Stress occurs in everyone’s life. It is inevitable and sometimes unavoidable. The key to stress is how you cope with it. Historically, I have not had the best coping skills when it comes to stress. I would usually let the overwhelming anxiety take over me and I would become a useless pile of tears. What I call stress in my life may be a walk in the park to someone else. Not everyone deems the same issues or triggers as stress. Personally, the top stressors for me are money, health, and family. These stressors are major triggers for depression and anxiety, which in turn becomes a trigger for migraine and other chronic pain issues. I cannot prevent all stress but I can prevent the fallout. Therefore, it behooves me to keep triggers in check and manage how I cope on a more productive and healthy manner. If I do not do my best to pace myself, I can burn myself out. Burnout is the result of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. Often times, I will push myself too far physically or spend too much time worrying about a situation in which I have no control over. Burnout is the bowling ball knocking all of my pins down or using up all of my spoons (Spoon Theory).
Physical burnout usually occurs when I do too much. Usually, a day where I have a lot of errands to run or a lot of household chores to do can lead to feeling physically depleted. And what does that feel like?
- Burning pain in my shoulders, neck, back and arms;
- Stabbing and throbbing pain in my calves, ankles, feet and toes;
- Widespread pain that feels like I’m a human punching bag;
- Terrible head pain, nausea, light and noise sensitivity;
- Cramping and muscle spasms in various parts of my body.
Excessive stress and increased anxiety are the main culprits of a mental burnout, which include:
- Persistent worrying;
- Increased feelings of hopelessness/not being able to control what’s happening;
- Inability to find the good in things;
- Loss in appetite;
- Sleep changes (more or less than usual);
- Being withdrawn.
Emotional exhaustion and burnout is similar to mental burnout, except I tend to be reactionary instead of wanting to withdraw. Experiencing frequent episodes of pain along with the stress of being limited in the things that I can do are often triggers to an emotional burnout. I feel like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster, exhibiting these behaviors:
- Excessive crying;
- Angry outburst;
- Becoming easily frustrated;
- Feeling irritable.
I used to allow myself to fall victim to these very obvious and harmful triggers. At one point, I was experiencing some form of them on a daily basis. Life hasn’t always been easy for me as I have more challenges to overcome in order to have a decent day. Therefore, on some level, I was feeling burned out. Whether big or small, it is a part of living and coping with chronic illness that will always be there. Most of these triggers I can prevent from causing me undue stress. The last thing I want to feel is as if I’ve lost my sanity. So, instead of succumbing to them and falling into a depression, I choose to do something different by recognizing my triggers early and using the best coping mechanism to manage them. Before, I used to let stress swallow me whole. These days I try to prevent and cope with stress in a much more healthy and productive way –
- I walk three to five times a week to clear my head, take in some fresh air, and do something healthy and active for my physical and mental well-being;
- I take trips to the farmers market to purchase fresh vegetables and fruit to maintain a more healthy lifestyle in a much more economical fashion;
- I occasionally treat myself to an impromptu lunch for one just to get myself out of the house more;
- I actively make myself think differently about a stressful situation and try not to dwell on it or make it worse in my head with unnecessary worry;
- I journal often to purge myself of any negative thoughts;
- I do my best to take care of myself and not push myself too hard physically.
If I am experiencing an increased amount of pain and am unable to do any of these things, I decompress in other ways. Listening to soothing music, watching television, or taking a warm bath also help me cope with stress and avoid burnout. All of these things may seem small, but together they have made a huge impact on my stress levels. By making a concerted effort to create change in the parts of my life where I have full control, I have inadvertently freed myself from feeling tied down by what I can’t control. Chronic pain, mental illness, and having limitations will always be there. Making these strides to cope more positively to stress has allowed me to cope better with my pain. I become less angry and bitter about it the more I choose to pick myself up and move forward in areas of my life where I can make the most difference. In the long run, continuing to practice these skills and activities will hopefully lead to less pain and more happiness.