We all know that to be healthy we need to exercise and make healthy food choices, but what about stress? Stress is a silent killer; we can’t see it, touch it or sometimes even feel it, but stress is a force to be reckoned with.
Stress can be good if it has a positive effect on your life, writing this blog is an example of positive stress. I want to put out an article and have a self-imposed publishing date, this requires me to sit down and write, positive stress drives me to meet my deadline. When I do, I feel happy and proud of myself, it’s all good.
Negative stress may develop as a result of work pressures or being unfulfilled in your work, having relationship difficulties, the sickness or death of a loved one, from overextending yourself financially or from a myriad of other reasons. I know all too well what negative stress feels like, but how does negative stress manifest? I can tell you what the literature says, but that’s the literature and I’m not a subject or a research rat. So, I’ll tell you how it manifested in me.
I’ve found that negative stress comes in varying degrees and generally builds over time. Yes, when tragedy happens you can be thrown off the deep end into high levels of stress instantaneously, but this isn’t the stress I’m talking about here. I’ve had occasions in my life where I’ve experienced negative stress and each time it starts with me thinking about the stressor constantly, obsessively. As the stress continues I would lose sleep.
One such experience occurred when I was required to take on additional responsibilities at work that were beyond my comfort level and my abilities, at least that’s how I felt. I constantly worried if I was performing /delivering at the required level, if my output was high enough and if I was as good as my predecessor. Yes, I compared myself to someone else, I’m told never to do this. Only compare yourself against yourself, but it isn’t that easy or at least not for me.
I would wake in the middle of the night with my mind spinning, I’d lay there and worry, then I’d get up and start answering work e-mails or read documents. I worked 12 hour days and took work home; I did e-mails from home and neglected my kids and my husband. I was grumpy and irritable, I felt guilty about not being available for the family. I spiralled further down; I developed terrible headaches, ate more junk food and exercised less.
Then, I developed stomach problems and drank Pepto Bismol and Gaviscon out of the bottle and popped Imodium tables like candy. Finally, the diarrhea and cramps forced me to visit the doctor. She treated me for amoebic dysentery and gave me medication to heal my gut; nothing worked, back to the doctor, my new best friend. After exploring all avenues she thought I had irritable bowel syndrome and was ready to schedule an exploratory endoscopy.
Then, my family and I went on a one month holiday and it stopped! Literally within 24 hours of departing on our holiday it stopped, the pain, the cramps, the diarrhea, they all disappeared. I was free from the affliction that had plagued me for months. Then I knew, I had suffered from negative stress that had manifesting physically. I realized it was highly probable that more damage was being done, likely to my heart and other organs, and I knew I had to change.
During the holiday Vic and I spent time talking about our life and the stress I had experienced. This lead to me to realize I had a huge disconnect between what I wanted as a wife and a mother and what I was giving and receiving as a professional woman. This caused me massive stress.
The new work responsibilities had tipped me off balance. Working had never been a problem for me because I was always able to maintain the work life balance. With the new job that balance went out the window as I was pushed further up the career ladder to a place that is all consuming. A place I have never wanted go.
Many women want to be professionals to sit at the corporate conference table and go head to head with their male or female counterparts on issues related to everything from A to Z, but that’s not me. I’m a simple woman who loves many things, most of all my family. I found myself working longer harder hours and I felt guilty for not being with my family, for not making the healthy meals or just not being there period.
I’ve risen in my career because I’m good at what I do, but I had reached a point where my personal and professional values were clashing and this caused me massive amounts of negative stress. This blog was a product of that holiday, it’s a means for me gain balance and perspective and to hopefully help others as well.
I’m happy to report; I’ve been free of stomach trouble for 4 months. I’m eating better, spending more time with the family and am more balanced. I occasionally have difficulty sleeping and sometime work gets the better of me, but over all I’m managing the stress much better.
10 Actions to Reduce Stress.
- Start a Blog, learn a new language, take up a hobby, do something anything that interests you.
- Leave work on time- this reduced my 12 hours working day to 8 hours and opened up 4 hours for my family and other things like this blog.
- Leave work at work– It’s one thing to leave work on time it’s another thing to leave work at work. This blog lets me do that because I have something else to channel my energies into.
- Exercise – Vic and I walk at lunch or I do something when I get home.
- Save more money – If I lose my job because I’m not willing to work the long hours I have a safety net.
- Eat healthy food – Consistently, yes that means turning down the cake or cookies someone brought to the office. Not because I worry about gaining weight, but because I know the sugar plays havoc with my system. I’m happier and more balanced eating nuts or fruit.
- Make weekends count – We used to do a lot of visiting or have people around on the weekend; I love to socialize, but being an introvert this left me with little time to recharge my batteries. I’m lucky, Vic is also introverted so we’re very happy to stay home and use the weekends to relax, enjoy and recharge.
- No sleeping tablets unless travelling – It easy to get an artificial sleep, I want the real thing and I want to know I’ve had it.
- Stop the internal chatter – Yep, I would have full scale conversations in my head about everything from what I would say to so and so, to what I needed to do tomorrow. I lived in my head, but I stopped! Now, I write things down, once they are on paper they are out of my head.
- Set priorities and goals – I wrote them down, just in case I forget them or stray off course. These include things like the relationship I want with my kids, when I want to leave work, how much money we need to have saved, what kind of a retirement we want, etc.
Are you feeling the effects of negative stress? Try one or all of the listed actions to help reduce the stress in your life. It all comes down to making decisions about how we want to life our lives and to making life choices about how we want to spend our time and money.
We all have stress in our lives, but if we identify situations that cause us negative stress and take action towards reducing or eliminating it by replacing it with positive stress then we can drastically improve the quality of our lives. Maybe you can change your stress by changing how you think about things, or maybe you’re like me and have to make some life choices and change a few things. Either way, reduce negative stress and you’ll be sure to have a better quality of live and that’s what counts.
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