9 Ways Stress Impacts Our Lives

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        For most of my life I have suffered from serious debilitating headaches. In the most extreme cases, I remain confined to my bed for hours because I am tormented by the slightest trace of light or the faintest hint of sound. I battle uncontrollable dizzy spells and my vision blurs. Although they often come without any identifiable triggers, over the years it was easy to rationalize that stress made my headaches at least twenty five times worse. While I was never exactly sure about the specific correlation between stress and my headaches, I recently identified one aspect. When I am stressed I tend to clench my jaw very tightly and grit my teeth- HARD! I often do this for long periods without even being aware of it. It results in extreme amounts of pressure which in turn causes terrible pain near my temples.
During the last few years I have tried to reduce my stress levels, not only because of the physical effects, but because I am sure that I will discover a more healthy and content version of myself beneath my layers of tension. I believe that a relaxed state of mind enables us to be more productive, receptive and appreciative. This has all been part of an ongoing Journey to embrace the healthiest version of me- emotionally, mentally, intellectually, spiritually and physically. Over various time periods I have tried a number of options including meditation, colouring, yoga and soothing natural sounds. They have all helped in varying degrees and I am thankful that my headaches have become less frequent and less severe.
Thinking about how stress contributes to my headaches led me to wonder how stress impacts us across various aspects of our lives. I am fully aware that we are all different- our circumstances, our reactions and our results. Many people may argue that stress has no negative effect on them, because they don’t allow it to. Hooray, I want to be just like you when I grow up. (No seriously, I really do!) .Yet for the majority of us, stress is a very real challenge that suffocates many areas of our lives.
Here are the nine ways I’ve realised stress affects my life:

Sleeping 
Some nights you spend hours lying awake, playing hide and seek with your deepest fears and worries. (We all know who usually wins!). Or you spend long stretches refusing to get out of bed. I generally convince myself that if I stay in bed I can ignore reality just a bit longer. That logic leads me to bury myself into my blanket and pillow fortress and pretend that I’m simply the seventeenth page of some barely read cookbook.

Eating
Stress wreaks utter havoc on my diet in two ways! I tend to go for days without eating because I have absolutely no appetite. Usually, I don’t even have the energy to think about eating. Or even worse, I punish myself by eating every unhealthy thing in sight! I’m likely to barricade myself in my room with a lifetime supply of chocolate covered Pringles dipped in ice cream. (Go ahead- judge me!)

Appearance
Let’s be honest. When you’re stressed out, you can barely drag yourself out of bed, much less put in the effort it takes to look like a (half-way) decent human being. I’m willing to bet good money that my friends, co workers etc can tell when I’m going through a “stress streak”. My hair and outfit usually declare- very loudly- “I’d rather be in bed letting my emotions tear me to shreds.” Not a very good look.

Missing Out on Important Moments
How many parties have you spent sulking in a corner while your friends have the time of their life? How many great afternoons have you missed out on because you chose to stay home and count your woes? TOO MANY! When we’re stressed we sometimes isolate ourselves and end up missing out on the small beautiful moments. Or we may end up taking part, but only halfheartedly. We cannot enjoy the moment because we are not fully present. Our mind does not allow us to fully appreciate it.

Forgetting the Best Version of Your Life
Being caught up in stress makes you contemplate all the negatives of your life. It’s like you’re building a house where each brick is a problem or fear. You keep piling each worry on top of the other until you have a great big mansion of disillusionment. Then you lock yourself into it…close all the windows and turn off all the lights. The problem with this is that while you’re hiding in the darkness, you forget all the beautiful things just outside the windows. Your beautiful moments, your loved ones, your accomplishments and talents all seem very distant and vague. It’s hard to keep those in sight.

Relationships
We’ve all been there. Having that hot ball of anger that bubbles beneath the surface, ready to be unleashed on an unfortunate and unsuspecting victim. Being stressed out forces us to lash out against others. Anger brings out the worst version of ourselves and we usually say and do hurtful things that cannot be undone. Unfortunately it’s usually the ones who love us and are trying to help who end up having to deal with it. Overtime this causes great strain on our most valuable relationships.

It’s Exhausting
Is there anything more exhaustingggg than being stressed or depressed? It’s like every single cell in your body is working over time,pumping those negative emotions into each vein. You feel like your mind and body are working together to accomplish one painful goal- wearing you thin. “You, brain, think angry thoughts!’. “Heart, bring on the sorrow and disappointment!” It leaves you feeling weak and drained- emotionally, mentally and physically.

Unproductive
While some of us are capable of using stress as motivation, most of us are not as fortunate. For many of us, stress means long periods of worrying, lying in bed feeling frustrated and not accomplishing anything. It also means not being able to focus on important tasks or responsibilities because your mind is preoccupied. Most times assignments are left undone, or work projects are not completed to the best of our ability because we are not able to commit our full attention or energy.

Encourages negative responses
Something about stress makes us seek out a crutch to help us fight our way through it. For some of us, we choose perfectly healthy activities to counteract stress such as exercise, writing or adventure. Unfortunately, in the worst of cases, people resort to alcohol, self mutilation or drugs. Some of us turn to nail biting, binge eating or other seemingly harmless activities. Be careful what you choose because these could open doors to another list of problems.

These are the nine most noticeable effects from my personal experience. I am sure that the list can go on. For me, the main objective of compiling this list was as a reminder of how much of myself I lose to stress… to recognize the damage that cannot be undone and to make an attempt to stop it in its tracks! If you’re like me, and you have let stress steal your precious moments, distance you from your best self… I hope that this list will do for you what it has done for me. Happy healing!

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9 Tips from My Natural Hair Journey.

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March 2015… 1 year & 5 months after my Big Chop

It’s been almost a year and a half since I started this wonderful Natural Journey! I have come a long way, from looking in the mirror through tears and comparing myself to a 12 year old boy… to feeling like I can conquer the world after a good twist out. Some naturals make it look fabulous and effortless. But for me, it has not been smooth sailing. It came with all the road blocks, flat tires and rainy days that any worthwhile Journey throws at you!
I won’t lie though, I get excited when someone asks “What do you do with your hair!”  because I think, “Okay, I must be getting better at this.” I’m even more thrilled when someone messages me to say that they are considering the natural Journey but they are hesitant.. they don’t know what they’re signing up for. I immediately feel like I want to tear out every page from my Manie’s Hair Experience and share it with them!

I’m not an expert by any standards, but I’m sure most naturals understand the urge to share their experience- from tips to shortcomings. Soooo for all of you who are on this Journey, or those who may be considering it, here are my top 9 pieces of advice to keep you going or get you started!

1) Do it for Y-O-U!
If you’re going to make this decision, ensure that you are doing it for a solid reason. Be sure that it is what YOU want- not simply compliance to the demands of someone or something else, or a trend. Whatever your reason is, make it personal. That way when you find yourself looking at your crazy reflection and wondering “Why the Hell am I doing this?” you’ll have a great argument to keep you from purchasing the first Relaxer you get your hands on!
2) Not all hair is created equal!
It is important to keep in mind that we are all different, that rule applies across the board, particularly when it comes to hair. What works for one natural won’t necessarily work for another. There are no certified formulas or rules! So don’t force it… Don’t be so hard on yourself because your twist outs look nothing like the Youtube Sensations you obsess over. Find the routine that works best for you and work with it!
3) Relax! Be patient! Enjoy the ride!
I cannot stress this enough! Each stages brings fresh joy and new distress. Don’t obsess over your final goal so much that you miss the individual beauty of the phases. That was one of my many mistakes. I was so crazy about achieving length that I hated my early stages. When I look back at pictures of myself after my Big Chop, I feel a slight sense of regret that I didn’t let myself throw on a some strong accessories and go for that sexy, confident, daring look. Be patient enough to allow yourself to fully enjoy each chapter along the way!
4) Listen to your hair.
You could read every single article from the pros. You could become an expert on what ingredient does what..but all that is useless if you aren’t listening to YOUR hair. Whenever I try something new (products, treatment, hairstyle etc.), I pay attention to how my hair responds. That determines if I continue, change it up a bit or just toss it! Trust me when your hair is loving something, you willlll know! Getting the facts about hair helps, but it is equally important to listen to what your hair asks for – a lot of the times, its moisture!
5) Never feel the need to over do the products.
My greatest struggle during the early stages of my Natural Journey, was finding the right products. I would spend hours scouring the internet for product suggestions. I went through frustrating trial and error periods and let me tell you, my purse did not appreciate this experimentation! I still have barely used bottles on my dresser as reminders! In the end, I found myself sticking to the three main items I found worked best- Cantu Repair Conditioner, Eco Styler Gel and Blue Magic Hair Dress.
6) Do not limit yourself.
I remember the days of complaining “My hair can’t do this, its tooo shoooort…too curlyyy….too stubbornnn!” Personally, my biggest challenge was finding hairstyles appropriate for work and formal events. In my mind, professional and formal meant sleek and tamed. Now, I’m aware that I can choose to go either way- sleek and elegant or fun and playful! Thankfully, I’m finally at a stage where I don’t limit myself. I try everything that peaks my interest!
7) Make your Journey a Lifetsyle!
For me, going natural became so much more than changing my hair. It started to mean changing my life. Initially, I became very conscious of what products I chose to use in my hair. Overtime, that led to me becoming more aware of what I used on my skin and what I put into my body. In an effort to help my hair grow, I chose to use natural conditioners and tried to incorporate specific foods into my diet. I was pleasantly surprised to find that eventually, I found myself eating healthier, drinking more water and analyzing my food labels the way I analyzed those on my hair products. Your body will thank you.
8) Be ready for the commitment!
For some of us, natural hair is a bit of a commitment. I can testify that I’ve found myself battling my hair on a morning and thinking “Damn, I coulda just been brushing my relaxed hair back and not be running late for work.” I can also talk about nights when all I wanted was to abandon the twisting and detangling and just sleep! Yet I knew I’d regret it in the morning! Those hours of washing and deep conditioning? Let’s not even go there! Not everyone can afford to make that commitment immediately! If you can’t, that’s perfectly fine. Don’t force yourself on a Journey that you can’t complete and end up feeling defeated. When the time and circumstances are right, you’ll find yourself where you need to be.
9) Last, but by no means least, it’s your hair, your life!
I think that being natural allows you and the world to get a really good look at yourself. I still find myself having to say to people “I appreciate your opinion. But let me stop you right there- I love my hair like this!” Not everyone is going to appreciate it, and you will have to accept that. But what is completely essential, is that you are happy with yourself and your decisions! I am convinced that it is an opportunity to say “Hey, this is me! Take it or leave it!” Whether you make that declaration while wearing a chic afro or your hair is sticking out in fifty directions, embrace it…mean it…live it!