Mental Health Awareness Week Series: My Journey With… Stress

Mental Health Awareness Week Series: My Journey With… Stress

I last gave a talk on stress maybe 8 weeks ago. I was on stage in front of a group of 60 or so women and listed all the health problems I’d had because of stress:

  • Migraines
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain
  • Tinnitus
  • Constant fatigue

And I saw a lot of women nodding along… so I know I’m not alone!

I told them how nothing I did to help my sleep worked – I was always tired. Stretching, hot baths, massages, made not really a whole lot of difference to my muscles, I’d be in pain again by the next day. I took some insane (prescribed) meds to stop the migraines I was getting twice a week, worse than I’d ever got in my life, that meant I couldn’t even stand and… well, it stopped the migraines but I still couldn’t stand from the meds.

The tinnitus was the last straw, because I’m not having anything messing with my ability to listen to the radio.

Up until that point, the most ridiculous part was how many excuses I found to explain how it WASN’T stress. To be fair, it hadn’t made sense because I didn’t feel that stressed day to day – I wasn’t waking up already freaking out or spending the day feeling all frantic, I figured, so how could I be stressed?

In the end, I gave up and had to just admit that I might be stressed – even if I didn’t feel like it.

I Googled (because what else are you going to do? See a doctor? Not with my track record, mate), admitted that it might be stress, and came to a conclusion: it was time to take stock of whatever was going on in my head, because there’s no way that stress “just happens” to someone.

I started a new notebook in Evernote on my phone, and for the next 72 hours I wrote down any time I noticed I was thinking something unhelpful.

I was pretty surprised with what came out.

I was being really, really hard on myself.

Really super hard.

I was putting so much pressure on myself to do EVERYTHING, to do it without any help, and to do it without any rest or downtime, like, ever.

I remember recently bumping into an old housemate who told me they heard I’d been very busy and then followed it up by saying ‘But I wouldn’t expect anything less, it’s not like you’re known to be sat around eating crisps on the sofa.’ So… I guess it’s part of who I am. (And, to be fair, that person knew me when I was working three jobs just to pay my bills. And also I have a sweet tooth so it’d be chocolate anyway.)

But I was at breaking point.

I remember reading the list I had on my phone and, when I realised I was being a bit harsh, saying in my head ‘But I have to be hard on myself or I won’t get anything done’ and I realised it was worse than I thought.

It made sense why I wasn’t spending the day ‘freaking out’ and ‘feeling stressed’ – because it was now just part of how I went about my day and got on with things. Strangely enough, it wasn’t particularly helpful.

I had to let myself calm the heck down.

And part of that was letting myself have more time to do things that were relaxing, like reading a book or just chilling out. I let myself have an off switch.

It’s amazing how much you can calm down when you don’t feel like you have to be on 24/7 (yeah, I know, motherhood is going to be a wild ride for me in a few years.)

But the main part of it was to stop being an asshole to myself. I’m not a robot and I’m not a slave. I kind of had to go back to treating myself like a child, like I mentioned yesterday (with more swears, FYI). Just because I’m a grown up now (sort of) doesn’t mean I don’t need TLC. Actually, if anything, I need more because I didn’t have a job and bills to pay when I was a kid, and no one gave a shit what I looked like in a swimsuit.

The problem was that all those thoughts were so automatic that I hadn’t even noticed that they were going on in the back of my head, 24/7. Actually figuring out that I was thinking them to begin with was a really important first step.

If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I promise you’re not wasting your time if you just start paying attention to what’s going on in your head – and writing it all down is probably the easiest way, because you can’t ignore it then.

1. Take stock of where your thoughts are (I used Evernote because it’s a useful app anyway but you can just use any Notes app on your phone, or even a real life notebook).

2. Start just by challenging those thoughts. Are they really true? Would they stand up in a court of law? Or are they things you’re thinking just because you’re used to thinking that way?

3. Find a process that you find simple to do that helps you change (or at least further challenge) those thoughts (different things work for different people). It could be meditation/mindfulness, affirmations, dedicated chill time, spending more time with family or friends, or a mix of all those things.

4. Do another check again in a few months, see where you’ve made a difference and keep doing the things that have worked for you.

Good luck – and just chill, okay? It’s going to be alright.

Okay bye, it’s sunny so I’m off to have a walk so I don’t go stir crazy!

If you’re stressed and need help, speak to a professional, visit Mind or get in touch.

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