My Story of Stress & Anxiety
My 3-year-old son loves to pull out our Chatbooks so he can look through the photos I’ve posted of him since he was born. It’s so sweet to watch him light up as he narrates who he’s with and what he’s doing, and I love being reminded of his many smiles over the last 3 years.
Yet, there is an ache inside of me that hurts a little more with every page that turns. The last 4 years have been tough, last year being the worst of them all, so as my son flips through the timeline of our lives, the smiles are tainted with remembrance of pain, of numbness, of overwhelm.
April was Stress Awareness Month and May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s sort of ironic that these two months come so close together as stress, with its impact on digestion and overall health, eventually leads to anxiety and depression. I know this not only because of education, my research, and my work with numerous clients who have faced stress and mental health issues…
I know this because of my own experiences.
In the midst of Stress and Mental Health Awareness months, I thought there is no better time to share my story. Not just the brief, “I didn’t feel well and food changed everything” story. The whole messy, complicated, This Is Us-style story.
Let’s start with stress and how it has shaped me since before I can even remember. Call it personality, or societal pressures, or just plain drive, I’m no stranger to taking on A LOT! Like many teenagers, it started with AP classes, dance classes, piano lessons, youth group, afterschool clubs, team sports, part-time jobs, and some resemblance of a social life. I was young and I had plenty of energy, so it just felt normal to do so much.
Onto college, things only got more intense. The same kind of schedule, but more competitive. More than a full load of classes, leadership roles, and mile long walks back and forth on campus to get from place to place. At one point, a career advisor look at my resume and ask me if I had time to do anything fun. “Yes, definitely,” I said, thinking I had it all under control and it was simply my efficient nature that allowed me to do it all. Meanwhile, I’m already starting to seeing doctors to figure out what was going on with my out-of-whack hormones and the onslaught of problems that accompanied them. Did anyone advise me to change my lifestyle? Maybe do a little less, sleep a little more, relax? No! Instead, it was birth control, crazy diets, and exercising twice a day….on top of everything else. (Oh, if you could see the eye roll and jaw clinching I have while I write this!)
By this point in my life, I’m addicted to stress. I’m proud of all I can handle. I got to the point where I didn’t know how function without all the busyness, yet I would have never even considered myself to be “stressed.” It was so normal that I didn’t know any other way. And I couldn’t calm down.
Until my body started to shut down.
Bit by bit, systems were breaking down and I was too busy to recognize it. My weight felt like an impossible thing to manage – even with teaching 10 (yes, 10) fitness classes a week and counting calories like it was my job. I was popping anti-acids on a daily basis, fighting adult acne and menopausal-like hormonal swings, and completely unable to calm my mind.
It sadly wasn’t until years later, after I had gone back to school for holistic nutrition, that I realized just how much stress was a key issue to my health challenges. I made adjustments to my nutrition, corrected my hormonal imbalances naturally, exercised much less, and for a while, I managed my work load and my stress.
My nutrition got better and better. My environment more and more natural. My body continued to heal and improve. But my stress….it came back.