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  • The Many Faces of Stress

    Looking stressed

    Stress involves so much more than running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off and/or feeling pulled in a hundred (or more) directions at once. Sometimes it’s blatant, sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s so habitual that it just seems normal to you. It’s that habitual stress that doesn’t register on your mental radar that you have to look out for, because it still sends your body into “red alert” mode without you being aware of it.

    Nah, I Don’t Really Have Much Stress

    I’ve spoken to a lot of people (and by a lot I mean easily hundreds and hundreds) who swear that they have very little stress. Some of them have been clients with really tight muscles and some have been people I’ve met at business events or parties who, upon finding out that I’m a massage therapist, insist that they don’t have much stress yet their shoulders are halfway to their ears.

    I can’t blame them for not recognizing some of their stress; I used to be right where they are now. For years, I swore up, down, and sideways that I didn’t have very much stress and I meant it. I had lots of responsibilities, sure… but not so much stress. Turns out, I did have stress. I had a LOT of stress. So much stress that it landed me in the ER. Still, however, I refused to believe that any of my physical issues were due to stress. Sadly, I may have even went off on a doctor or two when they suggested that some of my physical ills were stress-related. I recall telling one of them that “stress” was a garbage diagnosis that doctors used when they didn’t know what was wrong. I’d like to apologize to all the docs that I was horrible to in those days. I didn’t know… Please forgive me for being an a-hole.

    To help you recognize some of your habitual stressors, to keep your stressors from making you physically ill, and to keep you from being an a-hole to anyone who suggests you may be suffering from stress, I’ve got a list of what habitual stressors might look like:

    1. Boss or coworkers criticizing you or others regularly
    2. Negative, gossipy workplace
    3. Hating your job
    4. Consistent need to work overtime
    5. Negative, gossipy friends and/or family
    6. Having emails and/or phone calls monitored 
    7. Needing a doctor’s note to call in sick
    8. Having responsibilities beyond or below your skill/education/age/ability level
    9. Being a perfectionist
    10. Being on committees and/or involved in activities out of a sense of obligation
    11. Having a very strict code of conduct (self-imposed or imposed by others) that must be adhered to with dire consequences if you don’t (self-loathing, shunned, disowned, fired)
    12. No acknowledgment unless it’s negative
    13. Being invisible (unless you’re an introvert and want to be)
    14. Multiple daily commitments that drive your entire day and evening 
    15. Not having time for things you want to do
    16. No time for spontaneity
    17. Chronic last minute tasks, such as being halfway through making dinner and finding you have to run to the store for a key ingredient, your boss giving you last minute projects, or your kids telling you at bedtime that they need something for school the next day.
    18. To do list is never finished or finishable
    19. Being “in the mood” when your partner isn’t
    20. Being “in the mood” but being too tired to do anything about it
    21. Not getting enough alone time
    22. Getting too much alone time
    23. Not enough/no fun in your life
    24. Daily commute, especially if it’s at rush hour

    Remember, this list contains several examples but is not meant to be complete. There are many, many other types of habitual stressors. This list is only meant to get you thinking about what they might be for you.

    I Don’t Know Why I…

    One of my problems, back in my stress-denying days, was that I was running on autopilot most of the time. I also had this strange notion that responsibilities somehow weren’t stressors and that hating school and hating your job was just par for the course so they couldn’t be stress. There was so much I didn’t know back then.

    So, in an effort to help you recognize some of the lessor known and less talked about symptoms of stress, here’s a short list of some common ones to get you started:

    1. Falling into bed exhausted each night
    2. Playing games on your phone or tablet when you should be sleeping 
    3. Playing games on your phone or tablet even when you’re not enjoying them (i.e. distracting yourself from something)
    4. Throwing yourself into chores (another way of distracting yourself from your stressors)
    5. Watching TV/movies that you aren’t enjoying (more distraction)
    6. Being unable to relax without chemical help
    7. Being tired all the time
    8. Being uncomfortable when you start to relax because it’s such a foreign feeling
    9. Being unable to feel where you carry tension in your body 
    10. Being told you need to relax when you already feel relaxed 
    11. Feeling out of control when you start to relax
    12. Being on-edge, anxious, or worried about one or more things for a majority of your day
    13. Having difficulty or the complete inability to name something you find fun
    14. Can’t remember the last time you had a really good belly laugh
    15. Thinking only in terms of needs
    16. Often accused of confusing wants with needs
    17. Unexplained physical pains/ills 
    18. Wake up clenching your teeth
    19. Clenching or grinding teeth in your sleep
    20. TMJD
    21. Tensing muscles when you’re at rest (someone else may have to point this out to you in order for you to realize it)

    Remember, this is just a short list of possible ways that habitual stress can manifest itself in your life. It can show itself in as many ways as there are stressed out people. This list should give you a good jumping off point to help find your symptoms of the habitual stressors in your life.

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