Let's Talk Stress Baby!
The other day my daughter said something to me which really hit home. She said "Mom, sometimes it takes you so long to respond to me. I understand if you're texting but in person it takes you a long time!"
Well there it was staring me right in the face. The consequence of not learning how to take care of myself sooner than I had. So I told my daughter what I had now known for some time; I told her that the reason I take so long to answer "is a result of having been under too much stress for too long, kind of like brain damage."
Of course I then had to explain that everyone who experiences stress is not going to have the same side effects that I have.
I went on to explain that stress in moderate amounts is actually 1. very normal and 2. good for us. It keeps us on our toes! The bursts of cortisol we receive when we have a surge of adrenalin is good for our brains. It keeps things pumping so to speak. In my case however, I wasn't talking about regular amounts of stress. I was referring to chronic stress. The kind of stress that has you in the heightened state of 'fight or flight' day in and day out for days, weeks or as in my case years on end.
The "cause" of my stress is a story for another day but I will give you this. I have two sons in addition to my daughter, and my oldest has several diagnosis which include Tourette Syndrome, Aspergers Syndrome, OCD, Learning Disabilities, and PANDAS. I have learned more than I ever wanted to know, I have dealt with, witnessed and experienced so many things as a result of these disorders. In the end I suffered.
Having a longer than usual response time during some conversations allows my mind to not only process the information being received, but to recall the words that I want to use in my response. It is one of the few lingering effects of living under chronic stress.
Some other things that people may experience are: fatigue, digestive problems, headaches or migraines, pain not otherwise associated with anything, brain fog, irritability, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances or insomnia. I'm sure the list could go on and on!
I have been aware of my own condition for some years now and have put into place some simple everyday strategies that have helped me to "manage" my stress. Of course the ideal thing to do would be to get rid of the source of your stress. Avoid contact and cut off all ties to everything that doesn't promote a sense of tranquillity. Not.
It is not always possible that is, to completely detach yourself from a stressful situation. Especially if you are like me and the root source of your stress is attached to someone you love. In that case you must make other changes.
Here are a few things that have helped me over the years:
Diet. I know that people are always harping on us about nutrition and eating right. Well there is a reason for that...their right! you need to take care of yourself from the inside out. Eating does or can provide a calming effect which is why there are so many emotional eaters. The problem is the effect is very temporary. The long term effect is that if you are eating a lot of junk or processed foods you will actually feel worse. When you find yourself reaching for a snack, make a healthy choice. It may not be easy but you will feel better as a result.
Sleep. Chances are that when you are under a great deal of stress you are not sleeping properly. Not having an adequate amount of sleep every night may lead to some more significant health problems down the line. Develop a bedtime routine that promotes calmness before you try to sleep. The best time for you to be thinking is during the day. Try writing down all your thoughts to get them out of your head before sleep. Your list of things to worry about will still be there in the morning.
Exercise. I have found that exercise clears the mind. You don`t have to “workout” to get exercise just do something physical every day. When my children were young I couldn`t always get out of the house to go to a gym or to the pool so I had to be creative. I fit in quick walks (5 min. or less), I did the stairs in my house a few times in a row and ultimately I even found cleaning to be a good stress reliever. Don`t get me wrong it isn`t my favorite thing to do but your body is in motion. Instead of thinking about what is stressing you out focus on what you are doing in that moment while your body is in motion.
Quiet. Do you remember the phrase “Silence is golden.”? Well it truly is. Take some regular quiet time for yourself. By regular I mean daily and depending on your stress level perhaps several times a day. Quiet allows the mind to catch up with itself to process what is going on around you. I had to be creative as far as quiet time was concerned as well because at my house the only time it was quiet was when everyone was asleep and my oldest didn’t sleep the night through until he was 7 or 8! So my version of quiet was to lock myself in the bathroom and turn on the exhaust fan. (OK so it wasn’t quiet per say but it drowned out all the other noise.) I would the close my eyes and just be. You would be amazed at what five minutes of “quiet time” will do for you!
Passion. Do something you love to do, something that is only for you. This can be as simple as listening to your favorite song or reading a good book or it could be going to the movies with friends or taking a fun class. The key here is to ensure that you do something every day that you enjoy!
My guess is that this is nothing new right? You must have heard this advice several times already from multiple sources. You may have even paid attention for a while. The most crucial part in “managing” your stress is to pay attention to yourself on a daily consistent basis. The strategies listed above are simple. They are not the answer to getting control of your life but it is a start.
As for me, I have come a long way since implementing those first steps and my conversation with my daughter served to remind me that I must always take care of myself first so I can be there for the people I love most.
So until next time,
Take care of you,