How Stress Affects Me
Updated: Feb 25
Stress has become a normal part of my daily life - like it has with most of us I suppose. I have found, over the years, that stress has a big impact on me, on my mind and on my body in ways that I wouldn't have expected - without even knowing it. Stress certainly has weird ways of seeping into us and manifesting itself...
Here are some of the ways in which stress affects me both physically and mentally and how I handle and maintain it:
Affects on me mentally:
Anxiety, Feeling Overwhelmed, Spiralling and Panic Attacks
Feeling stressed, especially if I try to suppress it, always manifests it's self as anxiety. When I try to resist feeling stressed, the tension in my body or that which which is causing my stress, it leads to conflict - which is essentially the basis is of anxiety. I start getting butterflies in my chest and thoughts begin to grow in my mind. Sometimes my thoughts can grow so big that they begin to spiral out of control and take over my mind. And before you know it, I have been led down a dark path within my mind that I cannot turn back from. I can get so deep that I get consumed and overwhelmed, which often - although not so much anymore - can turn into panic attacks where I struggle to breathe, see and think at all.
The best way I find dealing with stress and my anxiety is practising preventative strategies. Preventing too much stress and anxiety when I am faced with triggers or catching them early by spotting the signs. Or, working through my emotions when they arrive and processing them in a calm and healthy way.
In relation to stress, I have learned to recognise when I am stressed and rather than resist the stress, I accept and acknowledge it - "OK, I feel stressed right now". I take a step away from that which is causing the stress, calm down, release the stress (by talking to a loved one or rationalising on paper), I change my focus for a while (usually by going for a nice walk in the countryside to burn off the excess stress) and then I am ready to dive right back in with a clear head and energetic body.
Taking regular breaks are a great way of preventing stress for me. It means I am not too deeply consumed by anything and I keep my energy levels balanced. Also, giving myself treats when I feel down and taking care of myself in the way my mind and body craves.
In relation to anxiety, again, I accept and acknowledge that I feel anxious. I release the emotion - usually by talking about it or writing about it and then exercising or doing a grounding mediation to bring me back to the present moment again. Usually, once I have done this, the anxiety passes.
When I have gone beyond the beginnings of anxiety and my thoughts are spiralling out of control, I use the art of distraction - because nothing else will work at this stage. I tend to immerse myself into things either physically: within a vast forest to get lost in nature (which increases my focus and heighten my senses) or mentally throw myself into a craft or cooking something in the kitchen. Bringing my mind back into the present moment this way, enables me to get out of my head and allowing those all consuming thoughts to dissolve. Thoughts only grow if you pay attention to them. Sometimes, yes, you can get consumed by them, but thinking about them is a choice.
On very rare occasions, I can miss all the warning signs and things can escalate into a panic attack. If I get to this stage, I breathe deep, controlled, breaths to calm myself, I self hug for comfort, get under a weighted blanket and cry to release until it passes. It normally passes pretty quickly, which I am thankful for.
Stress can cause that little goblin in the back of my mind to raise it's little head - and maybe does a wave with a creepy "hello again" smile. It can begin to speak and tell me all the things that are wrong with me, reminds me of all my mistakes and tells me that I am stupid, no one likes me and that I am not good enough. This is, of course, my negative self-talk.
When self hatred starts to seep into my mind, and I notice it, I actively disagree with this voice and remind myself of all the good things about me. How strong I am, how much people do in fact love me and that I am a lovely, kind and worthy person. Actively showering myself with positive thoughts weakens the goblin and it slowly begins to descend into the depths of my mind again, where it can no longer be seen or heard.
Depression and uncontrollable crying
Sometimes stress can lead to a depressive state. This is where I crawl into bed and don't have the motivation or will to get back out. There is a thick black cloud over my head and I am surrounded by darkness. I don't want to do anything, watch anything, listen to anything. It is like all the happiness in the world has disappeared - like I'll never be happy again. It actually feels like, what I imagine, being in the presence of a dementor would be like (for those Harry Potter fans!). Or, there are times where I cry uncontrollably and I cannot move.
Being in a depressed state is hard. To find the strength to fight and overcome any kind of depression is literally mammoth. You are fighting against everything inside you - your mind, body, spirit - everything. Once, I got so lost, I was in bed for days and I was miserable. I was having more frequent sessions with my counsellor but I just couldn't shake this feeling. My partner is a man of solutions and he knew just what I needed but knew I wasn't able to give it to myself at that time. So one Saturday, he pulled me out of bed, took me to the shower and made sure I was washed. Got me dressed (whilst I was crying), put me in the car and took me to my favourite country park where we walked in silence for hours. I lay on the grass, in the autumn sunshine, felt the soil beneath me and watched as the clouds drifted by. And out of nowhere I began to feel a little like myself again. The dark cloud which had consumed me was slowly lifting and I could feel a tiny bit of relief poke through. After that, I kept going back, every day, it was like my medicine, until I felt whole again. I will always thank him for that.
Now, when I feel depressed, I allow myself to feel it, for a little while. I accept that I feel that way, journal and talk about how I am feeling - either to loved ones or a professional to release and process the emotion along with those all important walks in nature. After a few days - good as new.
*I would like to point out here that I have never been diagnosed with clinical depression. So when I say depression/depressed/depressed state, I mean a state of depression which is more like an intense emotion rather than the chronic mental illness itself.*
Bad moods and aggression
As I think we all know, being stressed can lead to bad moods and sometimes aggression - maybe saying things in a way that we didn't mean or lashing out at those around us. This has certainly caused confrontations and arguments within my life!
When I know I feel this way, I take myself away from others until I feel like I am in a better mood to be able to interact/respond and do something I love instead. Once the emotion passes and I start to feel lighter and better able to see things clearly and communicate, I re-join civilisation!
With stress and anxiety comes anxious dreams. Those vivid dreams where you think you are getting chased by a crazed maniac and you wake up with a start and drowning in your own sweat!
Making sure I release my anxiety before I go to sleep is one way I combat these dreams in a proactive way. Working off any lingering tension with exercise and clearing my mind before bed. Also, thinking positive thoughts and remembering what I am grateful for just before sleep is another great way to prevent these dreams - you dream about what you last thought of before sleep they say and gratitude is the antidote to anxiety.
When I have had an anxious dream, I sit up and I calm myself down by using calming techniques (usually concentrating on my breath). I get out of bed and either make myself a hot chocolate to drink or read something light to help me drift back off to sleep again. If I feel I need to, I will also write down my dream or why I feel anxious to release the emotion and put thoughts down on paper (or my phone) so the thoughts don't continue to race around my head.
As I said earlier, stress has always been part of my life in a big way. Life events, unfortunately have not been kind, which has led me to craving escapes in a very self-sabotage way. As I couldn't physically escape from my stressors in the past, I escaped within my mind. Any time I was alone, I escaped through automatic and uncontrollable fantasies. So many waking hours were spent lost in my own delusions. Whether they were confronting the troublesome people in my life in a very overdramatic and powerful way or just lying down and imagining someone hugging me to feel some kind of relief. This was a technique I used to avoid and numb the stress and emotions within me to get me through tough times - by just escaping reality.
Now, however, when I crave an escape, I embrace healthier techniques. I walk often in nature, I go on holidays by myself, I take myself on luxurious spa breaks or I get lost in an activity or a Netflix series. I still fantasise, however, they are controlled fantasies for around 10 minutes a day where I imagine where I want to be in the future - the kind of person I want to be and the kind of things I want to achieve - i.e. manifesting.
Affects on me Physically:
Small - fixable problems:
Stressful times normally affect my appetite, sleep and energy levels first. I can usually tell that I feel stressed because the things I usually have in balance become unbalanced. I'm normally good at regulating how much I eat, how much I sleep and having a good steady rate of energy on a normal day. However, when stress comes along, sometimes I eat loads, sometimes I don't eat anything. Sometimes I will sleep way past my alarm or other times I will be lying in bed staring at the ceiling all night. I could be drained, tired and lethargic or I'll be on overdrive, fuelled by my anxiety.
When I recognise I am beginning to lose balance, I go into self-care mode. I will take more breaks to help my energy levels, I will exercise and then have a relaxing bath to work off the stress and improve my chances of a healthy sleep and I will cook myself an amazing meal to entice me to eat.
Other signs are headaches and eye strain where I will lie down in a dark room for a while, close my eyes and listen to music or an audio book to give my eyes and head a rest. Body aches from an overload of tension within the body where I will either have some down time in bed with my electric blanket on to help relax the body or have a nice bath with some muscle relaxing salts. Tight jaw, where I simply open my mouth to stretch the jaw which gives me instant relief. I get shivers, usually when I am coming away from a stressful situation or talking about a stressor and I make sure I keep myself warm - with my weighted fluffy blanket. Finally I get random red blotches which appear when I am stressed and then disappear when I am calm. This may be hives but they have never been around long enough to get looked at by a professional! Usually when I apply a cool cream to them they reduce but they go by themselves when I calm down.
Bad periods and PMS
With stress comes bad periods - I have a ridiculously painful periods, especially when I am stressed, which knock me down. I can spend up to 2 days in bed without the ability to move because the pain can be so bad. It can also lead to dizziness, nausea, the inability to eat, low energy and a very heavy flow. Not to mention the mood swings!
When I get bad periods and PMS, I tend to stay away from people because I can get argumentative and snappy. I can cry for no reason and I can create dramas - like you all, I'm sure! It just means that I'm not dishing out a series of apologies and saves me a lot of embarrassment and anxiety later. For the pain, I have invested in a MyLivia which has literally made the entire monthly experience a delight. Although the nausea and lack of energy is still very much present, the pain is eased with this little device. Here is a link: https://uk.mylivia.com/ - honestly, my lifeline. For the general horribleness of this time, I make sure I am stocked up with heavy flow pads - even, "discreet underwear" (what I call nappies), to catch all and feel more comfortable and secure, everything chocolate (chocolate, hot chocolate and chocolate fudge cake is a must) and a list of sad films I can sob to.
Thrush (Yeast Infection)
Yes, that common thrush is aggravated by stress - this normally flares up once in a while. Keeping this area clean and airy as well as applying cream tends to work for me.
Increase in urination
Stress and anxiety makes me go to the loo a lot more. The tension and pelvic pain which are associated with stress and anxiety can cause you to go for a wee more often and more urgently - even if it is just a few drops.
Managing stress is the way I deal with this one. Usually once my body is calm, the tension dies down along with the feeling of constantly needing a wee!
When I am feeling particularly run down from stress I will occasionally get cold or flu symptoms. I medicate myself with night nurse, lemon and honey with hot water along with plenty of food and water to keep myself hydrated and able to fight off the illness - water also keeps the runny nose flowing so it gets rid of the germs quicker. Another tip I have picked up is when you have a blocked nose - to breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. The hot air flow unblocks your nose and keeps the mucus flowing so you can get rid of it in a tissue as it leaves you. If you have a sore throat, breathe in through your nose and out of your mouth as the hot air will keep your throat warm which helps with the pain and you also breathe out the germs lingering in your throat which enables it to heal quicker and prevent coughs.
Digestion and IBS
When I'm stressed or anxious, I tend to get bloated. When we are stressed and anxious, our breathing is affected, so we take in more air than we need which leads to bloating. As well as this I get problems with my digestion. Anxiety shuts down the part of the brain that handles digestion which either means that my food will get digested poorly or doesn't get digested at all. I can go for days without passing and I can also get IBS cramps because my bowels can completely seize up.
To ease this, I have a probiotic everyday in the form of a yogurt, within my daily routine and when I am on holiday to keep myself flowing correctly. Also, I exercise to keep my body moving as well as actively noticing when my stomach is tense and actively relaxing it and keeping on top of my anxiety. For some reason, resting my hand on the top of my belly, very lightly, seems to help soothe not only my stomach but all of me - not quite sure why but it works!
Cold sores normally decide to pop up when I feel run down too, so, I ensure that when I get that tingling feeling of a cold sore appearing, I get medication to help make the process as easy and as pain free as possible.
Alopecia is a condition which makes your hair fall out in clumps leaving bald patches in your hair. I have only ever had this once (thank goodness) which was devastating as, those that know me will know, that I love my hair and I take very good care of it!
Luckily, I was able to get this rectified with some steroid cream and my scalp and hair responded well so my hair went back to normal very quickly - but this was during a very dark time in my life and I really saw the consequences and the toll it took on my body.
Yes, weirdly stress has an impact on dandruff, which I found out recently. Lately I have had a majorly itchy scalp and flaking everywhere, which I haven't had before. No matter what treatment I use, I can't seem to shake it. I did a little research on it and although stress does not cause dandruff, it can certainly aggravate it.
Right now, I have changed my shampoos again, I am using a scalp moisturiser as well as avoiding use of any hair sprays and hair styling tools. And of course managing my stress levels - I'll see how I get on!
Burnout is probably the most frequent symptoms of stress I am susceptible to. This is when I am overworked, I am fatigued and I am completely overwhelmed. My IBS has flared up, I have terrible headaches, I'm not sleeping and my mood is irritable or low. This can happen quite frequently for me if I'm not careful as I lead a very busy life and I am an anxious person.
When I burn out, I rest. I take myself away from that makes me feel stressed completely, I allow myself a few days to calm down both mentally and physically and then release and change my focus for a few days. I give myself the time I need. If it is a few hours, I give myself a few hours, if it is a week, I give myself a week. Burn out is not an easy thing to recover from but it is essential you take the time for yourself, you are kind with yourself and you take your time. As I said, lead a busy life, I don't have time - I have a full time demanding job as well as a growing business as well as many other responsibilities. However, I have learned to make time. You either take care of your health, or you lose it.
This is why self-care is paramount for me, it literally keeps me going - it is my medicine. Maintaining myself is key to my survival and my self-preservation. I know that if I do not keep on top of my stress, I will not be able to function. Self-care is not this airy fairy notion that keeps being banded around, it is literally necessary to my life.
I hope the above has helped in some way. By understanding what stress does to me, I hope it allows you to look within your life and understand how stress can affect you. Also, I hope by explaining how I handle and maintain my stress and myself during difficult times inspires you to use and apply these techniques in your own life.