I went to a Wild St event last Friday, one of the Delightful Nights that they run once a quarter. This one was a little different than usual; rather than being an event with an activity and an evangelistic talk, we had supper together and heard a talk on managing stress from GP Dr Helen Rienits. I was pretty wiped out but had a really good time sitting with my mum and my godmother Freda, and chatting to Sammi while we ate cupcakes and Lindt balls. Lots of things Helen said resonated with many of us, and we all exchanged glances every so often when she would describe symptoms and situations that were so like our own.
One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot is the sustained, cumulative effect of stress and living in a permanent state of stress overload. Your stressors can be made up of many things, little and big. Most of us tend to think of stressors as only being big things like problems at work, major illnesses, car accidents, things like that. But you can easily reach the point of stress overload with a lot of little things that add up – even something like constant, loud ambient noise can push you over the edge (like building noise, or traffic noise). Obviously it’s unhealthy to live at this level of stress all the time; your body is depleting its stores of endorphins and running on adrenalin and cortisol, and this wears down the immune system and leads to all sorts of other major health issues.
I think about all the things that have happened to me over the last few years, and more recently, and I shouldn’t be surprised that I struggle with stress! It manifests itself in my depression and in a kind of paralysis; it’s like I just grind to a halt and feel like I’m unable to do anything. My counsellor and I talked about how I had essentially been living in survival mode for years after certain traumas and sadnesses, and you can get used to living like that, but you physically and emotionally cannot sustain it. So I’m at breaking point a lot quicker than most people simply because I’m always living close to it.
Yet even though I know this consciously, and I try to take steps to reduce my stressors, I can find it subconsciously quite hard to cut myself some slack. I’m the sort of person that takes guilt on even when there’s none to be had. I pre-empt imagined negative responses to things I have or haven’t done, I worry about letting people down, etc, etc. There is a fairly constant stream of negative self-talk that, when pointed out to me, is ludicrous, but is insidious when it’s allowed to prattle on, unchecked. This all, of course, just makes managing stress harder.
Helen suggested identifying your stressors and trying to deal with the smaller ones if you can; you may not be able to fix the major stressor, but if you get rid of some of the little ones, you’ll be more able to deal with the big one/s. She had lots of other suggestions to help us manage stress, such as doing something creative regularly, getting exercise, gardening, eating healthily, getting 7-8 hours sleep a night. She also suggested some quick fixes in stress overload times, and I liked that one was “laugh, cry or sing as loud and as hard as possible”, as all three of those actions release endorphins that help you to calm down. I knew there was a reason that singing at the top of my lungs while driving feels so good!