I had not exercised in more than two weeks, was eating tons of sugar, not sleeping well, clenching my jaw, had muscle aches, talking less and thinking way too much. I felt as if the walls were closing in and that I was suffocating.
Life had not necessarily thrown me any curve balls that I had not dealt with in the past, but how I was reacting to these stressors had changed. I was simply not taking care of myself and was too busy trying to take care of everyone else and it was taking a toll on me. I was stressed to the max!
Stress is a fact of life and cannot be avoided. However, I believe that managing stress and self care works better than a reactive, “Oh-no — what-can-I-do-now” approach. A proactive approach to managing stress can make a huge difference. I think all too often we let stress build and it can rear its ugly head in physical manifestations, just as it has for me these last couple weeks.
Exercise, while not the end all, can help your manage life stressors and stave off some of the physical and emotional manifestations of stress. Understanding how the body reacts to stress and what one can do to allay these responses, can make all the difference. No one should let stress levels build to the point where you feel out of control or overwhelmed. Take action before you get to that point.
I can’t control the external stimuli that are causing me burden, but I can affect how I deal with these stressors. I think this is where people can fall short or neglect caring for themselves until it’s too late. Stress ultimately can kill you. Unmanaged stress leads to distress. And while stress can’t be eliminated, it can be alleviated.
Despite my penchant for Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches and Swedish Fish candy, I’ve always maintained an exercise program and had relatively nutritional eating habits. Yes, we’ve all had times where we’ve taken quick, unhealthy routes to circumvent the stress at hand — who hasn’t tried to curtail a night of tossing and turning by heading to the fridge? — but this isn’t wise to make a regular practice.
Creating a healthy tool box and constructing a solid wellness foundation is essential — akin to weathering the perfect storm or batting down the hatches in preparation for the storm. The storm will come, no matter how much sunshine we have in our lives, and the more we equip ourselves, the better off we will be before the storm, during the storm and dealing with its aftermath.
Naturally, exercise and eating healthy are on top of my tool box and it’s what I preach daily. Combined, they are simply two of the most effective methods for maintaining overall mental and physical well being. And while I would never condone eliminating or neglecting either one of them, there are additional methods that can further enhance one’s overall quality of life.
Stress has to have an outlet. I call it a release, passion or vocation, others call it a coping mechanism. In fact, one of my dear clients attributes her well being to pottery, her release for most of her adult life and something she’s passionate about. Your outlet or stress releaser can be anything you want it be as long as eating well and exercise are part of your formula.
Writing has been my vocation and has provided me with a healthy and expressive outlet to stress. Yours could be basket weaving or scrubbing the kitchen floor with a toothbrush. The key is that you have created something that makes you feel good and reassures you that no matter what, you will be OK.
There are no quick fixes, but there are some quick tools that I often suggest to a stressed out client or friend. Take a break from work, get some sun, go for a walk, eat chocolate — OK a little chocolate — have sex, write a gratitude list and most importantly talk about your emotions and what is causing you stress.
Kevin Norris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.