When Stress Sneaks Up On You

Is anyone else slow to recognise signs that they are stressed, or is it just me? I have been going through my days, conscious that I am juggling many demands but unconscious of the full impact this has been having on my mind and body. Stress sneaks up on me. My body doesn’t lie though. It gives me signals if I am present enough to listen to them.

I started to notice that I was having trouble falling asleep and waking in the night (without the usual daughter interference!). My shoulders were tenser. I had a migraine for the first time in a long time. However, it was a visit to my chiropractor that really alerted me to the extent of the impact. She had to do a diaphragm and jaw release (ow!) for the first time in a very long time. I haven’t been breathing in my usual patterns and have been clenching my jaw. Maybe you can relate to some of these physical signs of stress?

Then I reflected on the signs of mental overload in the past few weeks. The pull towards my favourite distraction vices (I’m looking at you Netflix, games and books.) Struggling to decide on priorities in my day. The same tasks being put off day after day. The usually well organised inbox spiralling out of control. Dropping the ball on tasks I am usually on top of. The state of my house and laundry pile. Thoughts swirling at bedtime and feeling unable to switch off. I know from experience that these are red flags for me. (What are yours?)

The choice

I have a choice. I can keep pushing forward and ignore what my body and mind is telling me. Or I can stop and make changes. In the past, I have taken the route of ignoring the stress and trying to muscle my way past. Guess how that option ends?! It is never beneficial. I don’t like the person I become when I do that. I am learning to tune in quicker and make the changes I need to transform the stress and chaos into eustress and peace.

Definition of eustress: a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Stress management tools

I started with some general stress management tools to release tension:

  • Journaling
  • Praying
  • Swimming
  • Regular breathing exercises
  • Daily pause app
  • Calming music
  • Essential oil blends

These tools help but I don’t find they provide a full solution. It has to go deeper than that and transform the root of the issue. I remembered the questions I have taught others to use to turn distress into eustress. Seems like a good time to practice what I teach!

What am I really capable of?

The first question stems from the knowledge that we drastically underestimate what we are capable of frequently. This boils down to the language I am using to myself– the labels I am assigning and disempowering perception I am focused on.

My answer: ‘Jo, you are capable of so much more than you are giving yourself credit for in this moment. You can take this next step forward. Remember, you are not in this alone and have an incredible bunch of people to call on for help. You are equipped to lead.’ I have some more specifics related to particular situations too.

What does this make possible?

My default is to see the negative aspects of any situation. I am training my brain to turn this around to hunt for the opportunities that lie within each circumstance I am facing. There is something about this question that flicks my thinking into a creative mode. Not all of the ideas generated are helpful but the very process of stirring them up often leads to new solutions or steps.

My answers to this question are highly specific to each situation, with many things not for public viewing! I’ll give one example though: ‘My daughter walking herself to school (anxiety trigger for me) makes it possible for me to have fifteen minutes to listen to a book or podcast while doing my paint by number in the morning. This sets up my headspace for the day.’

What meaning, hope and/or energy can I find in this situation?

This is the core of the matter. I think of so many incredible people who have faced far more horrific obstacles and circumstances and used that to spur them on. They found meaning and hope in what they were going through. This gave them the energy to keep pushing forward. What a different outlook I get when these are my lenses! Even as I write and think through this question in relation to each situation, I feel the frisson of excitement in the pit of my belly.  

My answers are again specific and mostly private. In general, I home in on activities that are energising within projects I’m doing. I use deadlines to focus that energy to get the tasks done. Focus on a story shared that reminds me of why I do what I do. Look at the growth I have already gone through and what lies ahead as I keep taking steps forward.

So, am I magically free from stress about these things now? No. But I am equipped to make those daily, moment-by-moment choices to release that stress and turn it into eustress. I like this version of me much better!