Johnson.

The Universe was on the job, though, and deposited me literally right next door to a happy woman. I would have just written her off as a doofus, but I interacted with her almost daily, so that label couldn’t stick. She has a Ph.D. in psychology with a specialization in neuropsychology. Neither dumb nor unaware!

It was fascinating to me. Eventually I figured it out. Being happy doesn’t mean you don’t get it. It means you don’t let it get you. Thanks, Kristine.

This time around, the topic was stress. I’d always been of the opinion that the proper response to stress wasn’t yoga or meditation or any other activity to designed to allow you to cope with it more effectively. My attitude was, “Fuck that! I don’t need to adjust myself so that I can tolerate the intolerable; the intolerable needs to go.” To an extent, I still hold that idea. If something in your life is crap, either fix it or get rid of it. The problem is that it’s pretty much impossible to get rid of everything stressful, forever. Stress happens.

I was stressed, angry and miserable. The situation did, and still does, need to be fixed, but it’s unlikely to be fixed right away. I became more and more unhappy, more and more withdrawn, and less and less able to cope with my life. I just wanted to escape.

I was spiraling down to the low point of the inner growth cycle, the dark night of the soul. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, in the dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning Sounds awful, doesn’t it? It’s a necessary part of inner growth. It’s similar to an initiation in that you go through something unpleasant to come out the other side changed for the better.

The good thing about the dark night of the soul is that the more times you go through it, the easier it gets. It becomes less and less dark and shorter and shorter in duration. This is likely because the first few are the biggest, the most shocking, the most life-changing. The first few are unfamiliar so you won’t know what to do. You may even feel like you’re losing your mind. Nope! This period of isolation, confusion and deep dissatisfaction is a step on the path to spiritual and psychological growth. Stay with it, ride it out, and you will come out the other side a better and happier person. If it is true that the only way out is through, nowhere does this apply more.

In my own recent cycle, certain people needed to stop doing certain things and bad situations needed to end. That is still true, but my response has changed. I knew stress was bad for you, health wise. I knew it in a vague, somewhere over there way, though. What happened next is the classic way up and out of the dark night. To be continued…