When do we know when we’re under stress? I’m way too familiar with the signs from my body that I’m burning through my energy reserves. I start getting really sensitive to sound and interruptions. I need the kids to turn down the music in the car. All of a sudden I can’t remember things. My head, back and hip start aching. My eyes get really, really tired – all the way back to my brain. I lose my sense of humor – big time.

Getting more under stress

That’s when I turn to the thing that comforts or energizes me now – and makes me feel bad later. All the women I work with have some kind of go-to when they get those signals from their body. For some, it’s hitting the kitchen after the kids go to bed. For others, it’s the glass of wine at the end of the day that goes to two, or sometimes three on a bad day. Some of them are queens of the meltdown – not meaning to fly off the handle, but powerless to stop themselves. Others are awake at night, believing if they keep obsessing about the details that the day will go better. Me, I usually head for sugary treats – either chocolate or wine.

All these things provide soothing short-term comfort, but really are small, relentless steps towards feeling crappy and ashamed.

Why do we do these things?

Because our bodies are looking for something to stabilize the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol. That’s the bad boy that your pituitary gland pumps into your bloodstream after your hypothalamus – the stress thermostat in your brain – senses you are not safe. Cortisol is an amazing biochemical when it gets in, does its job and gets out. It’s a master at protecting you from danger, either by fight, flight or freeze. It’s a powerful ally.

But if you call on it too often – with worry, or running late all the time, or adrenaline rushes – it starts running the show and your body pays the price. I’ve written about how uncontrolled cortisol plays havoc with your system here

But the worst offense that uncontrolled cortisol commits against busy women is this:

Even though they love their life, they are tired and their body hurts.

Tired, tired tired

Tired in the morning instead of bouncing out of bed to greet the day. Tired in the afternoon, often looking for a pick me-up. Tired in the evening, often crashing in front of the tube for some House and Garden TV, or some trashy pleasure on a really tired night. Too tired to exercise, or eat right, or be present to the wonderfulness of their life.

I’ve written about the three-stage downward spiral of stress before:

  • busy multitasker – where you feel wired and tired at the same time. Life is busy, but you’re proud of what you can accomplish.
  • burned out – where you’re always behind and you wonder how you’re going to catch up. You doze off easily when you’re forced to sit down.
  • flat-lining – when you can’t keep up anymore and have to cut back on work and activities

These wonderful, gorgeous women drift further and further from the warm, kind, generous person they used to be. They muscle through the day on nerves and steel. And, really, they know they’re not much fun to be around anymore. This is not who they thought they’d be at this point in their life.

 

Does this sound familiar?

When I’ve drifted to away from being the me I want to be I’ve learned the hard way that all the chocolate and sugar in the world (or supplements or self-talk) will not help – well not for more than an hour or so. I’ve learned that I need to manage how the cortisol is affecting my body, and for me that means water, guided imagery, light exercise or meditation.

 

Tell me, how about you? What have you learned to keep yourself well?

 

Image: Death to Stock

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