#71 Oh, Oh!!
I always thought of stress as being all bad, but it’s not necessarily so.
You can feel good stress when you ride a roller coaster, compete in a game, or go on a first date. It is short-term, inspires and motivates you, focuses your energy, and enhances performance.
Bad stress is the kind that wears you out, leaves you jittery, and is harmful to your health. It can lead to anxiety, confusion, poor concentration, and decreased performance.
Bad stress can be acute or chronic. Acute stress doesn’t take a severe toll on your body if you find ways to relax quickly. However, when you repeatedly face stressors, chronic stress can take a heavy toll and cause adverse health effects.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a story entitled, My Soul is Tired. The article How Is Accumulated Stress Burning You Out? provided some answers. Was it possible that I had pushed my mind and body so far that it shut down?
What struck me was the statement
Because we’re constantly pushing, grinding, and hustling without stopping, we don’t give ourselves and our bodies the time and opportunity to process the stimuli we are exposed to and clean the remaining waste from them.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, describes The Theory of Cumulative Stress. Take a few minutes to read it.
I have experienced enormous stress the past six years. I was the care provider as my husband struggled with dementia and died from COVID. I took over responsibility for our lives and built a new life. The pandemic, my country’s continued political unrest, a war in Ukraine, the economy, and gun violence weighed heavily. I have many things I want to do, yet, and the clock is ticking. I was managing pretty well – getting through, making decisions, and adjusting - or so I thought.
However, the last few weeks have been difficult. I am less motivated, less energized, and just worn out - everything is a struggle. The symptoms of accumulated stress were alarming. I was experiencing many of them.
While there are many ways to consider the symptoms, I referred to the Signs of Cumulative Stress
Early Warning Signs - boredom, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and poor concentration.
Mild Signs - memory problems and increased illness.
Extended Signs - relationship problems, increased alcohol/drug use, poor performance, and fear of leaving home.
Severe Signs - relationship, health, or personality changes and becoming housebound.
I have been anxious and irritable for weeks. Every little thing is worrisome and frustrating. Sadness hangs over me like a heavy cloud, and my concentration is off. I feel muscle tension, have an ongoing headache, am tired, and want to stay home.
I can attribute those symptoms to various reasons, such as my age, too much computer time, being on my own, or allergies. However, is it possible that while I managed during those years, did what I needed to do, and survived, today my body and mind are demanding a break?
James Clear suggests imagining that your health and energy are a bucket of water. The youtube video, The Stress Bucket, illustrates that concept. Take a look.
Every person’s bucket size is different, and my bucket wasn’t big enough to handle the accumulated stress or I needed more healthy releases.
The first step was to acknowledge what I’ve been through - giving myself credit for making tough decisions, moving on, and learning how to survive as a single older adult. These were big accomplishments for me.
Clear says, “Recovery is not negotiable. You can either make time to rest and rejuvenate now or make time to be sick and injured later. Keep your bucket full.” Guess I better get moving.
So the second step must be self-care - a topic I talk about, but am not very good at doing.
This video offers ideas, but each person must figure out what works.
Writing, being outdoors, doing art projects, and taking day trips are my healthy stress-releases.
However, I may need a booster shot. So, additions to my self-care plan now include:
Focusing on what I achieve daily rather than complaining about what didn’t get done.
Seeing the cup as half full rather than half empty - even though it’s difficult some days.
Living with unceasing gratitude. I have a lot of reasons to be thankful.
Saying no more often and allowing others to help me.
Do you have ideas to add to the list? I would love to hear them.
Unchecked stress can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
The ComfortKeepers website says
For seniors, stress has the potential to be incredibly overwhelming. This tension in older adults has unique contributing factors, such as losing an elderly spouse or friend. Living alone can increase the sense of isolation. Sometimes the simple tasks of everyday life can cause stress in those who experience physical or medical limitations. The effects of stress can sometimes exacerbate health conditions from which some seniors suffer, causing additional worry.
If I want to age well, it makes sense to manage the stress better.
These are my three articles to share. I hope you enjoy them.