Image by Mike Moore
Have you ever felt fatigued without doing much, sweaty for no reason, mouth dries up; ever get chest pains, indigestion, peeing like crazy without drinking much; you feel like screaming at inanimate objects like the phone, the remote, the computer? You may be experiencing the physiological effects of stress.
Sometimes we don't even realize that our body is reacting to stress. Case in point. I'm supposed to be moving this month year, well sometime in 2009. The thing is we have been waiting for Military Orders since March, so the threat to move has been on the table but until we get orders is not a good idea to move forward with things like selling our house, selling a vehicle, taking the kids out of school and investigating the new location, particularly if you don't know where that might be. We missed a huge window of opportunity to sell our house over the summer, waiting for orders, very frustrating.
Finally, at the end of July we get our orders. My husband, Mike, has to report at the end of September, he wants his family with him. OH OK honey that's sweet but it's just not possible. Don't get me wrong, I want to move with him just as bad but there is the issue of selling the house, selling a vehicle, and getting us all ready for travel. Why? Because we are going over seas or over one sea anyway. We have orders to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (aka GTMO pronounced 'git-mo'.) You know, that long island located 90 miles off the coast of Florida. No we're not going to be living among the prisoners, believe it or not, the U.S. has had possession of "GTMO" since 1903 and no they are not closing the base, just to clarify.
So anyway, moving to Cuba will be an adventure. We have plans to go sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, travel to neighboring islands, etc. While the base is restricted to travel to the rest of Cuba, we can go anywhere from there so that's a big plus. The move or location is not the stressor, we are looking forward to a new start, even my moody 15 year old girl is ready to go, couldn't be easier.
So what's the problem. Well everything than can go wrong or be delayed HAS. From getting new GI passports to failed contracts on the house to getting physicals and updated shots for everyone in the family. UGH... I could scream sometimes. But I don't. I keep it all inside, I write, I talk to friends each time telling them how it will be fine, no big deal, I have to wait for an appointment and even though its not my fault they want us ready yesterday some government agencies just look at me like it's not their problem when I need to be ready. OK. So I just do what I'm told and what I can within my reach. I say I'm relaxing and coping with stress just fine.
That is, until a few days ago when I honestly felt like I was having a heart attack...ok maybe not that drastic but I did not feel well at all. The first thing that popped into my mind was my friend's words a year before "you know, once you turn 40 everything starts to breakdown." Well great, I'm forty something I guess I'm due for a breakdown; but I just had a physical what is going on with me. Why do I feel so yucky?
I hit the Internet, WebMD and other medical diagnosis sites trying to figure out what all this meant.
Here are my symptoms:
Dry mouth, stomach discomfort, headache, tired all the time, nausea, lightheaded, and pain under my ribs that spread to the back.
When you punch that in to a diagnosis site you get this:
Diabetes, Angina, heart attack, Anemia, and a host of other issues.
You know what that did to me? Stressed me out even more. To the point that I called my doctor to ask about my blood work because I just know something is wrong. I grabbed the diabetes diagnosis and went with it at least until I heard back from someone. Yes I self diagnosed, stupid me. I wondered how I would handle this diagnosis. Both my parents are type II diabetics. But I was concerned because what more could I do? Well, I guess I could give up a lot of the foods I still enjoy. Ouch. OK it's doable. I can do this.
Do you see what happens when we self diagnose. Soon I got my results - "you are perfectly healthy, all is well with your blood work." So then what's going on here I asked. After a few pertinent questions about my symptoms the Nurse Practitioner responded with "You are most likely experiencing heartburn, take some antacid and if it doesn't get better, give us a call." Are you kidding me, I thought I was at death's door, heartburn? YES the antacid helped and some well needed sleep did wonders for me.
So what happened? While I was talking myself out of being or acting like a maniac due to stress, my body had other ideas. Physiologically, I had the symptoms of stress and I was ignoring them. I ignored my symptoms long enough to get sick and actually feel it. I have been sleeping poorly and getting mild headaches for weeks now but I took whatever over the counter stuff I needed to keep me going. While I wasn't having a heart attack, we should never ignore the potential signs because seemingly healthy people can have a heart attack and not even know it. It isn't always heartburn or stress.
In my case, it was heartburn and anxiety all brought on by stress. I feel much better, took on a few extra classes at the gym and worked off some aggression :-) I put the focus back on the things I can control like my fitness, nutrition, the kids education, and our move date. We will follow dad later in the year - preferably stress free.
The moral of the story here is NEVER ignore the symptoms of stress. Learn to treat, manage and cope with the stressors in your life and take time to heal when you become sick or injured. It is counterproductive to cover up the pain and keep going because you will likely get worse, not better.
It is also unwise to self-diagnose using the internet. While this is a good way to get information about specific diseases and symptoms, it is best to consult with a professional to get clear diagnosis and care.
Take a few minutes in the quiet early morning hours to reflect on the day, get yourself mentally prepared and focus on taking care of you so that you are healthy enough to take care of the ones you love.