We hear daily about how bad stress is for you. I try to avoid it like the solicitor at my front door. My dedication to health is far above most people. I make it a point to exercise, read up on health studies, try different approaches, limit crap that is bad for me, etc. Stress being one of them.
In my 40s, I’m finding that my interests have paid off IN A BIG WAY! (Ask me how…)
When it comes to my work life, I learned a long time ago that the work is NEVER finished. Because of that, I have been really good at putting in a regular work week, doing my best, and having balance with my personal life.
Until this year…
This past year has been unusual due to a big high priority project unlike anything I’ve done in my career. The stress was moderate through most of the year, but hit an all-time high in the first quarter when we launched.
As much as I try to keep balance, I also have pride in my work, so I wanted it to be a success and go as smooth as possible! Plus, there was too damn much at stake to have any other outcome. (Hence my note on how I make shit happen on my About page.)
My hours spiked to 60-80 hour work weeks. There wasn’t time for workouts. My sleep was minimal…forget quality!
My energy was fueled by equal parts adrenaline, fear, and coffee.
My only saving grace was that I lived off of egg whites and beans. The only reason I put it that way is that I dropped 14 pounds and looked leaner than I have in a couple of years!
I knew that I wanted high protein to try to minimize muscle loss. Plus, it was 2 minutes to prepare! (Big shout out to Tim Ferris and the The Four Hour Body for this little tip!)
I kept up this ridiculousness for about 6 weeks. In that time, I saw some big UNWELCOME changes in my body. It was amazing how quickly I noticed differences.
My Signs of Stress
- Hair – Managing the health of my hair is always an issue due to coloring and hot irons, but the texture of my hair started to change. It seemed more brittle and drier than normal. I partly attribute this to not drinking much water.Stress has also been known to cause hair loss and a shock of white hair. Thankfully, that did not happen!!
- Skin/Eyes – My skin started to look dull. For the first time in my life, I felt like I looked older than I am. My eyes looked tired and had the hint of bags. There was no spark.They say the eyes are the window to the soul and mine looked like no one was home!
- Fitness – While the extra protein helped, I did lose some muscle. Over the past year, with so much desk time and not enough gym time, I have lost most of my ass…and not in a good way!When I finally went back to the gym, my strength had taken a BIG hit! For me, that is one of the biggest struggles when taking a hiatus from the gym. It messes with me mentally. My only gain in the gym was that I could do more pull-ups due to the weight loss.
- Nutrition – My diet wasn’t horrible, but I also wasn’t getting balanced meals. I needed more greens in my day to day. The lack of antioxidants and vitamins would definitely take its toll in the long run if I kept that up. I was drinking meal replacement shakes (Shakeology), so that helped tremendously, but not the same as good ole veggies!The worst part about my nutrition is that I became absolutely addicted to coffee! I was drinking it at all times during the day. I am still trying to break that habit! I used to take pride in not drinking coffee at all, so for me, this habit is completely unexpected. And it doesn’t help that I add creamer to it. If I had been drinking green tea through all of this, I may have dropped 20 pounds!Because I constantly drank coffee, I didn’t have a desire for water. Water is nectar from the gods and my body missed this most!The added caffeine, the high protein, and the increased cortisol levels decreased my appetite. While this sounds good on the surface for anyone who’s dieted or bought crazy supplements to help you do this, ultimately, this is not the way to go.
- Sleep – My sleep was a fricking mess! The caffeine and long hours kept me up at night. Some nights, I would be so exhausted, but couldn’t shut my brain off. I’d lay there for an hour or two with my racing thoughts before sleep would come.When I would doze, it would be restless sleep. At times, I would wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking about work problems. I’d be awake for a couple of hours sometimes.Eventually, I started to feel drained all the time. I was forgetful. I’d make some simple mistakes that I’d normally never do.
- Mood/Mental State – While there is a certain ‘high’ that I always get under pressure (and I thrive on!), too long of a time under that pressure and I was reaching my wit’s end. I was feeling frustrated because I knew it would be weeks, if not months, before it would let up.I struggled with not being creative. I had no social life. I felt guilty for neglecting the relationships that were important to me.The added tension and lack of water was causing me to get headaches more often. Trying to think and make decisions with throbbing pain in your head is an art that I have sadly mastered.I am generally a ‘happy-go-lucky’ kind of girl. I smile even when I’m not quite feeling it. But that too seemed to cease. I was snappy with people. I felt slightly depressed. I remembered a time (in a galaxy far away…) when I used to be fun.At one point, I was having chest pains fairly regularly. It was this annoying tight pressure that would last for hours. I finally went to the doctor for tests. All was well. We determined that it was anxiety/excess acid causing it. I ate Tums like candy for about a week and it went away. Every once in a while, it crops back up and I know now what to do to get it to stop.
I am resilient. I had faith that it would end. Eventually. The Marine Corps has a saying:
Adapt and overcome.
…and that’s what I did.
Stress induces a “fight or flight” situation in your body. To adapt, it increases adrenaline and cortisol. Continued high levels can impact all systems of your body.
Here’s a simple breakdown of the impacts of stress on your various systems: 10 Reasons Why Stress is the Most Dangerous Toxin in Your Life
This kind of schedule is extreme for me, but I know many of you work 60 hour work weeks EVERY week.
Make sure that you’re doing something you love; otherwise, it’s just not worth it.
And what did I do to de-stress my body and get back to “normal”?
I practiced yoga, journaled, and meditated. I played hooky on a workday and went snowboarding by myself on a blue sky day with loud music. I started going back to the gym regularly. I was gentle with myself.
I concentrated on getting my sexy back…from the inside out!
All of my signs of stress started to melt away…and I felt like ME again!
And in case you’re wondering…the project launch was a success. Hallefuckinlujah!
TAKE ACTION NOW! Tell me in the comments below of a time when you were under crazy pressure, what were your signs of stress, and how you handled it.
And if you’re stressed now, find a way to let something go. If you don’t take control, who will? If you think you are handling it, think again! It WILL catch up with you!
If you’re ready for a change, I am here for you!