Are you missing signs of being Stressed? Here is what happened to me….
As a Pain and Stress therapist, most of the information I impart to my patients/clients has been gleaned through my personal experiences and of course, from my knowledge. I know that Stress gives ‘mysterious’ signs and symptoms and damages the body in silent ways. Recently I have been a victim of stress myself…and had some of these mysterious symptoms.
The issues that added to my Stress
Since July 2019, our family has had some serious issues to deal with. My older daughter moved into a lovely large flat but instead of settling in to enjoy it, she was faced with serious problems which led to high levels of stress and loss of a lot of money. Also during this time, my younger daughter returned from travelling to find a ‘small’ leak in her flat which turned out to be a complex issue and a major health hazard. So she had to decamp to her sister’s new flat, with its myriad of issues, and continue to live out of her backpack for another 3 weeks whilst the builder gutted her bathroom and kitchen to make it safe for her to return. It was high stressful for her: she was being asked to make decisions on the fly with little assistance or time for consideration as the builder was in a hurry to finish her job: she too was at breaking point…
What was my role in this? Regularly travelling to London with cooked meals and providing support, whilst at the same time, running my business and supporting my 90yr old mum, who is a wonderfully independent and self-sufficient woman; nonetheless, as her sole carer, I am her first call for any issues with health and/or finance. It was tough but I kept my head above water by continuing my meditation practice; unfortunately however, my exercise regime and eating habits went to pot. But the meditation was going well and I was calm so I assumed ‘all beneath the bonnet was humming’ away.
Not so: upon reflection it was about this time I began to notice that each time I ate, I needed to go to the toilet and my sleep patterns were disrupted. But I didn’t heed these minor irritations… that I could be suffering from stress induced IBS and insomnia didn’t even occur to me…
This was compounded: one day when I returned from my exercise class with Fast Track Fitcamp, I felt dizzy. This was unusual for me but I thought I was either dehydrated (they do make us work very hard at FitCamp) or just needed to eat. But my dizziness continued throughout the day, despite eating and drinking lots of water. Concerned, at bedtime I decided to take my blood pressure just as a precautionary measure: it read 147/92, pulse 80 – this is considered as high blood pressure, particularly for me because my ambient blood pressure is usually 120/70… I was shocked, I remember staring disbelievingly at the numbers on the blood pressure monitor. How had this happened?
I know one of the most damaging effects of Stress is high blood pressure, which is labelled a silent killer because its effects can go unnoticed for a long time. So how long had my blood pressure been so high…?? High blood pressure runs in my family – my suffered, so much so the doctors in Uganda cauterised the arteries in his nose to stop his frequent nose bleeds (this was a highly dangerous strategy because the pressure might have caused a brain haemorrhage but this was the early 70’s and knowledge wasn’t what it is now). Within a month of arriving in the UK in 1974, he did die of a massive haemorrhagic stroke which was followed by a cardiac arrest – the stress of the expulsion had proved too much for him to handle. Mum and my brother, both have high blood pressure, making me the odd one out. By staying active and eating healthily, I fully intended to stay that way. Anyway, the numbers tonight told a different story, so once I calmed myself down, the therapist kicked in and I decided to keep a record of my readings, 3 times a day. This could just be a bleep and the record would tell me if this was now the norm or just a reaction to the high level of stress I had been fielding. Unfortunately, for 1 whole month, my readings stayed in the high blood pressure range, there was some fluctuation to the lower side, but it didn’t stay there. I was beginning to think that the recent stress levels had impacted me more than I had realised and that maybe I needed to go on meds…
My stomach hadn’t settled either and my sleep disruption continued. I was tired a lot of the time, my mojo had gone awol and I was barely keeping up with the demands of my life. I spoke to my Nutritionist colleagues, wondering if I had suddenly developed gluten/lactose intolerance; I kept a watchful eye on my food but the pattern of my loo visits did not match with my food intake. To help with my sleep, I began to listen to sleep meditations on the Insight app – the delta wave meditation gave me a much needed night’s sleep so I began to use it each night. While I got off to sleep ok, I still woke several times during the night and the quality of my sleep wasn’t good, leaving me tired in the morning.
My sitting meditation practice however, was going well.
Unbeknown to me, the stress in my life was just about to get a lot worse.
More Stress at Home
My home needed some work so I got a recommended decorator in carry out the work. To enable him uninterrupted access to the whole property, I decided to use this time to go on a Retreat (can’t imagine why..?!?) leaving a young lodger and 2 cats in situ. The day before I had to leave, I noticed £25 had been stolen from my purse. I panicked – I had to find a safe place for my valuables whilst I was away so I rang around, desperately trying to find someone locally based with whom I could leave these. Thankfully I did. Whilst I was relieved that my valuables were safe I was still deeply troubled by the knowledge that there was a thief in my home; parking these worries for the moment, I left for my Retreat, expecting to get some peace and calm to salve my Soul.
Didn’t happen: it was a lovely place, but the Retreatants were rather jovial and chatty, so peace and quiet for me were limited. Add to this the foul weather, so I could only go out for a long walk on 2 out of the 6 days. I felt trapped. I still had my bowel issues but my sleep was slightly better; I didn’t take my BP monitor along so I have no record of what was happening to it during this week. I was waking up feeling tired, irritated and annoyed…the Retreat wasn’t working. On the train journey back, I realised that the best Retreats for me were the FULLY silent ones…lesson learnt…and the thought of returning to a newly decorated, clean home cheered me up no end.
Premature cheer: when I returned home I found a toilet sitting on the front step, with a heap of rubbish. My heart sank. I gathered immediately that my decorator’s promise that I would return to a sparkling newly decorated home, had been misguided. Instead I walked into bombsite, with no rooms habitable. As he delighted in proudly showing off his exquisite handiwork, I breathed deeply, trying hard to resist the urge to scream. I got an instant headache, felt dizzy and needed to go to the toilet, thankfully the downstairs toilet was accessible.
Needed to Get Away from the Stress
I needed to get out so I got in the car and rang my friend in Maidenhead to tell her she was going to have an overnight visitor. I got there, had a shower ate some food and just crashed out – I was so tired and miserable, I didn’t have the energy to speak…I stayed away for 2 more days, hoping the work would be complete when I returned. My delightful friend took care of me, tea in bed, lovely freshly cooked food and lots of tlc. But…each time I ate, I needed to go to the toilet, I was still waking with a heavy head and often during the day, I would suddenly feel dizzy…
Finally, 2 weeks’ ago matters began to settle: the decorating was complete; I evicted my lodger who was the thief and who brought in drugs and strangers into my home whilst I was away, and, best of all, my daughters are in a more settled mode. My lodger isn’t fully out of my hair, as he is now threatening me with legal action but, considering he claims (falsely) that he lost his job as he had to sleep on a park bench due to lack of money, I don’t think this will amount to anything.
Finally, almost a month after I returned from my Retreat, my blood pressure is stabilising – the readings are now slowly coming back down (130-145/ 85-78), my sleep is improving (going off to sleep easily, only waking 1/night and no dull headache) and I am no longer having to rush to the toilet after meals.
Lessons Learnt about Stress
What lessons have I learnt during this time? That stress really DOES bring on huge reactionary changes within our bodies and minds that sometimes we can miss or put down to other causes. Just because our meditation practice is going well, we cannot assume ‘all under the bonnet is humming’. Considering how complex our physiology and psychology is, this is no surprise – we are multi-layered Beings and just because layers 1-200 are working well, it doesn’t mean those from 201-59,967 (arbitrary figures) are also following suit. So yes, our minds and bodies are closely aligned, the health of one of course impacts on the other – my stress levels seriously affected my blood pressure, sleep and bowel movements.
But…and there is always a ‘but’… the Body, unlike the Spirit, has an end date. Two of our teachers at the Retreat are battling with end stage cancer, one of whom is an ex nun. There is little these people don’t know about meditation and its practice and have been life-long meditators. However, whilst their Spirit is ‘healthy’ their Bodies are not, because the former is limitless, the latter has limitations and an end date.
To conclude, the best way to manage Stress is to
- Keep vigil on changes in behaviour and those ‘mysterious’ symptoms
- Eat healthy foods
- build a support network around you so you have someone who will provide a listening ear;
- Positive thinking;
- Practise self compassion
Hope this has been useful – any questions, please do get in touch.