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:
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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!