"Wait, isn't shingles a condition that only affects elderly people?"
That's the question I asked my doctor in April of 2015 as I sat on the examining table in the most excruciating pain I've ever felt in my life. Not only did I have a breakout of blisters that began just under my belly button and stretched across my right hip and glute, it felt like someone had doused my entire lower body in gasoline and set it on fire.
"Typically, shingles affects people over 50 years old, but it can show up in anyone with a weakened immune system," my doctor explained. "What's your stress level like?"
I thought about it for a second. "Well, I'm feeling overworked and unhappy with my job. But that's just been par for the course since I moved here last year."
In hindsight, that was precisely the problem.
Today, I want to talk to you about stress. We all experience it at various times, although most of us wear it like a badge of honor. Have you ever asked a friend how they're doing, only to have them unload the grocery list of things that have them feeling overwhelmed in their life?
In a weird way, we can take pride in our stress. It's as if we are proving our value to our employers, families, and friends by putting everyone and everything else above ourselves, spinning 27 plates simultaneously as we run ourselves into the ground.
And it is also slowly killing us.
Let's start by asking "What is stress?" In most basic terms, it's a chemical release of cortisol in your body which helps keep you alive.
If you've ever watched a nature documentary where a deer senses the presence of a predator, you have seen cortisol in action. When the animal hears a rustling in the bushes, its head pops up. It becomes self-focused, looking for a threat as its heart rate increases and it's body produces a large enough surge of energy to flee the area.
After escaping the threat, the deer's body returns to homeostasis so it can chill out, graze on some grass, and know it has lived to see another day.
Human beings experience the same biochemical reaction during times of stress and anxiety. Your muscles tense up, your digestion slows, your pupils dilate to let in more light and improve sight, and the surge of adrenaline prepares you to escape a life-threatening situation.
This isn't a bad thing. It's a normal automatic response which helps keep us alive.
However, humans are also the only species which can turn on the stress response by thought alone, regardless of an obvious threat in the environment. Unlike the deer, who can self-regulate and return to normal after escaping a threat, we have a tendency to obsess over perceived threats for weeks and months, many of which may not even be real.
"What if there are layoffs? Will I keep my job?" (Insert a cortisol release)
"What if I leave the job I hate and the new one doesn't make me happier?" (And another hit...)
"What if I can't support my family?" (Another hit...)
"What if people make fun of me for pursuing my dream?" (And again...)
This doesn't even account for the minor stresses we encounter each day-- sitting in traffic, meeting deadlines at work, and standing in line at airports.
Every situation, big and small, elicits another stress response, which means the body has to pull energy from systems which aren't essential in that moment...
Like the immune system.
Herein lies the problem. Our bodies were not designed to have cortisol in our system at all times. It's supposed to be a quick release during an emergency, which quickly dissipates within 20-60 minutes.
However, if you go to work each day at a job where you don't feel safe and don't feel like you belong...
If you are constantly assuming the worst and catastrophizing your life...
If you are scared to voice your opinion in the office...
You will spend the majority of your waking hours living by the hormones of stress.... and your body is going to find a way to get your attention
Have you wondered how we live in a country with the most advanced medicine and best hospitals in the world, yet we continually see higher levels of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer? Yes, there are toxins in the food and environment, but we have to look at the bigger picture.
And living by the stress response has an impact on our relationships as well. When we become paranoid and worried, we become self-focused. Cortisol releases in the body also block the release of oxytocin, which is the bonding chemical.
Thus, we lose the capacity for empathy and understanding as we become solely focused on our own survival. We will stop caring about co-workers as we think about ourselves. We will act in ways out of integrity with our values.
This doesn't just manifest in our work relationships. It can also happen with spouses and children. We are distracted and not present with those we love. Even worse, we teach our children that the American Dream is to work hard, while simultaneously being tired and miserable.
Last night, I spoke to a friend who I counseled through a career transition last year. Feeling unhappy at a company where she felt undervalued and unappreciated, she eventually left for a new job at a different company. It wasn't an easy decision for her, but one she felt like she had to make.
8 months later, she finally just went off of the last of the 6 blood pressure and anxiety prescriptions she had been on for years.
That tells a story.
So if you are a person who has let stress run your life up until now, what are you going to do?
The best place to start is to discover your purpose. When you know your purpose, you know the emotional targets you are aiming for each day and are unwilling to tolerate a job, a relationship, or outside force which doesn't contribute to your happiness.
You stop focusing on your "problems" and start focusing on how you can add value to the world. You become a more fulfilled person because you are connected to yourself and something bigger than you.
Stress and overwhelm are replaced with self-respect and love. Your attract relationships with high-vibe people who believe what you believe, instead of those who bring you down.
Essentially, you become part of the 1% who wake up each day knowing their contribution will represent the very best of you.
Does that sound like something you would like more of in your life? I'd love to help.
In fact, just this week I've seen:
- One client register the LLC for her new business and set a target date to leave her high-stress job. She's accomplished this in our first 8 weeks together.
- Another client who has cultivated the vision for her next right move while also setting a Thanksgiving target date to leave her corporate job.
These aren't the minority of clients. These are the transformations I see on a weekly basis when people commit to shifting their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.
I have two openings right now to work with VIP clients who are ready and committed to finding their purpose and removing the impediments to living a life they never thought possible. If this sounds like you, click here and schedule a complimentary, 30-minute discovery call with me today.
Don't need a mentor at the moment? No worries. Could you send this link to a stressed out friend who could use this message? It would mean the world to me!
Wishing you a healthier and stressful future!