I experienced a long-term illness relating to prolonged high levels of stress because I hadn’t learned ways to manage stress. I came to a point where I had to do something major about it. It was a life-changing experience. I dove into books, meditation, and prayer. I saturated my mind with research. I took time off work.
My stress resulted from a series of events. Because I hadn’t learned the right ways to manage stress, my body became very sick. What also contributed to my stress was my thought patterns. I always focused on high achievement and tried to go beyond my abilities. As a result I burnt out quite a few times.
Witnessing people twice my age who suffer from an array of problems due to a lack of stress management skills really put things in perspective for me. They have accomplished amazing things, but at the cost of their health, family and own well-being. Seeing the complications and regrets of some of these people has really enforced my desire to learn how to lead a balanced life from a young age.
When my body wasn’t functioning properly, stress was completely overlooked. The doctors and specialists never asked about stress or tested my body for increased cortisol, hormones and symptoms related to stress. I had to find out about those factors through my own research and by turning to a naturopath. I am not against doctors, but the experience made me realize that we are responsible for our own bodies. We need to recognize the warning signs, take time out to center ourselves and always be conscious of our health.
Before you jump into the stress-management techniques, you should look at some of the symptoms of stress to see if you might be suffering from it.
Physical signs of stress:
- Tiredness, fatigue, lethargy
- Heart palpitations; racing pulse; rapid, shallow breathing
- Muscle tension and aches
- Shakiness, tremors, tics, twitches
- Heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation
- Dry mouth and throat
- Excessive sweating, clammy hands, cold hands and/or feet
- Rashes, hives, itching
- Nail-biting, fidgeting, hair-twirling, hair-pulling
- Frequent urination
- Lowered libido
- Overeating, loss of appetite
- Sleep difficulties
- Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs and medications
Psychological signs of stress:
- Irritability, impatience, anger, hostility
- Worry, anxiety, panic
- Moodiness, sadness, feeling upset
- Intrusive and/or racing thoughts
- Memory lapses, difficulties in concentrating, indecision
- Frequent absences from work, lowered productivity
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loss of sense of humor
Prolonged and/or intense stress can have more serious effects. It can make you sick! There are more symptoms/signs—this is just a guide.
Now, what are some ways to manage stress?
1) Don’t rush through life
Why are we all rushing anyways? I don’t want to be morbid, death awaits us all. Are we in a rush to die? People put their health at risk to pursue their ambitions. This can create an urgency that leads to stress. I myself have felt this need to achieve a lot from a young age, with the result that I was always busy and put in a lot of effort toward the future. Currently when I feel that need to rush and be busy, I immediately recognize it and do something about it, even if it means a day or two off. This centers my mind and body and helps me live in the moment. Slow down, enjoy the ride and be effective—not just busy.
For those in their 20s (like me) this quote hit home for me: “Nothing will ruin your 20s more than thinking you should have your life together already.”– Aimee-Cherie
2) Don’t skip meals
Being involved in the workforce for many years I witnessed fellow employees missing lunch due to a heavy workload. They would also share the fact that they had no time for breakfast either. Placing work or commitments before your health can lead to stress on your body. The body requires fuel to work efficiently and if you’re not taking the time to fuel up, you will run on empty. You wouldn’t keep driving a car without fuel! So why would you do it to your body?
3) Don’t take your stress out on those close to you
When you’re stressed you may not act like yourself. The people around you may become targets of attacks in a heightened state of emotion, anxiety or impatience. It is important to implement self-control and perhaps fair to communicate how you feel with those you trust. When I have opened up about how I feel, I have been amazed at the words of encouragement that I have received. It puts things in perspective and shows us how stress is self-created and can be eliminated. Your family and friends should be the people you can be relaxed with. So don’t burn those bridges!
4) Don’t blame everyone else
If you tell yourself that it is everyone else’s fault that you are stressed, that does nothing but keep you stressed. Years ago I was in a position where I was given a lot of responsibility and not much training. That imposed stress on my body, mind, and desire to work. I stuck it out because the money was good, I felt lucky to be given the opportunity, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I blamed my stress on the workload, a boss who didn’t listen, and peers who spent more time gossiping than working. Eventually I burned out. Take control of your life. If you can’t change the environment, find a new one.
5) Don’t overwork yourself
At the age of 26 I am quickly learning the importance of not overworking myself. From a young age I had a high achiever’s mentality: I pushed too hard and would be discouraged if results were not at a high standard. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for high standards, but aiming for perfectionism at the cost of your happiness is sure to disappoint. In the corporate world and among people I know, there are many who overwork themselves and label it success. Overworking yourself can cause stress in your body, mind and soul. It’s disruptive to a balanced life. I view success as having a well-rounded life and schedule, one that makes time for health, relationships, family and downtime.
6) Don’t make excuses when you are unwell
I remember a woman who was awfully sick and kept coming into work. She complained that she had a lot of work to do and no time to take off to recover. I recognized her excuse because I had used it myself before. I told her, “You can’t work if you’re dead.” She took a day or two off to recuperate. If your boss or those around you can’t respect your choice to take care of health, they are not worth your time!
7) Don’t ignore it
If you are feeling stressed out, or if you relate to any of the symptoms above, don’t ignore it. Many live in denial and cease to do anything about the state of stress they are in. People may not even realize how stressed they really are. I didn’t. It wasn’t until I allowed my body to recover and went on a journey of self exploration that I came to terms with how stressed my body was. I feel I escaped an early death or long term disability. Don’t keep putting off those warning signs. Check in with yourself and do something about it. Learn stress management skills and get to the bottom of your stress before it gets worse.
8) Don’t take your body or life for granted
Stress is a sign that we need to slow down, take action and focus on what is stressing us. By pushing stress to the side and allowing it to build up, the person who suffers the most is you. Stress can lead to serious illness, psychological disorders and death. It can hurt and cause pain for those closest to you. I never knew stress could bring on disease until I experienced it first-hand. Stress is serious if left unmanaged and/or ignored. If you feel you may be letting people down because you need time out, you need to start loving yourself more. Quitting my career to focus on my health and moving away for six months meant putting myself first. I surrendered having a great income, job security (in a sense) and my career, all in order to get myself together. I distanced myself from family and friends for a short while to be alone and regain strength. The people who love you will stand by you. You may also attract the right people into your life, people who will help you in your journey toward a balanced life.
9) Don’t put off exercise
Exercise helps with releasing stress and clearing the mind. When you are looking after yourself physically you can have a better approach toward your work, issues, and stressors. When I feel overwhelmed, going for a walk or run in the sun gets all the negative energy out of my body. Just don’t overdo it. Stay balanced, focused and consistent. Don’t over-train as it can lead to further stress.
10) Don’t let tomorrow’s worries overwhelm today
If you worry, have anxiety, and people refer to you as a stress head then you are not alone! Since I was a little girl I was worried all of the time. It didn’t help that I came from a religious background where they told us to be good or we would go to hell. Nonetheless, my journey of letting go of worries, anxiety and what I cannot control has been amazing. I will admit it’s been tough but it’s very possible. Embracing the present moment and allowing things to be will decrease your stress. Those butterflies, tight knots in your belly and racing thoughts can be managed. At any time in our life tragedy can come, relationships may end or you may not do well in your assignments! Spending your energy and thoughts on worry won’t help you or your body. Have faith that life has good things in store for you. Allow what is meant to be, be, while doing your best in your own endeavors. When one door shuts, another will open. Say no to stress by saying no to worry!
There are a lot more stories and guides to stress out there. Here are a few references I found useful:
Australian Psychological Society 2012,Understanding and Managing Stress, http://www.psychology.org.au
Elkin, A 2013, Stress Management for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons
Lees, M 1966, D-Stress Building Resilience in Challenging Times, Inner Cents
Parmer, S & Cooper, C 2008, How To Deal with Stress, (2nd Edn)
Featured photo credit: GaborfromHungary via morguefile.com