A few years ago I repeatedly went to the doctor for a variety of smaller issues. In and of themselves they were not really a big deal but I guess my overall feeling was that something was a bit off. The doctors never found anything wrong with me. The explanation I got was always a vague or sort of questioning “it could be stress related?”. This was my life for a few years. I seemed to get sick a lot and taking an abnormally long time to recover. I was also generally very tired. In June 2010 I went to get my prescription for contraceptives refilled. Usually that entails answering a few questions and having your blood pressure checked and then you can go to the pharmacy and pick it up. This time the nurse looked at the machine with surprise and asked if I had been running on my way there. I had not. I’m pretty sure I took the bus. Just in case I got to rest for a few minutes and then re take it. My blood pressure was still 180/93. I did not get a prescription that day. This was the beginning of a long series of doctors’ appointments. I started getting a lot of issues. I had migraines, stomach issues, fainting spells. I had multiple tests done. I had an ultra sound of my heart, exercise EKG, regular EKG and various blood test. I was physically in very good condition. Besides the elevated blood pressure and my symptoms that is. The doctors all told me I was fine and that it was probably just stress related. When you have all of these issues and doctors still tell you your fine you start thinking maybe you’re just imagining things or exaggerating. Or maybe you are just lazy or weak. So you go on pushing yourself because clearly you are just whiny. I did however start believing that maybe I was stressed. I was so tired all the time and I felt like never had the energy to do any of the things that I wanted to or that was required of me. Actually I started feeling like everything was a chore, even seeing friends. I started telling people that I was stressed out and not feeling well. Most people, including myself had problems understanding how I could be stressed or on the verge of a burn out. I was only working full-time at the time, I had in the spring worked full time plus doing full time studies for my masters. I was pretty much on vacation. Side note, if you find yourself saying full-time and only in the same sentence you need to take a look at your life and re-evaluate some things. In October that year I slept all of my free time. I would get home from work and fall asleep on the couch, wake up to eat some dinner then I’d go back to bed. The weekends were the same. I couldn’t get out of bed or off the couch. In November I got anxiety. Finally! Now I knew what was wrong. Anxiety was familiar, I knew how to deal with that. Don’t get me wrong anxiety is horrific but when you’ve struggled for a long time and no one can tell you what’s wrong with you finally knowing what to do is a huge relief. I got myself an appointment with a psychiatrist, I got diagnosed with stress induced depression, I got a prescription for SSRI medication, repeated follow-ups with my doctor and about 6 months later I was a lot better. I mean I was physically a lot better. I had the really difficult part to do still. I had to figure out how I got there in the first place and how to avoid ending up there again. That took years. Actually it is an ongoing process. I have to check myself a lot to not fall back into those same patterns.
In the scope of things I believe myself to be a very lucky person. First of all because I had been depressed before so when the anxiety hit I knew what it was and I could quickly get myself the help I needed. Second of all my predispositions for depressions ensured that I couldn’t keep that type of lifestyle for very long. In other words I didn’t manage to wreck myself completely before I got my wakeup call. I have met a lot of people who’ve managed to do a lot more damage to themselves before their body finally put a stop to it.
The fact that I had seen multiple doctors who all suspected that I was suffering from stress induced symptoms and no one never told me A, what stress is and what it could lead to or B, what I could do about it is mindboggling to me. If doctors don’t call it out who are supposed to do it? Stress most often hits the hardworking, ambitious, competent high achieving people. This means executive level, key people in your organization. People who are very used to always deliver and to always be on top of things and figuring it out for themselves. They are going to be the last people to admit that something is wrong. Therefor we need doctors who blow the whistle earlier, we need executives to discourage that kind of work environment and we need friends, family and coworkers who are aware of what stress is and what it looks like. Most importantly we all need to be better at knowing what to do about it.
Some actual advice
To not leave you like my doctors left me, clueless about how to combat and relieve stress here’s what you need to do. You need to address two things. We have the primary problem which is your way of life and your self-esteem which is most likely the root of the problem and we have a lot of secondary problems in the form of symptoms. It’s easier to just focus on reducing/alleviating the symptoms but unless you get to the root of the problem you will never be a 100 %, maybe not even 50 %. The best way to get to the root of the problem is to work on your issues with a therapist. There are as many ways to do therapy as there are therapist out there so find someone you like and truly feel comfortable with. To get at the symptoms here are three fairly hands on things you can do.
- Intimacy and physical touch. If you don’t have a partner a massage can release those same stress reducing hormones. Even pets can give you that sense of bonding and closeness that reduces stress so don’t fret about not having found your special someone yet. Just a hug can be really helpful.
- Not performance exercise, that is hugely different. We are not setting any goals or trying to keep to an intense schedule. We are just getting out there to move and sweat a little. This will release stress reducing endorphins.
- Have fun. Rest can only do so much. What you need to really restore your reserves is doing things that ad value without being the least bit taxing. You may now realize that you have forgotten what you do for fun. If that is the case, don’t worry a lot of people do, you can find it again. As a first step think about what you used to do for fun as a child and do that. If you used to draw and color do that. If you used to play with cars do that, except now you’re an adult so you can play with actual cars. If you used to play soccer with your friends do that. It might sound silly but it works.
The only time to enjoy life is right now. Stay tuned for more advice and support on how to reduce stress and anxiety. Stay healthy, stay happy!