Stress, Stress, Stress!
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Have you got frustrated when you present serious problems to your doctor and the only response is “this is because you have stress”? And you leave the office more confused than when you came in.
It is true, the body can react in many different ways to high levels of stress, sometimes even resulting in very serious medical situations. It is incredible how our body experiences our emotions. Wait, before you also get frustrated here with me as well. I am here to tell you that you can do more for your health than you may think. Also, you can lower your stress levels in much simpler ways than you think. So let’s begin, shall we?
Last summer, I went to the doctor with a series of symptoms, mainly a particular headache. I am normally pretty healthy, but this was a chain of complaints, so I worried. As soon as I started talking with my doctor, she abruptly interrupted me and said “Stress, stress, stress!” The more I wanted to explain, the more she insisted. I was irritated by what I considered her lack of listening skills, so I got silent. Then she asked if I had been on a vacation recently. Yes, I said. To where? She asked, “to visit my family in Mexico”. Then she exclaimed with certainty: “Stress, stress, stress!” We both laughed. Then she finished the session, and I was left now considering her diagnosis.
As a psychologist, I understand how unpleasant it can be when someone else brings to your attention your lack of emotion management and its consequences. The good thing is that, in this case, I know how to immediately start addressing my problem. But most of my clients do not believe when their doctor suggests that their emotions are the main cause of their physical symptoms. And most doctors do not do a great job of remarking the importance of talk therapy and other holistic healing approaches. So let’s talk about it here.
Yes, it may be true that you have physical symptoms that require medical care, and your doctor may lack the curiosity to investigate further. But also, it could be that you went too far when stretching yourself at the risk of damaging your body temporarily or sometimes permanently.
Adverse situations, small or big, generate a chemical reaction in your body that, in small doses, requires just an adjustment. When it comes to big and frequent doses of stress, it changes your physiology, impacting your physical health, your thoughts, and of course, your behaviors.
You may even have a logical answer like “it is because of my job, or the children, or only while I finish this project”. But the reality is that if your body is showing the consequences of stress, the “why” is less unimportant, and what matters more are the new habits you need to develop to counter these symptoms.
The problem is that those changes sometimes are difficult to notice, and have an accumulative effect. Thus, by the time you feel them, it could be because you are in an emergency, and the way back to your well-being is paved with serious life changes.
Thus, if your doctor tells you “Stress, stress, stress!” Before you run to google and search for more diagnoses, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you had an ongoing emotionally challenging situation?
- Do you react as if your life depends on work, family, or any other tasks?
- Have you felt overwhelmed with what you consider small problems?
- Have you experienced fatigue, lack of energy, or difficulties sleeping?
- Are you moody, easily irritated, or less tolerant than usual?
- Do you get stuck in the past or the future, unable to live in the present?
Those and other questions may help you realize it is time to seek talk therapy, along with consulting your physician for your very genuine concerns, to make sure that there are no other physical issues.
Remember to consult with your psychologist. For now, I will leave with you some solutions that will help you to start caring for yourself immediately.
1. Be true to yourself and acknowledge when you are tired, accepting that you sometimes can’t do it all, and that you need rest, is a big step into alleviating its consequences in your body.
And of course, finding ways to rest for a couple of minutes at different times of the day can help you tremendously to reduce stress.
2. Explore ways to eat more healthily. Pay extra attention to what you eat, and explore ways to better your diet, eating well does not always mean eating luxuriously, it just means that you are being mindful of what your body needs and what could be potential harm, for example, the extra carbs and high-energy drinks, which are not going to help in the long term.
3. Practice better sleep hygiene so you can get a full night of sleep. Your sleep pattern and the quality of your rest are, along with your diet, one of the most important things to help you reduce stress. If you are not sleeping well, it means that your body is not getting the time to reset and rest, and therefore, you will be more tired, irritable, and fatigued during the day. Not sleeping properly also reduces your ability to manage stressful situations, possibly leading to difficulty finding a solution to those situations, and creating even more stress.
4. Seek mindfulness practices that will suit your needs and preferences. Not every practice works for everyone, this is why you need to take the time to explore your options and see what makes you feel the most comfortable and relaxed. Is it breathing exercises, journaling, meditation? Give them all a try, and keep your mind open while doing so, as even though they seem like simple tasks, they could help you change your entire life.
5. Get the amount of exercise your body needs. Know that when it comes to exercise, it doesn’t necessarily mean to go to a gym and lift weights. It could be something that you enjoy that you know could get you a little bit sweaty, like maybe dancing, or Pilates, or maybe even walking. The point is that you enjoy what you’re doing but also, to give your body that necessary stretch it needs, plus, you can add even more fun by inviting your friends, or taking your pets with you! Your dog is always happy to volunteer for counting steps, and will do it while waging their tail happily.
And remember, what ever you do, do it for at least 20 minutes per day!
6. Delegate those responsibilities that you overtook at some point and are not yours. Your family or co-workers may not appreciate this, but they will be happier if you are less irritated. If you struggle to say no to an additional project, you can check out our episode “How to say No”, where we talk about the importance of only accepting projects and tasks that we can manage.
7. Stop to smell the roses. Or your cup of tea. Which means slowing down, breathing, and enjoying life as it is now. We currently live in such a fast-paced era, that we barely take some time to enjoy the mundane things of life, which can actually bring a lot of joy and relaxation by themselves.
So, next time your doctor says stress, stress, stress! You are so prepared to laugh and, most importantly, do something about it.
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