“Oh, I’m fine! I thought there was something wrong but in the end it was just stress!”
This statement is armed, dangerous and surprisingly common. The strange thing is that we don’t seem to think that stress is particularly important.
Your mind is incredible. It’s capable of binge-watching five episodes of Pretty Little Liars while you write LinkedIn articles at the same time as chomping your way through a ton of dark chocolate. Or, you know, other more noble things, like feeling empathy, being intuitive and working out problems. We rely on it 100% of the time and care for it around 1% of the time. And no – doing sudoku while you’re on the loo does not count as caring for your mental health.
So you see the paradox – calling it “just stress” is exactly the same as saying that you “just broke an arm”. Both are painful, challenging and can potentially change your life with the complications they bring. If stress was an animal, it would be a cross between the dark lord Sauron and a T-rex. It’s scary, evil and probably has one ring to rule them all.
The amazing thing about your body is that it’s programmed to warn you when things go wrong – if any of these alarm bells are going off for you, it’s time to give yourself a mental MOT.
Alarm Bell #1
Groggy mornings and exhausted evenings
The classic – chronic fatigue. You might find that if you work in a fast paced environment, you won’t feel particularly tired. Chances are, if you are pushing yourself hard at work, you probably enjoy excelling at it and it energises you. But once you get home and the trackies are on, you remain largely stationary for the evening. You might occasionally blink, eat, or wipe away a tear at the romcom you’re enjoying, but for the most part, you just don’t have the energy to move. You wake up (in a hypothetical sense) and sludge around the house until you have a semblance of humanity about you and down ten espressos before you’re ready to go.
Complications: Lots of takeaways, no exercise, guilt about all the takeaways and lack of exercise. Isolation from being takeaway eating, unexercising hermit.
Alarm Bell #2
Worrying about the future
Some people might tell you that you have to worry about the future to make sure it goes well. Bull poop. Feeling anxious about a set of events that haven’t even happened yet and are in no way predictable makes as much sense as betting on unicorns to be the next dominant race on Earth. It hasn’t happened. We don’t know for sure if it will. There is really no point fretting about it. Having said that, this doesn’t mean that you have to throw your plans to the wind and elope with a handsome janitor. Just have faith that things will work out – when you appreciate the present, the future will smooth out ahead of you in no time.
Complications: Anxiety, panic when you think about your future, huge disappointment when things don’t work out, huge bills for countless planners.
Alarm Bell #3
I mean any kind of pain, big or small. It could be a headache, tight shoulders, perhaps sore feet. Pain is a very primitive, very ancient way for your body to tell you that something is wrong. Do NOT ignore it under any circumstances, and remember that this is a survival instinct. This does not mean you should search for your symptoms on WebMD and convince yourself that you have ten different terminal diseases. Just be aware that pain is often caused by your mental state – after all, it’s your brain that’s sending the signals.
Complications: Actual physical symptoms and conditions, limits to what you can do physically, constant worrying about your health.
It’s not always easy to stop stressing, especially if it’s coming from a source that you can’t change. Just remember to take the time to pamper your noodle regularly to stop it from changing your path. Go for a walk, sit in a coffee shop or colour in a whole piece of paper black (it’s therapeutic, I promise). Whatever floats your boat and clears your mind is up to you.
Whatever you do, don’t forget that there’s no such thing as “just stress”.