Your Stress Marks are Showing!
The Symptoms of Stress - Running on Empty is Not Okay
Stress – everywhere we go, this word comes up. We’re stressed at work. We’re stressed at home. We’re stressed by traffic. We’re stressed by our finances. We’re stressed by our kids, by our spouse, by our parents, by our co-workers, by our boss!!! AAARRRGGG! The truth is that we are stressed and it often has nothing to do with the people or events around us.
Seriously, there is no reason for you to feel stress while you are grocery shopping – but all the messages flashing through your brain while you try to negotiate the aisles and remember your grocery list will leave you drained – emotionally, mentally, and physically. And just like that, grocery shopping is added to your “stress list”.
Before we continue, please give some honest consideration to the following:
Are you willing to take responsibility for the energy you bring into, or suck out of, the world?
No one else is responsible for your happiness; two people faced with the exact same circumstances will often respond with quite different levels of energy, joy, or optimism. Your reaction to life’s circumstances will directly impact your stress level. I am NOT talking about your visible reaction but your internal reaction. The two are very different and explain how someone who says they have a high tolerance is actually suffering from serious side effects of stress.
Do you believe that you owe it to the people you love to be fully present when you are with them?
Studies have shown that we are seldom present to our situation or those in the room with us. We spend 50% of our time worrying about the future, 40% reliving the past, and only 10% actually living in the present! Not only are we depriving those around us of our attention but our productivity is greatly decreased. Our brain is exhausting our tank, jumping between tomorrow’s worries and yesterday’s regrets even though we are accomplishing very little!
Do you understand that self-care is the only way to become the best version of yourself, for everything and everyone that matters in your life?
If you won’t recharge your energy for your own sake, could you do it for those you love, and love you? When you are running on empty, you are depriving yourself AND them. You cannot give from an empty vessel. You may feel that you have given all you have and no one can expect more, but when there is nothing but fumes in the tank, you haven’t really given them anything at all.
Stress affects our mind and body.
Most likely you know many signs of stress, and you may even believe you recognize all the “empty tank” warnings your body sends you. However, I think there may be symptoms on this list you haven’t considered:
Ø Heightened awareness
Ø Feeling of overwhelm
Ø Panic attacks
Ø Heart problems, heart attack
Ø High blood pressure
Ø Autoimmune disease
Ø Digestive problems
Ø Chronic headaches
Ø Weight gain
Ø Memory loss
Ø Hair loss
Ø Premature aging
Ø Skin issues (acne, eczema, psoriasis)
Ø Back Pain
Ø Poor job performance
Ø Lack of sex drive and lower sex appeal
Although stress itself may not a direct cause of illness or disease, it will decrease your immunity and speed up the development of anything that might be going wrong in your system, from cancerous cells, heart disease and diabetes to depression, anxiety and rapid cognitive decline. This is a very simple explanation as to why cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, and dementia are becoming more prevalent among younger people. Hair loss and skin issues plus memory loss and lack of sex drive were also once associated with age but are increasingly becoming part of early-middle age. These conditions are not part of the natural aging process but are actually signs of life deterioration on over-drive.
Never underestimate the power of exhaustion.
Exhaustion is the result of an energy shortage. Not only may it become the worst possible threat to your brain and body, and it can also be self-perpetuating. When we’re low on energy and need it most, our brains get stuck in state of hyper-arousal triggered by chronic stress and energy deprivation which reduces the brain’s ability to produce endorphins such as serotonin. As a result, we feel tired but without the endorphins, we are unable to relax. This provides an ideal situation for our exhaustion to slip into depression, anxiety or chronic fatigue. Also, while our sleep-deprived brain is trying frantically to stay on top of things, jumping from job to job, future anxiety to past concerns, we will suffer from attention deficit and accomplish even less – which causes us more stress and further drains energy from our brain!
We become comfortable with our discomfort
I once had a client tell me that she knew her life was considered very stressful by others, that she had no time for a social life, self-care, relaxation, or even housework. She and her spouse were working parents of very active children. Their off-work hours were filled with chauffeuring children to school, dance, hockey, ball, church activities, fundraising events, and sleepovers, plus their responsibilities on the various committees and boards related to these activities. Household chores were squeezed into the few remaining minutes after they finally got home in the evening, before they fell asleep on the couch! And yet, this client described her stress level as a 2 or 3 out of 10 because “I can handle it” which can be interpreted as “I am used to it” or “it is all I know”. When something is suddenly or clearly wrong it’s easier to make it a priority, but when we are “functional”, it seems there is always something else we can move to the top of our ever-growing to-do list.
Many early signs of stress and exhaustion have been around for so long that we believe them to be normal. “Normal” is not interchangeable with “constant” or “usual”. It is NOT normal to experience headaches, fatigue, and chronic worry. It is NOT normal to feel constantly rushed or unsettled. If your response to “How are you doing?” is “Busy”, “Stressed”, “Tired”, or “Never a dull moment”, you need to understand that this is not normal – nor do you earn an honour badge. These are signs that your fuel tank is seriously depleted and your body is crying out for help.
Early signs of burnout include headaches, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, negativity, sensitivity, irritability, brain fog, insomnia, fatigue, appetite change, irritable bowel, digestive problems, weight gain, moodiness, and depression. An exhausted system can no longer cope with even mild attacks - slight allergies or sensitivities can grow to overwhelming levels. The longer we ignore these signals, the more intense the messages will become until we finally have no choice but pay attention to them.
We cannot spend what we do not have.
Most of us are operating under the false concept that we are sacrificing ourselves for the greater good…of our children, our spouse, our boss, etc. And, we convince ourselves that this crazy pace is temporary – just until this project is done, or the sports season ends, the kids are older, etc. Unfortunately, our lives have a way of replacing every completed project or phase with another and the only thing that makes this state temporary is that we will eventually break down.
If the milk carton is empty, we know we cannot fill our glass. If the bank account is empty, we cannot pay our rent. If the car's fuel tank reads empty, we are going to sit on the side of the road. These are pretty simple concepts for anyone old enough to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees and that gas tanks are not bottomless.
Further to this is the natural rhythm of life – the more energy we spend, the more recovery time will be needed to restore our energy level. Our bodies need less sleep, nutrition, and rest after a day of relaxation than they do following a non-stop workday or intense physical workout.
There is no way to get around these principles. Our energy is precious, limited, and if not recharged, it will run out.
Stress is the biggest demand on our health today
Stress is a topic that has filled books so I cannot cover all the causes, symptoms, side-effects, and treatments in this blog. I will continue this discussion with my next couple blogs and it will come up over and over again in relation to other topics.
But, please don’t despair. Every step you take to reduce stress is worth the effort, and if you really don’t know where to start, there is help available. My research and my health coaching education gave me the tools to make changes in my own life. Although the benefits have definitely been personal, I believe everyone close to me has benefitted from my increased energy, patience, gratitude, joy and calm.