Chronic stress is a serious threat to health - my story
Last week I wrote about how we have the option to choose the right kind of stress for self development and park the wrong kind that prevents us from getting the results we want.
Chronic stress - that is prolonged and persistent - is one of the worst kinds of wrong stress. It is so insidious and dangerous because we can normalise incremental increases in stress and learn to live with it until it bites us in the ass - as my story illustrates.
You can read a bit more about how I came to commit to life coaching full time here. Chronic stress was a part of that journey.
I was used to stress for a long time: stockbroking isn’t exactly relaxing, nor are 3 babies in 3 years. But the ongoing stress escalated significantly over a period of about four years: the marriage I was in disintegrated, I moved away from my home country on my own with three small children and set about re-negotiating the parameters of my life so that I could re-build. I didn’t have the option not to work, which for me involved international travel and seats at top tables in a variety of consulting roles. Meanwhile I was negotiating a divorce and parenting my boys through the grief of losing their nuclear family and separation from their father for extended periods of time and trying to fill some of that gap myself.
I was constantly juggling, anticipating next steps and feeling like I was capable of doing better if I could just get a break. But I have often been described as resilient and I was managing… just about.
The most obviously worrying “stress symptom” was also a bit of a joke: I would often feel a shooting pain in the left side of my chest and down my arm when my ex-husband spoke to me - ha ha! Sometimes I couldn’t breathe when I was trying to explain a challenge to someone else. Over time I frequently had an upset stomach - particularly in the mornings. My sleep was poor in quality and quantity. My hair was falling out. I also suffered repeat inflammatory infections.
But none of this was enough to stop me functioning. There was a powerful inner voice telling me that I had to keep going - who was going to look after the children if I opted out? I was also embarrassed to talk about some of what was happening - would I be judged as weird or weak? I leaned into my British heritage and “got on with it”. By now I was also experiencing brain fog and memory impairment. My GP couldn’t understand my repeat infections and gave me hormones, which seemed to make me cry quite a lot.
I still pushed on. Until the results of my regular Pap smear came back to say that I had pre-cancerous cells on my cervix. What? How? I couldn’t understand until my gynaecologist said: “Well look at the state of you….You’re completely stressed and your immune system is compromised”.
That was my wake up call… and proof of how toxic chronic stress can be, not just to mental health but also physical health. I quit working straight away, had the necessary surgery and committed to several weeks of nothing but family time and rest & recovery.
When I finally accepted that I couldn’t do it all, and that not being able to do it all doesn’t equal failure, I could treat myself with the compassion that I would show to any other human being, let alone a friend.
I’ll share specific tips from my journey back to health in next week’s post. In the meantime, let me ask how compassionate are you to yourself? Listen to the voice that talks to you throughout the day. Notice if it is gentle or harsh, strict or forgiving, kind or berating. Many of us will find that we talk to ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t dream of speaking to most other people.
If you’re having a tough time and feeling bad, try to take a step back and consider how you would treat your best friend right now. Can you do the same for yourself?
I can help you to learn how to manage stress so that it helps, rather than hinders, you. If you want to learn how to manage stress so that you can get on with living well on your terms, let’s chat.
As always, you can book an initial consultation with me here: