That headline may read like a silly question to you… if you’re someone who’s fortunate enough to never have experienced stress or anxiety (I don’t think many people will fall into that category). In recent times, what I’ve become more interested in is this question:
Can I be feeling stressed or anxious without realising it on an emotional or mental level?
My answer is yes.
Why? Because in these moments, my body tells me something is up even though my mind is playing catch-up. Full disclosure: I really only became so interested in the impact of stress and anxiety when I was forced to. And by that I mean, when the physical impacts of both got to the point where they stopped me dead in my tracks from doing the things I love most.
Here’s the interesting thing about having the guts (I’ll explain this word choice later) to open up about health issues that may appear really embarrassing on the surface: when you speak the words to someone you trust, my experience is that two words have a good chance of being said back to you. “Me too.”
In my experience, everyone handles stress and anxiety differently…
Especially on a physical and emotional level. For me, all of my emotions – both good and bad – are absorbed by my gut. If something is ‘off’ in my life, my gut is the first one raising the red flag to grab my undivided attention (I’ll spare you the nitty gritty details).
Here’s a pretty clean cut example. Last week, I was exposed to a really tense and rather toxic situation. I worked myself up into such an angry state that I actually had to excuse myself because no one wants to see Mount Vesuvius erupt in the form of me. Even though I removed myself from the situation, the next day I was in a really bad physical state. It even took a couple of days for my stomach to return to normal. I should also point out that I eat a fairly clean diet because I have to – it’s not like I was downing heavily processed foods and drink and my body had this reaction. This was definitely situational.
So many times, I honestly don’t feel stressed or anxious but my body tells me otherwise. Here’s the thing though: I’ve actually been trained like a machine and unfortunately, as my body has grown older, it can’t quite endure what it used to and it now forces me to listen. Back in my early twenties, I would easily work 24/7 without feeling any serious physical effects besides relative tiredness in-line with what I’d put myself through. I pushed and I pushed and I pushed… until my body gave up and forced me to stop. And I’m still dealing with the consequences of my past behaviour today.
These days, life looks very different.
Coping and managing any chronic illness means you need to put your health first every time. It’s a constant struggle and one that until they live it, people don’t really understand. I can’t enjoy a night out drinking and then rock up for an early meeting the next day. Sometimes, I physically struggle to sit in all day meetings because my gut isn’t playing ball and wants to move. As much as I like to honour my privacy, in most cases, I find it easier to be honest with people so that they don’t assume other things like… ‘she’s just not interested’ or ‘she can’t be bothered.’
I’ll admit, there are days when I am so over my personal situation that I just feel like giving up. Then I think about other people’s struggles that are much greater than mine… then I think about other seemingly insurmountable challenges that I’ve overcome that aren’t even on the same page as gut issues.
If you’re currently struggling with any health issue, I hear you. My greatest piece of advice is to listen to your body and wherever possible, remove yourself from situations or circumstances that you know cause you both stress and anxiety. I know it can be hard in some cases but it’s about doing the best you can with what you have.
Feel free to share any thoughts or experiences you have below.