- Mental Health
Time to Simplify: When Stress Takes Control Over Your Life
Mind. Body. Anxiety. Depression.
These were words, especially as a whole package, that had very little meaning to me until I laid in the emergency room while on vacation. It was the a-ha moment which allowed me to put all the pieces together. I had been dizzy and aching for months, sometimes suffered from an additional chest pain and shortness of breath. Yes, life had been unexpectedly difficult lately, but I had never been the type to succumb to pressure.
Like I said, at first I did not get it. I had always been well in control of my life, working through stress with patience and determination. Like moving to the United States at the age of 15, without a friend in sight or English language skills to back me up. Or graduating from college in Pennsylvania without a job offer, yet desperate to become independent as my parents were moving away to the west coast.
Once a change in environments and my hope for a relaxing week on the beach had gone bad, I finally recognized that the stress in my life had spiraled out of control. With ER doctors confirming that a heart attack was out of the question, I was sent on my way with a bottle of mild anti-anxiety pills. And a call for action that something big had to change before the stress would literally get the better of me.
Where Does Stress Come From?
How often do we find ourselves saying "I'm so stressed out," or "That's out of control"? But do we really know what it means?
I will argue that these little words are widely overused and misused. Stress, in the real sense of the word, can be described as a feeling experienced when a person perceives that the demands exceed the resources an individual is able to mobilize. That is, you are overcome with a feeling that things are out of control. Quite literally: to the point that your ability to function normally and handle everyday issues is compromised and affects your overall health. As in my case, it was body aches and dizziness.
Fact is, every time you experience a change in your life, you need to adapt, regain stability and therefore maintain your health. This is the normal cycle of life events and most of us are well equipped to handle them on an ongoing basis. The difference lies in the type, intensity and frequency these changes present themselves. It also requires looking at the big picture – when everything is happening at once, even if some of it is positive, it is harder to cope with the demands. Given the right (or should I say wrong) circumstances, stress will result.
Top 10 Most Stressful Life Events*
3. Marital Separation
4. Jail Term
5. Death of a Close Family Member
6. Personal Injury or Illness
8. Loss of Job
9. Marital Reconciliation
*according to Holmes-Rahe Scale
What Are Stressful Life Events?
I trust everyone has come across some version of a list of the most stressful life events. These are, for the most part, well researched compilations of stressors which cause the human body to react and engage with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness. Experience shows that, in combination with one another and over a certain period of time, they will result in personal overload.
It is important to note that life events don't have to be negative to be stressful. Planning a wedding, holidays, or having a baby, are great examples of situations when a positive event causes the body to react and rise to a challenge.
In order to fully assess the amount of stress you are experiencing, it is helpful to measure changes that occured in your life which have required major internal and psychological adjustments. The Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale is a well known tool to facilitate this calculation. To measure stress (for adults) according to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, the number of "Life Change Units" that apply to different events in the past year of an individual's life are added and the final score will give you a rough estimate of how stress may be affecting your health.
Ready to take the test yourself? Just click on the following link.
Stress and its Effects are Real
I wish I had known about the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, or about the reality that the mind can completely control your body. That anxiety compromises your immune system and that depression really hurts. All I knew is that I was not well and desperately wanted to feel better.
What is my personal experience, you might wonder, which prompts me to give such advice? Over the course of just three years, my immediate family dealt with four of the top ten most stressful life events: job loss, child birth, illness and death. I am sure the list went on from there, but I think you get the point. Clearly the demands on me as a daughter, mother and wife were mounting too quickly and I lost my means to stay in control.
I know now that it was more than anyone could have handled without looking for outside support. And that nothing was necessarily wrong with me, but making some life changes was absolutely necessary.
Simplifying Life to Eliminate Stress
Just lately I seem to be returning to a more balanced state. I have learned about the need to minimize stress and manage stress more successfully when it is unavoidable. I am encouraged to do so because I have experienced first-hand that my susceptibility to illness increases with stressful life events happening in my life.
I am thankful to live in a world where people realize that the successful treatment of any illness must involve the entire person: mind and body. With the support of a physician, therapist, and acupuncturist I have made counseling, yoga, exercise, and diet an important part of my life. And I am well aware of the importance of avoiding further stresses by choosing sensibly when it comes to new obligations. And, more than anything else, to take it as easy as possible so that I can properly look after myself and our three wonderful boys.