Communication essentials: wellness and me

I want to open up to you a bit today regarding my approach to mental wellness over the past year, especially the past few months. But to do that I need to let you in on some conversations I was having with myself. Tell me if any of this sounds familiar.

“What do you have to be stressed about? You’re not a healthcare worker…or a teacher…or someone who HAS to go into work every day. Buck up! Get through this!”

“You think you’re stressed? Do you work in a nursing home? Or worse yet – someone in a facility that can’t see their loved ones. Come on – we can get through this!”

“Wow, you really shouldn’t be stressed. Business is good. You haven’t had any major brushes with Covid. What’s wrong with you? You know you can power through.”

Say these things to yourself long enough and you find a few things happen. None of them good.

I found that I was in a perpetual state of triage. The events of the first 11 or 12 months of the pandemic (which is long enough on its own) put me into a permanent state of emergency.

I was unable to get out of that state, which really saw me approaching almost everything – including things that should be fun, bring joy and relieve stress – in a state of worry or general anxiety, wondering and thinking about (even projecting) what could go wrong instead of enjoying them.

My body did not like this. At all. Not just from a mental state but from a physical one. This article from Fast Company nails the four major physical warning signs of stress: can’t wake up/can’t fall sleep; nervous stomach; heart is in panic mode (i.e. racing); your mind is scattered.

I had two (stomach, heart) that manifested themselves in a way that made my stress worse. I was convinced these issues were something they weren’t, were going to strike me down any day and no doubt were life-threatening. Little did I know they were ‘real’ but not for the reason I thought. But I fought through it while continuing to do the things I love (coach my kids) and look forward to all year (vacations, nights out with friends, etc.).

Eventually my body decided ‘enough is enough’. I dealt with something that resembled a panic attack and hit the point where I couldn’t deal with the physical effects of stress myself. (I’m not a doctor in real life; I don’t play one on TV…or in this blog.)

I went to see my doctor who knows me well and is never quick to judge – he loves to rule things out, which was exactly what he did here (probably because he knows me well) but as a result of that appointment we got into the topic of stress, what it can do to the body and how to deal with it.

I’m happy to report those things that I was convinced were 100% real in my head, were ruled out. And while everyone’s daily stress and how you deal with it (or don’t) is different, I was encouraged by some people who’s opinion I value to write this blog in hopes that it might connect and unlock something for others.

For me it was evaluation, medication and meditation. Meditating has made a tremendous difference (thank you Calm app) as there are so many takeaways that I am able to use on a daily basis to prevent me from assigning meaning, judging why they happen and just being open to everything with a renewed curiosity and allowance.

I’ll close where I started – with those conversations I’d have with myself. I don’t have them as much anymore because I realized stress isn’t a contest. You don’t win anything for having the most…nor are you granted a reprieve because yours isn’t as high as someone else’s. My mind was also using the thing I value most – the people I care about – as fodder to create worry, stress and fear. After being in a place of ‘fighting’ for them for over a year, realizing there is so much that I can’t control has ironically helped to put me in a better place to help them by being open, listening and engaged.

So today’s ‘communication essential’? Take care of yourself.

Thanks for letting me share.