I hit my absolute breaking point May 12, 2016.
I woke up at 3am because of an intense pain in my chest. This wasn’t the first time. In fact, this had been happening for the past year at that point. And I was well versed in how to make the pain subside — I had this little routine of taking a sip of water, using the wall to do some stretching, and waking up my poor fiancé to do some pressure point massages on my upper back to help relieve the tension in my chest.
But that night, I realized how frequent these episodes had gotten. My stress levels had gotten out of control. And I realized that something really needed to change.
The thing is, even though, I had been having these episodes at night, I enjoy having a busy schedule and embrace challenges, and deceivingly I felt completely calm and effective during the day. I’ve learned, though, that stress isn’t something that is necessarily tied to emotions and how you might feel about it. It’s a real physiological reaction. I didn’t realize I was that stressed, but when I go to sleep and my body is trying to recuperate and repair, it was screaming at me: something is NOT OK.
The effects of unmanaged stress from sustained increased levels of cortisol can be disastrous on the body. Beside these episodes at night, I also noticed that my nose would bleed really frequently, but nothing that alarmed me. I have dry skin and sometimes when the air gets dry, my nose bleeds easily. My skin also started to look a bit more sallow, but I figured it was from my constant travels. I also randomly started to have joint pain — I chalked it up to aging (?). And I got little colds really frequently, but I figured that there was a bug going around. I’m not sure if I was too busy to put everything together or was in blissful denial trying to go about life the way I always had and the way I learned to enjoy.
I wanted to write this story because I know stress is one of the most common ailments today and like me, many of you might have grown so accustomed to it that it’s hard to even realize the level of stress that your body is under. Or maybe it doesn’t seem like there are tangible ways to dramatically reduce stress. I found five amazing ways that helped me turn around all the symptoms of being stressed. I’m pretty research-driven, so I gobbled up study after study on stress, so this list is based on those studies and my own personal experimentation until I found what worked for me — maybe these will be helpful to you, too.
- Device-free zone: This particular media-multitasking study shows that juggling a ton of different websites and apps on your smartphone (hello, basically everyone these days!) can result in less gray matter in the brain. This structural change in the brain are often associated with those who are depressed, have anxiety disorders, and struggle with OCD — essentially, your emotional control, thought process and mood can be impacted. I made two changes to how I use my phone and laptop: 1) one thing at a time, no Alt-Tab-ing (this was hard to get used to), and 2) no smartphone allowed for at least an hour before I go to bed. (For a fast read that brings this point home — Unplugged: How to Live Mindfully in a Digital World)
- A new kind of journal: I came across Emmons, who does a lot of interesting research on the effects of gratitude on overall well-being. There’s a ton of amazing findings about how gratefulness leads to be better sleep, elevated moods, better focus, more connectedness, etc. One of his studies showed that jotting down one thing each morning that you’re thankful for can make you happier (by 25% for even up to six months after just a mere 21 days). I wasn’t depressed, but the increased cortisol levels had sucked out some of the joy in my life, so I figured this super easy exercise each morning to do.
- Nutrition: After a lot of reading, I became overwhelmed and confused as I was trying to self-diagnose what vitamins and minerals would supplement my health given my circumstance. Two different friends of mine who both live in New York city told me that their health radically changed after doing Nutrition Response Testing. I looked into it and it was intriguing to me — your body gravitates towards different whole food supplements that it needs and a licensed tester can help you figure out which supplements you need. I figured this is all whole foods and comes highly recommended, so why not. So I gave this a go as well and have been taking a medley of minerals, immune-boosting supplements and detox drops (I have a heavy chemical build-up in my system — makes sense as my face and body is a lab for testing beauty products!).
* Sidenote: I also learned how to meditate and breathe better, but I’m not highlighting this one because I haven’t really stuck to this as much..but I like the app Headspace for meditation because it’s easy to follow along and seems to work.
The results — OK, guys, seriously, this stuff works. Where do I begin? So when I stick to the above three things, I sleep like a baby through the night. No chest pain. All gone! Also, my skin has never looked better even though I’ve been traveling non-stop since May. My joint pain is gone. The nosebleeds aren’t totally gone, but much less frequent. BUT the best part is that when I focus on any task before me — whether that’s doing work, talking to a friend, gazing at the sunset — I have this extremely elevated mindfulness and concentration. I feel like Bradley Cooper in the movie, Limitless. 🙂 It’s hard to describe, but I just feel really present and sharp and as though all of me is focused on that one task and I’m enjoying and processing every drop of it. And as a bonus, I do also feel more joyful in my day to day even when there’s a stressful situation in front of me.
Perhaps these three things won’t be the right combination of things for you, but I encourage you to do some reading on managing stress and find solutions that will work for you because life will qualitatively change for the better. And life is short, right? We owe it to ourselves to figure out how to live our best lives.
Let me know below if any questions or comments! Cheers to your best life yet!