Stress has many faces. This is mine
When I was about 12 years old I developed serious body image issues. It wasn’t the typical, “Oh man, I should probably lay off the Oreos” type of thing. It was all consuming and dictated my happiness. During this time I also developed an eating disorder to try to achieve what I felt was the “right” body. Teenage years can be so hard; I remember moving to another city and starting junior high without knowing a single soul there. Being naturally introverted and shy, it was like going into a dragon’s lair for me. I recall looking at everyone else around me on registration day. The girls looked older. They wore makeup and tight clothes. From the looks of things, most had already hit puberty. I didn’t feel like I fit in at all.
My eating issues actually started quite innocently. My P.E class was scheduled right after lunch and we ALWAYS ran. On the first day after we ran, I threw up my lunch. It was just too soon after eating. My stomach couldn’t handle it. The next time we ran, I threw up again and was nicknamed “Barf Lady” by a girl in my P.E class. I was completely humiliated and I didn’t want that to happen again. I went to the office to see if they could change my schedule so I wouldn’t have P.E right after lunch but they couldn’t change it. So I did the next logical thing in my 12 year old mind. Not eat lunch. This for me solved the problem of possible humiliation. If I was hungry during lunch I would probably eat a couple chips or candy or some other ridiculously unhealthy thing. Then I started to lose weight. I didn’t think twice about the harm I was doing to my body and my mind.
I remember at one point enjoying the empty grumbling in my stomach indicating I needed to eat. To me hunger equalled skinny and skinny equalled acceptance. As time went on I began to see issues with my body that didn’t even exist or were so miniscule no one would even notice. To me everyone saw my imperfections and how could anyone accept me that way? How could anyone think I was beautiful? When I looked in the mirror I saw ugly. Skinny was the answer to everything. At age 13 I would eat the same or less than my two year old brother. Looking back I’m not sure how I managed to focus in school.
My struggle with weight and food continued through high school and I would often binge eat because I was so hungry. This eating would be followed by large doses of guilt and negative thoughts. I wish I could say this ended after high school, but unfortunately I never resolved the problem, so the issues continued into my married life. Things were especially difficult after having my first child. When I was pregnant, my food cravings were unleashed and I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I couldn’t differentiate from what I needed to healthily gain for the baby and what I was tapping into from my years of denying regular meals. I gained close to 60 pounds. I cried and cried when I would look at myself in the mirror. I would change my clothes often just to find the right outfit to cover up my perceived flaws. As my daughter began to grow and I had another child I didn’t have any energy to play with them. I suffered from migraines at least three times a week and an afternoon nap was vital daily. I was disgusted with myself and didn’t know how to be healthy. I kept reverting back to my old habits of not eating. This didn’t help in any way whatsoever because I always ended up cracking and binge eating.There was just so much information out there that I felt overwhelmed, but I knew I had to do something. I was teaching my daughter to grow up with the same anxieties and I didn’t want that for her. What I came to discover is that health is a daily commitment that begins in the mind. I remember learning about eating 5-6 small meals a day to lose weight, much more than I had previously been eating, and I was scared. I thought eating more was actually going to make me gain weight. At this point and for many years prior, I had conditioned myself into believing that food was the enemy. I finally realized that what I had been doing up until that point wasn’t helping and I wanted to feel good again. This was my turning point.
In 3 months I was able to lose enough weight to be healthy, have energy and eliminate my chronic migraines. Although I am happy and willing to share my weight loss tips with anyone that will ask, my main purpose for writing today is to bring understanding that the underlying cause for my many years of distorted self perception and bad habits was stress. I used to think of stress as a cliche. Everything was blamed on stress. I didn’t think of stress in medical terms at all. However, stress causes physiological changes within the body that affect everything from hormones to metabolism to perception. There is no way to avoid stress altogether, but learning how to cope with and reconcile stressful events will make the difference in health and happiness. You can think of your body like a house and stressful events as small cracks that create damage. If you take care of those cracks right away, the house will continue to work well. If, however those cracks are left there and more cracks appear and are not repaired, eventually the house is going to have some major damage. The process to repair the major damage might be extensive or require special tools.
For me, addressing my stress and repairing my (figurative) house has not only kept my weight off for 6 years, but has also helped to heal my low self esteem. The truth is, all of us deals with stress in one way or another. Because I never reconciled my stress as a young person it continued to snowball until it really just made me a very unhappy person. Maybe you don’t have low self esteem or an eating disorder or weight issues like I did. But maybe you have another symptom derived from chronic stress like lack of energy, migraines, memory issues, sleep problems, hormonal issues or a number of other things; the list goes on and on. In our increasingly fast-paced, high demand lives it’s also important to recognize the manifestations of chronic stress and then address them. For me, chronic stress manifested through being a perfectionist. My desire to appear “perfect” lead to many unhealthy habits. Some manifestations of stress include:
- Being a perfectionist
- Hyperactivity including being a workaholic
- Not knowing how to say no
- Constant worrying
- Apprehension (uneasy or fearful of something that might happen)
Signs are of these manifestations include some of the following:
- Loss of creativity
- Lack of focus
- Lack of patience
- Low libido
- Low enthusiasm
- Lack of compassion
- Low self-esteem
If you are looking over these lists and recognize yourself in them, there is good news! Just like a house can be repaired, our mind and bodies can be repaired also. Chronic stress does not have to run your life or keep you from enjoying yourself. When the body is given the right tools it’s like having your own construction crew ready to heal damage. Some of these tools (that you can start using right away) are:
- Sleep 8-9 hours daily
- Right nutrition-this is so important! Eat 5-6 times a day, 2-3 hours apart. Stay away from artificial anything and stick to whole foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meats.
- Make time for yourself, every day. Do something you enjoy like reading, creating, working on a car, playing games or puzzles or even just a relaxing bath and deep breaths.
- Spend time with loved ones. I know there is always something that needs to get done, but those you love deserve your time and you deserve theirs.
- Exercise- even 20 minutes a day is good.
- Connect to your higher power-Whether this is God, nature, humanity or anything in between, time for reflection is important.
- Use the Phytotherapi Stress protocol.
My goal is that you have come out of this with a little better understanding of stress and its different manifestations like the one I had. I hope that you will learn to recognize the symptoms and take the time to reconcile stressful events. Be patient with yourself. This process can take time just as the process to create all the “cracks” to your house did not happen overnight. It is, however worth your best efforts. Remember, the body and mind can heal itself, you just need to give it the tools.