What? Me? No. No way. I can’t be stressed. I just have a lot right now, a lot of pressure. Once I get past this everything will be fine. I’ll be fine. I am fine.
Have you ever said that knowing full well that it was a lie? I guess we all have.
I’ve been trying to write a post about stress for a long time. I keep writing, re-writing and deleting, then give up and set it aside for a while before doing the same thing all over again. The reason for this is that every time I read the post again to edit it, I feel like I am trying to justify that I have a right to be stressed. It almost reads like a long list of complaints and frustrations, instead of being me working through my issues or, even better, me writing something that can help others work through similar issues.
Let’s get it out of they way right now. I’m freaking stressed and not in the way that I am very busy and have too much to do, but really, I am loving my life the way it is. No, not at all like that. Both my body and mind has literally been suffering while I’ve been too embarrassed to be honest about it.
I don’t need to write a long list of all the factors that contributed to me getting stressed, because a long list of stuff doesn’t justify me feeling stressed. The more stressful factors that I have in my life doesn’t change anything. Even just one thing in life can put so much pressure on us that it is close to breaking us. Comparing my life with that of others doesn’t make my stress more real or acceptable. Stress is never okay if you suffer because of it.
I am in a place right now when even just the thought of work makes my jaw tense and all the muscles in my neck and shoulders tighten and stiffen. Whenever I work, I get the urge to throw up and I feel dizzy. I push through it, however, because I don’t feel like I have a choice.
That’s the real reason it’s been difficult for me to accept. Sure, I acknowledged that I had stress a good while back, but I didn’t take responsibility for it or even accept it. I tried to blame things like pressure at work combined with having to pass exams at school and studying. I blamed the fact that starting a new career in your mid thirties (especially when all the other people in school are around 20) it’s tough.
I blamed long-covid because I am still sick even now. I blamed my body for not being strong enough and more than anything I blamed myself for not being good enough to get through this tiny, little period of extra work and pressure.
I’m supposed to be strong enough to handle a bit of stress. It makes you improve and that’s good, right?
Well, no. In fact, it wasn’t a short period – I’ve been stressed for more than a year now and I see no way of changing the way my life is for at least a year or two. I also don’t seem to improve, because stress affects both my mind and my body. The longer I don’t make any changes, the worse it gets. I am really making things more and more difficult for myself every single day. In a way it’s an endless spiral of self-destruction.
Why was I so afraid of taking responsibility and fully accept that I am stressed? Simple.
I am afraid, because even as I write this, I have no idea how to change things. I cannot see a way out of this in the foreseeable future and if I can’t, then what?
What can I do if I can’t do anything?
Obviously nothing. So, I can’t be stressed because I can’t do anything change even if I am. I just need to push through and one day things will get better.
Well, there are some changes I could make, but they won’t improve my situation, only make it worse. I guess I could quit my job and school and go back to being unemployed, searching for my true purpose? Although not being able to pay my bills or my student loans would definitely make me feel a whole lot worse and more stressed than I am now. Also, yes, I am aware that I sounded just a bit dramatic there with the whole quit my job and a possible bankruptcy and what not.
I know one thing for sure though. I can’t pretend I’m okay, because I’m just not.
I also realised that I don’t need to know how to do something, I just need to know what I want and somehow, I can figure it out one day at time. A change in my life doesn’t have to be big. If I can get just a fraction better, a tiny bit less stressed every day, then a year from now my life will be completely different. So, I don’t need to fix everything, I just need to find one little thing every day where I can do things slightly differently.
It’s like in a game when you get to a really challenging boss fight – you don’t know the attacks it will throw at you or how to beat it, but you know it’s possible to figure it out. Countless other people have tried and succeed and if you don’t give up, you know you can do it too.
I have never had to deal with stress personally before and I have no idea how it’ll be, but I know that I can find a way to get through it. Countless other people have tried and succeed before me and many more will do the same in the future. I don’t need to know everything yet, I just need to figure it out little by little.
It also occurred to me that perhaps the reason I don’t know what to do and how to deal with stress is because I don’t really know what it is to me specifically. It’s one thing to have heard about something, but another to face yourself.
So, I asked myself how does stress affect my body and my mind?
Then, the other day, an opportunity to monitor this more closely presented itself and of course I (un)happily took the time to examine my own reactions more clearly and with purposeful self awareness. Well, I attempted it at least.
Every morning I follow a routine to make sure I get to work on time. I always try to be early for everything in case anything unexpected happens. On this particular day I was a bit late getting ready, only maybe 5 mins, because I was tired and suddenly I noticed myself panicking and running around trying to do everything all at once, my heart beating like a drum. My reaction was extreme and unnecessary.
First of all, my routine has been structured to accommodate things like this and had I not panicked, I would have made it to the bus in time – no problem. In fact, even while panicking I could make it in time. I realise now that I have this constant feeling that I don’t have enough time and being 5 mins late with my routine kick-started a spiral of panic and anxiety that I would not have recognised, had I not been trying to notice how stress affects me in my daily life.
Secondly, I have flexible work hours and it is literally impossible for me to be late (unless we have an early morning meeting, which we never do. Meetings are never in the morning). I decide when I put in my hours. I can even work from home if I want to, all I need to do is write in the team chat that I’m working from home and no one will mind.
Thirdly, had it been possible for me to be late, all I had to do would be write in the team chat that I would be in the office half an hour later and literally no one would care.
You see now how extreme and unnecessary my reaction truly was?
What I did when I realised I was stressed was quite difficult and yet, very simple. I decided to go to work half an hour later and sat down with a cup of coffee to relax. My aim was to feel my body and mind to see how I reacted physically and mentally.
My body was crazy tense, my jaw so tense, in fact, I was in great physical pain and yet, before I sat down, I would never really have noticed it. I knew I was in pain before, but I never really allowed myself to truly feel how much pain. This feeling grew and grew until I had a panic attack, followed by headaches and nausea.
I was rather surprised because the reactions I felt were far greater than I had ever expected.
I’m going to continue to monitor myself, my reactions and my physical and mental state more closely for now. I will try to objectively ask myself questions like: “Is my reaction appropriate for this situation?” or “Why am I feeling sick right now?” or “Why am I feeling so frustrated/sad right now?”
The main focus is: “Is this behaviour and/ or reaction appropriate in this situation?“
I still don’t know exactly what to do with this information, but I feel like I need to understand myself and my reactions better if I am to have any chance of making positive changes in my life. I don’t want to live with stress as a constant companion in life, so to get rid of it I must understand it better. I must see myself more clearly.
I hope I can at some point start to see triggers and figure out what situations affect me in what ways and then at least – to begin with – find ways to get around the triggers and the situations that make me feel sick and stressed. Maybe it will give me space to think more clearly and objectively about myself and thus, find a way to deal with stress for good.
Sometimes, when we don’t know what to do, trying to be more aware of the situation and ourselves can make our options more clear to us. We don’t necessarily need to know how to do something, maybe we just need to know what we want to achieve and see what happens – and just be ready to go for the opportunities that may arise.
At least then we won’t feel helpless or powerless, even if we feel totally and utterly lost. Feeling lost may not be the worst thing in the world. It gives us a chance to choose a new way forward.