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Louise Smiths talks about her personal journey in overcoming stress.
It has always been a hard thing for me to admit, but I know I am a person who becomes easily stressed. For me stress also comes with anxiety, fear and worry. For years I have put this down to just being who I am, my character, my make-up.
It is like having those two little people on each shoulder. The bad one who has that fork and encourages my stresses, pokes and prods me as it knows my levels of anxiety increase, often over such simple things only for the little good voice on my other shoulder telling me to stop, breathe and think that whatever I am doing is nothing to be stressed over. Unfortunately, in most cases the bad voice usually wins.
The amount of upset, unhappiness and issues this has caused over the years has been tremendous and I am not prepared to put up with it any longer. I can no longer put myself through this knowing it can be stopped. We diet to lose weight, we exercise to get fit, we need to also be proactive and reduce life’s stresses.
When I worked in an office, before the family came along, I thrived on stress, the adrenaline it produced would make me work harder. I was able to use it to my advantage then, it fitted the environment I was in. Now, on the other hand, it only makes life harder. As I work from home the stress and anxiety I feel is like being out of control. Panic, Panic, Panic, it is just a horrible feeling. It comes from my feet up like an over-boiling kettle.
So often anxiety is mistaken for depression, especially by GPs. It is no way depression, having learnt more about it. It brings sadness and feelings of lowness, but this for me is because I am not achieving what I want to achieve or because the overwhelming and consuming feeling of being out of control takes over. I have had very few actual panic attacks, but those I have experienced are truly horrid.
One in particular stands out as it was an odd place to experience it: in the supermarket. Having got down the first aisle and felt my body was going to combust if I stayed there any longer, I had to leave and get as far away as possible. Supermarket shopping can still increase my stress levels. I have yet to put my finger on why, but maybe I will work that out at some point. Overall, though, the feeling of panic and wanting to run, I have since learnt, is our body reacting in a particular way. Fight or flight, it is called. Controlling that is the key, I believe.
Having started to want to conquering these inner feelings I am learning that so many factors are involved.
This one I will struggle with as I constantly watch what I eat, often skipping meals or eating very little. I know this sounds wrong, but again it has been my thought process for some time now and it works. I manage to maintain my weight, but on the downside of this I am not providing my body with the correct levels to function at its best. It was like a light bulb moment when I recently read we wouldn’t put diesel into a petrol car or vice versa and so why do I put the wrong or insufficient fuel into myself. I have always thought that the more I eat the heavier I would get when in actual fact the more of the right foods I eat the better I will feel. Weight should not be a factor or a worry.
This is a massive factor for me. Realising something so simple has been done so wrongly for so long and could have be so easily been resolved makes me disappointed in myself. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from headaches. In the last 15 years they have been 24 hours a day. I went to bed with them, I woke with them and they would increase when I was stressed, the intensity of them so extreme I would be brought to tears. In those 15 years I have returned time and time again to the GP, been given medication, treated for sinus issues, had CT scans when I could not see out my right eye.
I have felt I was going mad, often having left an appointment with thoughts of it all being in my head, but the pain was so, so real. More recently I saw a very experienced neurologist who after a very long and intensive appointment concluded that these headaches are due to my breathing. Yes, my breathing. I do not breathe correctly and take in too much carbon monoxide, thus the headaches. Once this had been explained and respiratory physiotherapy started it became evident I hold my breath when stressed and anxious. No science needed here, holding my breath elevates my anxiety. One vicious circle.
I have now been shown how to breathe correctly and, strange as this may sound, it is so so hard to do. I am still struggling with my breathing exercises and still attending the physio, but what has happened is my headaches are finally reducing. This is not an overnight quick fix as I am used to breathing wrongly, which for those who are interested is, when you do short quick breaths, my chest will rise and fall, but I am not using my abdomen when breathing which means my lungs are not being used to their full strength.
I had another panic attack last year when for the first time I tried to snorkel. I was under the water and, because old habits die hard, I was breathing all wrong so I started to panic. I wanted to get out the water, but was advised to hum whilst under water and it worked. Again I realised how important the correct breathing actually is. I did get some very odd looks from my other fellow snorkellers as the sound of my humming could be heard under water. All in all breathing is so important in altering stress levels. It also can help us relax – something I have always struggled to do.
Well this one is a tricky one. I am such a poor sleeper now. It takes me so long to drop off to sleep as my head overthinks. Thinking about the day I have had, things that need to be done, the kids and work. I do eventually fall asleep only to wake hours later, fight to fall asleep again, and then the cycle begins. The clock becomes my enemy and, strange as it may sound, I get so angry with myself, physically tossing and turning in frustration.
This creates anxiety and then I am awake for hours. I eventually fall asleep usually around 4 or 5am and when the alarm goes off I could cry with exhaustion. I am so tired. This along with the headaches has not been pleasant to say the least. I have tried everything when it comes to sleeping. Turning my clock away so I am unable to see the time. Staying up late in the hope I sleep because I am so tired. The list of things I have tried goes on and on. If only my head would switch off. This leads onto me trying to gain control over myself and making sure I do not stress or worry over things and so the vicious circle continues.
Often I am my own worst enemy, situations make me so anxious, time being one of them. I do not like being late. If I have to be somewhere for a certain time or if the kids have activities then we have to be on time. Early is best but never late. It is that moment, just like I had last week when my daughter had a dentist appointment. We left in sufficient time only to find there were absolutely no parking spaces.
Not the end of the world, but for me at that very moment it might as well have been. I drove around and could feel the pressure and panic. It oozed out of me. I looked at the time only to see it arrive at the exact time our appointment should be. My brain instantly thought the worst. In a panic I got my daughter to run in to the dentist to explain that I was desperately trying to find a parking space. When I eventually did find one, some distance away, I ran through the door to find my daughter sitting in the reception area and there we waited for a further 20 minutes because in all honesty how often do appointments like this run on time. All that fear and panic to make me feel so awful for nothing.
This is where I really need to give myself a shake. No need to get into as state or to be worried what others might think, if I so happen to, on this occasion, due to circumstances out of my control, be a little late.
In a nutshell, I am learning that there is no medication for this or a magic wand to make it all go away. I have to work at this and do it for myself. Only I can rid myself of the little bad guy on my shoulder that puts me into a panic, which makes me think negative thoughts or see the worst in situations. Once I have mastered it, learnt to breathe correctly and realised that really happiness is all about enjoying what we have and not caring what other think, only then will all my stresses and worries disappear. (Although I will worry about what you will all think when you read this. Am I crazy or is this normal?)