Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Stress Monster Is An Ugly Beast

Ever since I was in high school, I have known that I do not deal well with stress. And you would think that would make my life easier- knowing that I have to do certain things to calm myself down when stress comes at me. If I don't do some yoga or deep breathing or listen to some quiet music or read or whatever it is I need to do, a chain of events occurs, and the further into that chain I get the harder it is to come back around to balance.

1. If I get stressed I do not fall asleep. Obviously, this creates more stress, trying to function with 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night.
2. If I don't get enough sleep I start hitting the caffeine. I talk about this like it is a drug- it is.
3. If I have too much caffeine, not enough sleep, and throw in some low-quality food, my IBS starts acting up and I seriously want to die from pain (for a relatively brief period of time).
4. Any combination of stress, lack of sleep, and lack of balance brings on some serious panic attacks. Which causes my stomach to churn, my heart to pound, brings on a feeling of disassociation, and ultimately I start shaking uncontrollably. The last time this happened was in September. I'm lucky- in college I got to a point where I had 2+ hour panic attacks 3 or 4 nights a week before I started going to therapy.

Behavioral therapy helped a lot, and I feel very lucky that I got through that time without the help of medication. Don't get me wrong, if there is anyone out there who needs medication to get through a disorder like this, I completely understand (and I sure as heck won't rule it out for the future). But I felt very strongly that I had to try to understand what was going on before I started with chemical treatments. For me, just understanding that there is an adrenaline cycle associated with panic disorders was an enormous help. Eventually I got healthier, and started sleeping better.

Why am I writing about this? As a reminder really. Work is not good right now. I love my job but it has been extremely difficult this week. At the end of the day I come home drained. I'm exhausted and all I want to do is sleep, but sleep is not coming. I'm not sure what to do. I do yoga, I get regular exercise. But I'm not sure how long I can deal with the mounting internal pressure.

I need to remember that this stress is controllable because I choose to let it affect me. Like everything else, I am realizing that life has many more choices than I thought it did. I went grocery shopping today and got really good healthy food, this afternoon I walked. I reminded myself throughout the day that I am a human being from the planet earth. (Isn't that great? that's my "meditation" from The Birthday Book, and it makes me snicker every time I think about it, but at the same time it is so true.) If I can't get all of the work done today, it will get done tomorrow, and if it doesn't get done tomorrow there is always Monday. So I can stop being a perfectionist because I give myself permission to.

So I guess that's the bottom line- I give myself permission to be stressed. And I can just as easily give myself permission to NOT be stressed. I guess I need to hang on to that for the next couple of months.

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