She found herself eating dinner, then what might be described as "fourth meal," almost every night. After putting the kids to bed, she lay awake for more than an hour trying to fall asleep. Thoughts of overdue bills, worst case scenarios, and loneliness for her ex wafted over her as she finally dozed off.
She awakened the next morning with a headache, dreading the hectic day ahead. Waves of being overwhelmed flooded her. Briefly, she considered calling in sick. After all, her stomach did feel queasy.
Stress sneaks up on us. Though depression is the common cold of mental illness, I've noticed over the years that many more people come in complaining of anxiety and stress. It's as if stress is in the water we drink, the air we breathe, and perhaps the walls of our homes. That's a facetious way of explaining it, but stress has become a way of life for many Americans.
The social acceptability of it even shows up in the fast-paced dramas and reality shows we watch. When the pressure's on at work, those who dive in and swim fast are praised. But the insidious quality of anxiety and the stress response is revealed in how many ways it shows up in our lives.
Consider these following symptoms experts tell us can reveal our anxiety: facial twitches, wringing hands, bouncing legs, insomnia, angry outbursts, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, difficulty focusing, remembering or learning, overeating, driving fast, upset digestive system, substance abuse, frequent colds.
Stress unmanaged causes all manner of disease and can often turn into depression. Like the woman above -- not a real person, but a composite of various stress-related problems that my clients have experienced -- many people are pushing through when they really need time to simply rest and be restored. When there aren't enough social supports around a person to help take the pressure off, an individual can become impaired. This is one of the reasons continual expansion of one's supports can be critical to living a peaceful and balanced life.
Other natural remedies for stress are meditation, breathing-stretching routines, exercise, B vitamins, Omega 3s found in flaxseed and fish oils, lifestyle changes, thought and behavior changes and more. Meditation can be as simple as taking time to take in deep breaths that go down to the belly button and then back out again. One can think about positive statements while doing this type of breathing or visualize peaceful surroundings.
Another type of meditation is called mindfulness, when one simply makes him or herself aware of the present moment, noticing one's body position, sounds, temperatures and visual scenes around them. This approach helps manage racing thoughts and stress about the past or the future.
Exercise and stretching routines help release toxins and provide catharsis for the body. Certain vitamins help bring calm and balance to the brain.
The hardest changes have to do with lifestyle. Sometimes we must simply make difficult decisions about certain types of work, career choices or living arrangements that may seem strange to others but are lifesaving for ourselves.
It's important also to build in consistent times of rest, even if it's only for a few hours a week. Take a vacation if possible and leave your present surroundings for awhile. This can have a refreshing effect on the brain. Write out stressful thoughts and possible solutions, and choose a positive, hopeful perspective whenever possible.
Tabi Upton is a workshop leader, writer and counselor at CBI Counseling Center. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.