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…