“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” Hans Selye
Physical symptoms of stress
It was September 2018. A small bump appeared on my back that itched a little. Within a couple days the bump spread into a rash and itched a lot more. I ignored it. I didn’t have time to go to the doctor. My kids were finally back in school after teacher strikes delayed their first few days. I had just submitted my manuscript for Divorce Wisdom to the publisher. I had work to do and catch up on. I had soccer practices and music lessons to manage as well as a half-marathon to run in the next week. When the rash didn’t clear up after a couple more days, I went to my officemate, Karey, for reassurance. Instead of telling me that I shouldn’t worry like I thought she would, Karey told me that it looked like the onset of Shingles and I needed to go to the doctor. Wait. What? I couldn’t have Shingles I thought to myself. Shingles only happened to elderly people. I was too young and too healthy. And certainly, I was too busy to be laid up. But, sure enough, my doctor confirmed the diagnosis the very next day.
Longer-term ramifications of stress
I remember my doctor asking me that day if I had been under a lot of stress lately. I didn’t think so – not more than usual. She told me that stress is a trigger for a Shingles outbreak. I did not fully understand in that moment how Shingles would sideline me. I even tried to convince my doctor that running the half-marathon that weekend was a good idea. As it turned out, my symptoms got a lot worse. I was on the couch and unable to really move for several days. It took another couple of weeks to get my energy back and resume my fitness routine and running.
Stress impacts everyone
We all experience stress. In my practice, I have observed clients become emotionally, physically and mentally scattered by stress as they grieve the end of a marriage or mourn the death of a loved one. Stress also has negative, cumulative effects which is where I tripped up. For many months before my Shingles outbreak, I was really struggling to get enough rest. I had been consumed and worried earlier in the year over a work-related matter and, as a result, wasn’t sleeping very much. Even after the work-issue had resolved, I continued an unhealthy pattern of not sleeping much and powering through whatever I needed to – work, kid responsibilities, training and daily life. Upon reflection, it really isn’t surprising that I got Shingles. I wasn’t properly taking care of myself and my body called a big time-out.
Taking care of ourselves is the key
Stress is a part of life. Sometimes the stress we feel motivates us to accomplish a task or meet a deadline. Other times the stress we feel is significant and debilitating. It’s hard to think about doing more to take care of ourselves when we are spinning with stress. Yet, taking care of ourselves is the reaction to stress that helps us get through it. It’s also the best thing we can do for ourselves.