Over the last few months I have felt like I am falling apart. When I set my New Goals back in November I was doing pretty good. Since that time I have had a string of pretty major health issues. Part of the onset, I am sure, was influenced by the stress of my father’s progressing illness. Stress, as we all know, has a massive impact on not only psychological and emotional health, but also physical health.
My body chose one of the worst days in the world to revolt and send me to the Emergency Department – Presidential Election Day. Please trust me when I say there is absolutely NOTHING on TV during an election. Sure, I am interested in the results, but after the first 30 times of hearing the exact same numbers, I am sure I could manage with only the ticker along the bottom of the screen! Anyway, I ended up there with chest pain. I know all the protocols for someone entering the ER with chest pain. But it is totally different when I am the patient, not the nurse. Not only that, I knew exactly why I was having chest pain, and it had nothing to do with having a heart attack! I just needed a medication adjustment to help control my heart rate. But the staff had to follow the routine and I had to submit. I do have to say that they staff was really good and took my teasing and light-hearted complaining all in stride. After spending the night in the hospital I had to take a couple of weeks off from vigorous exercise to allow my medication levels to rise. During that time I was fairly (OK, moderately to majorly) sedentary and made the mistake of taking up soda consumption again. Subsequently, my old friends, kidney stones, came to visit. I started showing symptoms right before Thanksgiving. I finally passed one stone that I know of the last week of November. Because I knew I had passed the stone I could not figure out why I was still having so much pain. A CT scan showed an inordinately large amount of stones. I was given the option of trying to pass them or have surgery. Since it was 2 weeks before Christmas we made the decision to go ahead of surgically remove them. Good thing we did, because the size of the stone that was causing the majority of the pain was not going to pass by itself. I was healed and healthy for Christmas.
I relate these things, not to get sympathy, but to discuss the emotional impact this has had on me. As I said before, I really believe that stress had a huge impact on all of this. Stress causes the release of the “fight or flight” hormone – the one that makes the heart race, causes muscle tension and creates a sense of alertness. Some stress is normal and actually somewhat beneficial to our bodies. And the “fight or flight” response is great when a mountain lion is about to attack. But long-term stress wreaks havoc. It can cause high blood pressure, lead to a suppression of the immune system, aggravate skin conditions, trigger the onset of diabetes or worsen diabetes in those who already have it, and can even influence fertility. (The Physical Effects of Long-Term Stress By JANE COLLINGWOOD) Those are the physical effects that occur naturally within the body. That does not include the poor habits developed over life to cope – over-eating, eating the wrong thing, etc. There are also mental effects such as being unable to concentrate, racing thoughts, negative thoughts, and inability to problem-solve, to name a few. Long term stress can also result in depression, withdrawing from family and friends who can provide support, and ceasing to participate in stress-relieving activities such as hobbies and exercises. (The Impact of Stress By STEVE BRESSERT, PH.D.)
You see, I had ALL of those symptoms, but I did not heed my body’s warnings. I had to wait for them to get so bad that I ended up in the ER and cascade to surgery before I started to listen and become proactive. My work life depends on my being proactive. I need to move that proactive mindset to my personal life. It is much easier to be proactive while I have the energy and the mental resources than it is to be reactive when I am rolling under a wave of stress.
In future posts I will be exploring ways to once again move to the proactive. I would love to have a “discussion” about ways to actively negate the effects of stress before they become a problem. So please chime in on the comments section!