It’s been quite a while since I’ve written to you, and there’s been a reason. It’s not a reason that I was aware of until more recently, but a setback that is ever so present in many people’s lives. I’m sure most of you wouldn’t recognize it so easily either.
The reason is stress. Now, I’m not talking about the stress you’re aware of that is weighing heavy on your chest when you’re trying to make a deadline or clean the house before the in-laws arrive. I’m talking about the stress you truly didn’t realize you had, the kind that when you’re questioned about it you insist you’re fine and don’t feel stressed at all. The type that eats away at you bit by bit without even so much of a hint of friendly wave to acknowledge it’s presence.
In the past two and a half years I’ve quit my job, moved across the country, started a new job, a new side hustle, moved three times, built a house, furnished a house, began a relationship, built a blog, created a new job role for myself, dealt with ongoing health issues, lost & gained friendships, fought with loved ones, distanced myself, worked on myself, traveled, bought two new vehicles, free-lanced, worked overtime, lost loved ones, and more. When I write it all down it seems blatantly obvious that this could cause stress, but when going through the motions since 90% of these events were positive ones, I felt fine.
It wasn’t until my what felt like 100th visit to my doctor when it all started to make a bit more sense. She asked if I felt any stress or anxiety, to which I defensively said “No I’m not stressed at all, and when I do feel bouts of anxiety I know how to handle it”. She looked at me with a look that screamed ‘oh honey, you must be blind’ and calmly explained to me the affects that stress can have on the body and presented me with a treatment option of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
For the first little bit I was in denial. I’ve gone through over a year of insane symptoms and testing, poking & prodding, different doctors, different diets…there is no way that this all can be related to stress… can it?
I started to think back on the past couple years and all of the stress I could have been under without realizing. Additionally, I looked internally.
After a visit with my naturopath last year, I found out I was severely intolerant to dairy. Now anyone who loves cheese knows how heartbreaking this diagnosis can be, so naturally I ignored it for an entire year until I decided enough was enough and if dairy protein was causing any of my symptoms, it was worth it to stop.
I was about 7 weeks into my dairy free journey when the doctor told me I was stressed. Though, the only thing that had resolved from my long list of symptoms was the insane bloating & most of the fatigue. Had I not experienced this little bit of relief already then maybe it may not have clicked.
Of course I was stressed. Maybe I personally didn’t feel it the way I’m used to, but my body sure did.
Over the past two and a half years, though I did some amazing things for myself, I also neglected myself. I ate relatively healthy – or so I thought – but the foods I was putting into my body were wreaking havoc. The stress I was causing internally was portraying itself externally. My brain was constantly in over drive, I was moving but not in the way I should be moving my body, and though I would sit down and “relax”, I wasn’t disconnecting from my laptop, tv or cellphone. For the past two and a half years I had been forcefully switched on and I was stuck there.
I could go on and on about this and get into way more detail, but I think you get the point.
After I accepted the fact that maybe I really was stressed, I sat down and evaluated my day-to-day habits & what could change to really better my stress levels and myself. I want to clarify that though these suggestions below have helped me tremendously, I am not a doctor and any concerns you have should be addressed with a certified medical practitioner.
Four ways I’ve started to manage my interior & exterior stress:
1. Changed my diet
As I mentioned, I have a severe intolerance to the dairy protein Casein. Unfortunately, this means even lactose-free products are off limits (lactose is the sugar in dairy, and LF items still contain the protein). Though the idea of not eating some of my favourite foods is really hard, the positive effects that this has had on my body has been life changing. I have way less brain fog, fatigue, and digestive issues. My hair and nails are stronger than ever and my skin is the clearest it has been in years. I frequently handle cheese as my boyfriend can still eat it, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t have to hold myself back from shoving a handful of it into my mouth. Plus, since dairy is in so much processed, bagged & boxed food (even salt & vinegar chips contain dairy), I’m forced to eat much healthier, whole foods. At the time of writing this, I am 14 weeks dairy free, and I’m even looking forward to making further modifications to my diet to test out how other foods affect me. I truly believe that what you put into your body is what you get out of it, but this doesn’t mean I’m super strict either. I’ve definitely given into a McChicken craving a time or seven.
If there’s any foods you know you are intolerant to, I strongly suggest cutting them out. When you eat something your body can’t digest, it goes into fight mode and uses all of its energy to attack and defeat the predator (in my case, casein). What you’re really doing is further damaging your gut lining, which affects your immune system and causes inflammation and problems elsewhere in the body. Plus, the longer you eat foods your body can’t digest, the more likely you are to develop majorly serious conditions in the long run, including needing a feeding tube!! Not worth it. PS – I’m definitely no expert, but from what I’ve read, it takes 3 months for your body to recover from an attack on itself due to an intolerance. So say I cheat once every four months and have a bit of milk or cheese, my body is actually spending an entire YEAR trying to fight off the bad and heal itself. DEFINITELY not worth it!!
2. Jumped feet first back into my gratitude practice
I know what you’re thinking… I have a blog & email series all about gratitude, yet I don’t practice what I preach? Well yes, guilty (sometimes). The big issue with this was that I wasn’t setting aside me-time anymore (more on this next), so I wrote off the importance of a daily gratitude practice. And you know what? In doing so, I was much grumpier, short fused, & negative. Looking at how much of a contrast I saw in myself simply from not practicing daily or even weekly gratitude was a huge eye opener. Why? Well, practicing gratitude allows you to release many negative thoughts, emotions & feelings. I had been holding onto these for the past few months without even realizing.
I found I could never find a gratitude journal that had everything I wanted in it.. so I created one! You can check it out here.
3. Daily & weekly “Me-Time”
This is a really big one. My boyfriend and I both talk to people at work all day, so by the time we’re home together we spend most of our time sitting in silence and decompressing while watching tv or a movie. While this works great for him since he’s not in front of a screen all day, I on the other side, hate it. I spend 8+ hours a day on a laptop, plus an additional 4-5 on my cellphone to “decompress”. Really, I’m not doing anything other than constantly stimulating my brain and consuming irrelevant content that does nothing for me.
I’ve began phasing out my cellphone after work. If I’m taking Benson for a walk, I’ll bring my phone (for safety) on airplane mode and not be tempted to check it. After 8 pm (soon changing to 7pm) I don’t touch my phone. It’s plugged in and away for the night, and I spend the hour before going to sleep doing some stretching, meditation, reading and reflection. I cannot stress (no pun intended) how vital this has been not only to my sleep schedule (I sleep like a rock now) but also to how TRULY relaxed I feel going to bed. My mind has had the time to decompress on its own, I’ve taken many deep nourishing breaths & I’ve given my eyes a much needed break from screens & that blue light that keeps us up at night. More recently I’ve even been leaving my phone downstairs while I sleep!
I’ve also committed to a yoga class once a week. I’ve tried so many times to commit to going to classes but always end up buying an unlimited month pass and never going. This time, I paid for an 8 week workshop where it’s in a much more intimate setting and I know that if I don’t show up, not only will it have been a waste of money but it will also be noticed. I find that by having that little bit of obligation to show up, I truly push myself to be there no matter what. And now, it’s become a habit that I consistently am looking forward to and truly enjoying. I found that my body physically holds onto stress really bad, especially in my hips and it’s so wonderful to release that tension. My now body thanks me during and after every class, and I’m excited to work myself back up to the point of enjoying working out with weights again.
4. Reducing or eliminating toxic relationships
This is another big one. Ever hear the saying that you are a makeup of the 5 closest people to you? Well think about it, if you’re surrounded by 5 constantly negative people, you are much more than likely to be negative yourself. The same goes for positive people. I’ve made a conscious effort to limit the energy I give into negative people around me. Coworkers, strangers, friends - if they’re negative, I want nothing to do with them. Of course at times this is hard and I also fall into the negativity trap, but even over the last few weeks I’ve made huge strides. I went so far as to message all my closest friends and say “Hey, if there’s something gossip-y that you want to share that’s negative, please don’t. There is no space for it here.” .. we’re all guilty of gossiping in the past, and like fast food it makes you feel great in the moment but shitty an hour later. This is some of if not the best advice I’ve taken from Lori Harder’s book – A Tribe Called Bliss. The way I see it is other people’s business is other people’s business. Simple as that!
I’ve done a few other things to help with stress (aromatherapy, and changing my work hours to allow for much less commuting & more after work free time) but the steps outlined above have been huge in helping how I feel. I also am in therapy and it has been helping immensely. I believe everyone can benefit from therapy!
I’ve got a lot of soul searching that I’m still wanting to do, and a long road ahead of me. I am by no means perfect but I hope that in sharing this it brings a little more light to a topic that is a little more taboo than I once thought.
Are you going through something similar? Comment what’s worked for you below!