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Mary's Moments Blog Post

Rough Seas: Understanding Stress and Finding Calm Waters

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, stress has become an unwelcome companion for many. It's like a storm that brews inside, disrupting our minds and bodies.






Let's take a moment to sail through the waves of stress, understanding its impact on our health and discovering ways to find calm waters.







The Impact of Stress on Health:

Stress is more than just a fleeting feeling; it's a physiological response that affects our entire being.


Mental Strain: Constant stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating.


Physical Toll: The body reacts to stress by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While these hormones are helpful in short bursts, chronic exposure can lead to issues such as high blood pressure, weakened immune system, and digestive problems.  Also, the much dreaded weight gain.


Emotional Turmoil: Relationships can suffer as well - stress can make us irritable, moody, and emotionally drained.


I can attest to some of the physical symptoms.  Living with chronic stress eats away at your physical mental and emotional being like nothing else.  Aside of an accident five years ago, chronic stress was already showing it’s ugly head in various ways.  For me, it started with the odd ache and pain, sleepless nights, then progressed to more serious symptoms that required medical attention. 


Then there were the symptoms but no diagnosis - that has to be the worst.  You swear your having a heart attack (chest pain, shortness of breath, pain shooting down left arm) – I mean we’re checking off a lot of boxes here – only to hear the doctor say – “it’s probably an anxiety attack or stress”.  Wait – what?????  I’m not anxious about anything – just going about my days doing my thing.  If you only knew – I really don’t have time to be sitting here in emerg.  I only came because I really felt I was having a heart attack.


Over time I realized that although I wasn’t consciously anxious, my body was starting to break down and these were warning signs.  I had to switch gears and soon or I’d be having a heart attack for real.

I started a new self-care regime.  With all the day to day craziness I was dealing with, I did carve out some time for myself.  I was trying to eat better, exercise a bit and did a lot of deep breathing. 

I was more conscious of how I was spending my days – I made lists to ensure all my responsibilities were met and found I could still read for half hour.  Or I could take a nice relaxing bath once the kiddo was in bed. 


I was thrilled - I could do this. 

Around this time, I booked a holiday for my husband and I (without kids).  Everything was looking up.

Unfortunately, my new found optimism did not last long.

I had an accident while on vacation.


The fresh set of challenges that entered my life after the accident not only heightened the symptoms I was grappling with earlier but also introduced a slew of new hurdles to overcome. 


My ship was sinking pretty fast at that time.


During one of my therapy sessions, I overheard two patients talking about things they do to relieve stress.  It was the same list we all know and hear but rarely implement.  The following week, I heard the same two discussing their results.


On reflection, I was thinking – I really have nothing to lose.  I should give it a try. 


Those suggestions for navigating the storms were:


Deep Breathing: Which can anchor us in the present moment. Inhale slowly, hold, exhale – repeating this simple practice helps calm the nerves..


Mindfulness and Quiet Time: Acts as a compass, keeping you in the present. It helps break the cycle of worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.


Physical Activity: A brisk walk or even a dance around the living room can be like a lifeboat during stressful moments. Exercise releases endorphins, the body's natural stress relievers.


Connecting with Others: Share your struggles with friends or family. A problem shared is like a burden lifted. Social connections act as life vests, offering support and understanding.


Prioritize Self-Care: Like a ship – you need regular maintenance, your body and mind require care. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and find activities that bring you joy.


Set Realistic Goals: Instead of navigating unattainable expectations, set realistic goals for yourself. Break down larger tasks into smaller steps.  Adjust your sails to catch the wind.

 

Some days, the deep breathing is as far as I got on the list but that in itself did wonders in the moment.  I kept at it adding one more suggestion as my circumstances allowed and found these goals do, in fact, stand the test of time

 

Have you heard the saying:

 

Ships don’t sink because of the water around them.

Ships sink because of the water that gets in them.

Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside and weigh you down.

 

Not everything is in our hands, and that's perfectly okay. Letting go of what we cannot control isn't giving up; it's choosing to focus on steering the ship toward those things in life we can change.  Unfortunately, this is something that you likely won’t master in a day, a week, a month or even a year.  It’s a constant work in progress.   When I feel stress pouring in – I keep telling myself, “steer your ship – steer your ship” – sometimes I catch it but often times with the best of efforts, it still does seep in.  In those moments, I’m just trying to keep a lid on so not much more gets in and I hit the tipping point.

 

Before it gets that far, there are some things in the interim to remind ourselves that we CAN control:

 

Our beliefs

Our attitude

Our thoughts

Our perspective

How honest we are

Who our friends are

What books we read

How often we exercise

How many risks we take

How kind we are to others

How we interpret situations

How kind we are to ourselves

How often we say, “I love you”

How often we say, “thank you”

How we express our feelings

Whether or not we ask for help

How often we practice gratitude

How many times we smile today

The amount of effort we put forth

How much time we spend worrying

Whether or not we judge other people

Whether or not we try again after a setback

How much we appreciate the things we have.

 

Charting the Course:


Stress is an inevitable part of our journey. However, by understanding its impact on our health and finding strategies to navigate, we can all find calmer waters.

 

If the storm does seem relentless, seeking the guidance of a mental health professional is a courageous step. They can provide tools and strategies to help you with the challenges.


Wishing you abundant strength in steering your ship.


Here’s to smooth sailing!





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