We all go through times of high and low stress in our lives, and each of us deals with it differently. In my case, I yell more often, but recently I’ve noticed other problems. My eye/cheek/face have gone through weeks of twitching, my upper back and shoulders are very tense and I’ve become more distanced with my friends, especially my wife.
We all respond to stress differently, so there’s no single method for identifying when we’re overburdened with stress. Stress is good in little bits for short periods because it pushes many of us to focus more, multi-task better and feel like we’re accomplishing more. However, when we experience stress for too long, it begins to have a lasting effect on our emotions and bodies.
Stress comes from many sources: finances, family, friends, work, self-image, and for the really type-A or OCD types (like me), we let even the smallest things get under our skin and eventually build up, along with other stressful events, into a big problem. That’s when stress changes from a survival instinct that helps us excel to a dangerous health problem that could lead to colds, chronic disease and even death.
So what are the symptoms of stress? I’d like to refer you an excellent stress resource page at HelpGuide.org strictly about stress. In my case, I had someone (my wife) there to ask me “what bug crawled up my butt” (in my words). After asking me enough times, I decided to think about what was causing me to be less-than-pleasant at home.
Identifying My Own Stress Factors
I’ve actually had twitchy eyes a few times in the last 3 years, but I didn’t think much of it. I knew it was stress-related, but I didn’t bother to get checked out because I thought it would go away. However, this year, as work, home and eventually school responsibilities built up, my twitch moved down from my eye to my cheek and them to my mouth. It actually affected my smile and sometimes my speech. Actually, right now as I type this, I can feel my face twitching (I haven’t noticed it for a couple weeks).
In my own life, here are the major stressors that I can identify. Of course, since I let little things annoy me, I can’t name every single thing that causes me stress, so here are just the big ones (in random order):
- Distance from my family and health issues with the family
- Being a good husband
- Time management with school, work and home life
- Being the main designer of a multi-million dollar project at work (but that’s not my job description!)
- My weight and lack of exercise
- Maintaining our home and planning fixes/upgrades
- Writing for Clever Dude and ensuring Stacie writes for Building Nutrition
- Maintaining my friendships
- Maintaining our cars
- And more…
For someone like me who doesn’t plan or organize well, I begin to feel like the only way to handle the stress is to either avoid or give up on certain things. For example, I’ve thought of just selling the house and renting lately, or selling my truck. Instead of romancing Stacie, I just sit on the computer all night, watch TV, or anything else that doesn’t require much human interaction. Eventually, I shut down entirely, get depressed and don’t do anything productive.
So how do I plan on coping with these stresses?
TAKE CONTROL, PLAN and PRIORITIZE: Although trying to maintain control is a main reason for my stress, I can’t run from the fact that control is what I need to manage my life. I need to set priorities every single day on what I want to accomplish that day, that week, that month and so forth. As new things come into my life, I need to rearrange priorities. If I have a plan, and if I stick to that plan, then I’ll know that things can be accomplished.
Unfortunately, neither Stacie nor I like to work by a plan. We don’t like to make commitments for some reason, but we’re both realizing that the only way we’ll get the important things in our life done is by planning. If we don’t know what we want to get done, how else will it get done except by accident?
RELAX: The most immediate thing I should do when something gets under my skin is to breathe. I’ve found that the best fix for my facial twitches is to just breathe deeply a few times. It relaxes my face and jaw and provides at least a couple minutes of relief.
Next up is something a little more pricey: a massage. Thanks to my 25,000 bonus points from AmEx, I’ll be getting a nice deep-tissue massage from Red Door Spa, just as soon as I schedule an appointment, and maybe a day off.
TALK: It’s not healthy to hold in stress, anxiety and depression. I need to talk to someone I can trust, who won’t judge me and can understand my issues. Who will I choose? Stacie of course. For you, it could be your spouse, best friend, mother, father, or therapist.
TAKE SOME TIME OFF: What I mean is taking a break from the stress. This could be a small vacation, as long as it doesn’t cause even more stress than it’s worth. We could take a long weekend drive somewhere, take a day or two break from writing for Clever Dude, or go for a walk or run when I’m feeling a little burnt out.
FORGIVE: I got this one from HelpGuide’s section on Accepting Things You Can’t Change. Although I don’t hold grudges, I do let little, stupid things annoy me very easily. When I feel someone has made a mistake, whether it’s blasting their iPod, cutting across my path, walking or driving too slowly, or anything else that 99% of the time has nothing to do with me, I can just forgive and forget. Granted, I’m forgiving someone about something that they never intended as a fault or insult, but it’s still something that I need to do.
When You Just Can’t Let Go
A few months ago, I wrote an article in response to a book I read about Self-Sufficiency. Some of us are just too driven to do so much or control everything that we find it impossible to relax. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for disaster. Read the article and decide whether you’re too self-sufficient and need help. Unfortunately, self-sufficients usually won’t recognize their need for help, but are often the most in need of it.
If you find yourself “in over your head”, talk to someone that you can trust. Try to find someone that can help walk you through a reflection on your life situation to help determine what you’re doing wrong or what you need to give up to get some control back into your life.
Photo Courtesy of Nammer