A woman with her hands in a meditative pose

Stress Less

Content warning: This article contains mention of thoughts of self-harm.

I was involved in a study the past two weeks that involved me taking my blood pressure twice a day and recording the results. Initially I didn’t think much of it. I was glad to be contributing to what seems like valuable data. Honestly, I was also glad to be paid a few bucks since money's been a bit tight lately.

What I didn’t expect was to become so visually aware of the actual effects of stress on me. The week I started the study was a pretty basic week. I was excited about a few things. I was looking forward to warm weather and a few home improvement plans I was working on.

The data doesn’t lie

The second week of the study became a stressful one though. I had a few big things going on in my personal life and numerous things around the house going wrong. The kitchen sink drains were deeply clogged to the point I needed a plumber. My car possibly needed new brakes. The garage door stopped working. Just for good measure my dryer started dying too. When it rains it pours.

I continued on with my daily blood pressure tests and on one particularly stressful day decided to look at the results. The first week all my results were in normal range. That second week though my results were off the chart. Two days results were even marked as a hypertension risk.

The stress mess

I’ve been told all my life stress affects my health. For the first time though I physically saw it. All the stress was hurting my body. My results were so drastically different on the days I was stressed. I realized this was only a two-week portion of my entire life. How much damage was stress wreaking havoc in my body during my 37 years of life?

With all the health struggles, the worries about Covid, an ending of my 16-year marriage, a painful breakup after that, the financial struggles, and all the in between stuff… how much of the blow did my body wind up absorbing?

So, what changed?

In an effort to figure out where to go from here I looked at the days my blood pressure numbers came back down. I sat and focused on what exactly changed? For starters I know I received an offer to help me pay my insanely high plumbing bill and that significantly lowered the financial pressure I was under. That's not something that will always be available to me though, so I wanted to focus on what else happened to lower my stress levels. All my other issues were still existing. I still need to bring the car in to possibly fix the brakes. I still need to figure out how to fix my garage door. I'll probably need to buy a new dryer soon. My health is always a big thought in my mind. My oldest son is leaving to college soon and I'm excited and sad all at once.

Why am I calmer now though? I can tell you the exact moment my mentality changed. I was sitting on my living room floor trying to put together a piece of furniture with my son as he was having fun making a sword out of Styrofoam instead. My instant first thought was of the mess he was making. I stopped what I was doing though. Took a deep breath, and just watched him having fun. This was my child that very publicly came out recently, as having attempted to take his own life just over a year ago. I switched my mind from focusing on all the things I was lacking and looked at the most valuable thing I do have. My sons. My home. All my friends and family. My life.

I think back to last weekend when both my sons spent part of their day off, helping me. My youngest mowed the lawn and helped me move furniture. My oldest changed light bulbs and filters. Then we ended the day with the three of us piled into my bed laughing about something funny that happened earlier in the day.

Re-routing my focus

Nothing will ever be just perfect. There will always be unexpected bills and sudden health declines. There will always be good people who leave your life or bad people who come into it. None of us have the ability to stop the bad stuff from coming. We do have the control though to not allow our brains to focus solely on that. Sometimes just pausing in place and bringing a pleasant thought into your mind, can unravel the downward spiral that's been taking up residence there. Sure, it doesn't undo all the struggles going on in your life - but it also reminds you there is more in your life than just that.

So, now I take a deep breath. Maybe meditate. Sit in a warm bath. Laugh with my kids. I choose an activity that brings me joy and allow myself for a moment to let those thoughts fill my mind instead of all the "what if's" and "to do's". I focus on all the positive things I have going on. It won't erase my problems, but maybe for a little while it replaces stress with peace. In the long run it gives my body a break from the harm all that stress is causing. It gives my body a chance to recuperate from the tension and it gives my mind a much-needed break.

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