As I start yet another day of over-commitment and not enough time, I’m re-posting this today for me probably more than anyone else, but please read on as you might recognize yourself in at least part of it.
Do you feel like you are up to your elbows in alligators all the time? Do you constantly feel like you’re chasing a deadline? Are you financially strapped, always afraid that the next catastrophic event will put you onto the street? These feelings of constantly being under stress will have a negative impact on your ability to maintain a healthy weight.
Before I lost 135 pounds in 2010/11, I was in a very stressful, deadline focused job, raising two teenagers, keeping up a home and I was the sole breadwinner for our family. I was always working late and constantly putting out fires at work. I ate badly, didn’t exercise, got too little sleep and what I did get was sub-optimal. I would anesthetize myself with wine and Advil to get to sleep at night. It worked…I did get to sleep, but about two to three hours later I would wake up in a cold sweat with heart palpitations and almost a full-on panic attack. Of course every problem, issue, argument and deadline was looming large at that time and made it impossible for me to get back to sleep. I would lie awake for hours, hoping I would be able to get through my day on caffeine and sugar.
But then the unthinkable happened. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and for a year I was treated with chemo and radiation. I was fortunate though. I was out of work for six months to undergo said treatment. When I returned to work, I was transferred to another position within my department which did not have statutory deadlines and had a much more manageable workload. Gone was the overtime and the fire fighting. It made it possible for me to save my life. Once I was out from under all of that pressure at work, I was able to focus on self care and lose weight, exercise and generally tend to my own health needs. It was a game-changer for me.
Where are the stressors in your life? If you have a family, you have stress. You can have the best kids in the world, but if you are a parent you know what I mean. If you work outside or in your home, you have stress. In this environment of doing more with less, there is often the fear of job loss. Many Americans are one paycheck away from bankruptcy and many also do not have adequate retirement savings so that they can finally stop working and enjoy their golden years.
A body under constant and continuous stress will likely develop physical and mental or emotional symptoms such as: headache, digestive issues, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, anti-social behavior, chest pain, elevated blood pressure, and many other health issues. Chronic stress could also lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as: poor food options, excessive drinking, reckless behavior and is linked to several disease states. Stress is linked to many of the leading causes of death like heart disease, accidents, cancer and suicide.
People under chronic stress are more likely to engage in dangerous or compulsive behaviors like gambling, casual sex, and pornography. They are more likely to overuse or abuse substances such as: tobacco, alcohol, recreational drugs, and shopping. Ironically, the behaviors used by people trying to alleviate stress actually end up adding to and increasing the stress level. The victims are trapped in a vicious, never-ending cycle of chronic stress.
The Mayo Clinic suggests ways to minimize or alleviate the effects of stress on the body. They suggest practicing relaxation techniques like: deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, regular massage (my favorite). Get regular exercise or other kinds of physical activity. Socialize with people you love or at least like, engage in relaxing hobbies and don’t take yourself or your life so seriously. Be sure to get enough good quality sleep, make healthy food choices, avoid using tobacco and recreational drugs, and avoid excess alcohol and caffeine intake.
The effects of stress on the body often look like health issues. If you have taken steps to lower or eliminate the stress in your life and you still experience symptoms, see your health professional. There could be something else going on. If you experience shortness of breath, chest pressure or pain, dizziness or pain in arms or shoulders upon exertion, seek immediate and emergent help. These could be signs of a cardiac event and must be addressed immediately.
Stress is an inevitable part of life but if it is unrelenting, it can be a troublemaker that you do not need. Pay attention to the stressors in your life and do your best to eliminate them or at least minimize them. Get away from the alligators.