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Evaluate Your Stress Level

As resilient people we adapt to high levels of stress. Your body and mind will tell you how you’re doing, so check in with yourself frequently.

We are resilient people; we don’t realize how much we’ve adapted to high stress levels until we reach a breaking point.

Your body reacts naturally when you’re presented with a stressful situation. “When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones that increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. This ‘fight-or-flight’ response fuels you to deal with the threat… Once the threat is gone your body is meant to return to a relaxed state.” Read more about stress and stress management from Mayo Clinic here. Chronic stress leads to physiological effects.

The stress I experienced, both sudden and accumulated over time, led me to a Quarter-Life Crisis. Read about my Quarter-Life Crisis here. I was moody, emotional, and had no idea what to do first.

Overall I wasn’t in touch with my mental health. The three most prominent factors of my stress: my dad’s health, debt, and work.

The emotional effects of stress

Worry

During my dad’s recovery after a stroke I worried a lot about his health. As he became stronger it was especially hard for me to see him keep to his unhealthy habits. We’d talk and disagree, but over time arguments would ensue leading to yelling matches and guilt trips.

He’s gonna do what he wants to do, he’s an adult, I kept having to tell myself. He had made so much progress since coming home. He was in better shape and in good hands with his wife so I decided to move in with my mom.

Anxiety

I graduated in 2012 with about $180,000 in student loans. In 2017 I had only paid off $40,000. That’s pathetic! My personal goals had me questioning myself.

How am I supposed to get married, buy a house in Los Angeles, support a family, and pay off $140,000 without losing my mind? (Or, in social media standards: How am I supposed to work a dream job, have a ginormous, beautiful wedding, a lavish honeymoon, travel a lot, have a lot of money, buy a newly renovated house, and support 3 well-dressed children all while having enough time to maintain a 6 pack of abs?)

Anxiety struck. I frequently thought to myself, If I don’t even have a house to maintain or kids to raise now how will I be able to handle myself in the future when other life stressors come around? What kind of person would I be?

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

– Lao Tzu

I thought way too much into the future and had to bring my focus back to the present.

Something had to change, and first was my income. I got a second job and put myself on a plan to pay off debt. Read about my plan to get out of debt here.

I also had to change the way I saw having debt. Instead of thinking of it as a nuisance and punishment, I had to think of it as a challenge.

When browsing through social media and seeing other people’s adventurous lives, I become awestruck, and remind myself of my personal goals. Once I started eliminating loans I felt a sense of empowerment return.

Complaining

One way to see what stresses you out the most is to listen to yourself when you complain. What’s bothering you or threatening the progress of your goals so much that you keep having to let it off your chest?

When I went into nursing I discovered there was so much reward at the end of every day. Read about how I got into nursing here. I absolutely loved where I worked and everyone I worked with, which helped because nursing is rough in the first place, emotionally and physically.

Gradually the workload and demand for higher standards increased. I constantly jumped from task to task and felt like I was spending less time with each patient. “That’s how it is here” is what everyone would say, all while complaining about the stress level. Lacking the resources for our patients and not being able to be the nurse I wanted to be was my breaking point.

Wow, did I complain about work a lot! I must’ve been super annoying. Your loved ones will always point out the truth. After months of complaining my boyfriend told me, “You’ve been complaining about the same things, but you haven’t done anything to change it.”

He was so right. It shut me up.

Complaining about something won’t do any good. State your opinions and feelings about it then do what you can to change the situation. I couldn’t change what was happening in my workplace (nor my attitude toward the stress) so I left.

The physical effects of stress Fatigue

Have you ever been so tired that you’re fighting yourself to stay awake throughout the day, but when you’re finally in bed you can’t seem to fall asleep? This happened frequently and eventually I became sleep deprived. I’d wake up every morning feeling like a zombie.

Because of this I always felt like I was in a haze. I was studying every day for the OCN exam, but felt like I couldn’t remember anything. I failed it.

Until my stress levels eased and sleep improved I took a break from studying. 5 months went by until I studied again and passed.

Acne

Stress causes an increase in cortisol levels, which causes acne. Pus-filled acne was the reason why, as superficial as it is, I knew I had to reevaluate what was going on.

My face was red, inflamed, and the break outs were so painful I hated putting makeup on (but still did).

At first I thought it was my diet. I had developed a habit of stress eating, so I made a conscious effort to drink more water, stay away from sugar, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Nothing changed.

I’ve always worked out 3 times a week, but I thought I had to work out more to “match” the stress level. I was at the gym 4-5 times a week and included yoga and meditation. No change.

Estheticians would recommend products and meticulous skin care routines that I tried, but still no change. I even washed my makeup brushes more often.

Lastly I took a vacation (where the featured photo was taken) thinking I would return refreshed. Instead I returned to the same stressors. So definitely no change.

I’m embarrassed to show what I look like without makeup, but it’s a visual representation of how stress affected me.

The first two photos are from May 2017, at the peak of my stress. The third is exactly one year later, May 2018.

Recognize what’s causing your stress and adjust what you can. Not only did my appearance change, but also my spirit.

Help yourself

Pay attention to what your body is going through. No medication or other person can help you cope with stress.

My source of support during stressful times is my family and my boyfriend. Reach out to your support system, they’ll tell you the truth and guide you.

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

― Maya Angelou

Think about what you’ve been constantly complaining about, will you change the situation or the way you view the situation? Have you developed some bad habits that could be affecting your health?

You can’t selflessly help others if you can’t help yourself. Stress and eustress is a normal part of life. The way you navigate through these situations will benefit you, your spirit, and everyone around you.

Millennial Challenge
  • Check in with yourself: what’s going on in your life and how are you feeling?
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