Do you believe in the serious health effects caused by stress? Honestly, I didn't, not really. I never appreciated the truth. Even t...

Stress Less

Do you believe in the serious health effects caused by stress? Honestly, I didn't, not really. I never appreciated the truth. Even though we've been hearing our entire lives about the detrimental effects stress has on our bodies. That only happens to people that are super unhealthy, are workaholics, or have an incredibily stressful job. A simple, middle-class life shouldn't be stressful enough to affect my health...right?!

As it turns out, what you do for a living and how healthy you are, while they may be important, it's not nearly as important as how you handle stress. Some people can have very stressful jobs and manage to deal with it, without their bodies failing them. And others, not as fortunate, can have a relatively low-stress existence and still have that stress affect their health negatively.

I think it really comes down to the unnecessary stress that we create in our own lives. Unintentionally, of course, but still avoidable if we take care of ourselves. When we don't, we're left with a lot of stress. It's been awhile since I wrote on a self-love topic, and it is clearly way overdue. Writing about it regularly was a great way to keep it in the forefront of my mind. It really helped me make time for myself. As my focus wavered, my efforts disappeared and I am really feeling the consequences now. As I shared with you in my last post, I've been diagnosed with SIBO, a fun-filled gut imbalance. I think every article I've read on the subject talks about stress as a major culprit to either causing or worsening the condition. So obviously, this has me re-assessing my habits closely.

I create a ridiculous amount of stress in my life, for no reason. Just out of habit I guess. A result of being an over-achieving, perfectionist. It's okay that I want to do a good job at life. But I can't let everything stress me out. How about just the important things? It turns out, all the important things in life are my main sources of stress. This is probably true for many people. But do you ever realize that some of that stress can be avoided? I've spent the last several weeks trying to figure out why I get so stressed, and so physically affected by that stress. And I have come to an obvious, yet enlightening conclusion. I, constantly, set unrealistic expectations of myself.

I could greatly lower my stress level by respecting my limits and setting realistic goals instead. But my nature, for as long as I can recall, is to over-achieve. Work, family, my health...there are few exceptions. With work, when faced with a choice between failing to reach a goal or deadline, and keeping a work-life balance, I often choose the path of the workaholic. I've been struggling with this throughout my career, but made a considerable effort in the past year to find that work-life balance. Once I did, I quickly realized how much healthier of a life that truly is. Does it mean I won't be as good at my job as I would've otherwise? Possibly. Or maybe not, as I see being well-rounded as a real benefit in life. And taking breaks when I need them will likely make me better at what I do. I will be approaching work with a fresh mind instead of an over-worked one. Any programmer, and probably many other professions, will tell you the all-too-familiar story of how they were beating their heads against a wall for hours on a problem and simply could not figure it out. They took a break, came back to it rested and fresh, and figured it out in the first 5 minutes.

My recent health issues have left me more than a little frustrated and puzzled about what being healthy truly means. I spent so much of my life focused and diet and exercise, which more often than not became an unhealthy obsession that often left me stressed, injured, and physically and mentally ill. How ironic that I would care too much about my health, inadvertently causing myself stress and making it worse? It's truly a twisted cycle that's difficult to break. But I feel things starting to shift in my mind. The realization that my focus has been in all the wrong places.

My focus should be more on reducing my stress than on striving for perfection. I know perfection is a myth anyway. In reality, there is always someone better and someone worse than you at everything. So perfection really doesn't matter. What does matter to me is that I try my best, but that should include my best at taking care of myself. And that means, some things need to change.

• Work can never take priority over my health or my family.

• Eating healthy isn't as important as eating enough, and enjoying what I eat.

• Exercise is wonderful, but should never been done excessively, or create guilt when life gets in the way.

• Getting enough sleep is probably the most important thing I can do for myself right now.

• Spending adequate time with my family, even when I'm sick and depressed, is important to mine and their well-beings. It's ok that they all, even my kids, see me like that. There's no reason for me to be ashamed of being physically or mentally ill.

• Showing gratitude and appreciation for all the good things in my life should never be neglected.

• Respecting that my limits may be different than someone else's. We too often compare ourselves to others, and think things like "well if they can handle it, I can!" But how silly is that? Very. Everyone is different. Comparisons do not help.

• Feeling guilty over being sick and depressed isn't doing me any favors. Time to let it go.

What about you, my dear reader? Have you realized you also inadvertently allow stress to creep into your life? How do you manage it?