It wasn’t until Martha came into her therapist’s office that she realized the extent of her stress. Prior to coming in, Martha thought she was losing her mind. As an executive, she was accustomed to the everyday stress of working in a high-pressured environment. But what surprised her recently was an inability to make decisions, upset stomach, a constant feeling of being overwhelmed, frequent headaches, emotional outbursts, muscles that won’t relax, and insomnia.
A trip to her medical doctor revealed no underlying medical condition, so she was referred to a therapist. Martha’s history exposed several layers of stress that had compounded over the years. She was raised by an abusive alcoholic, was raped in college, her first marriage was to an abusive man, and she threw herself into her work to hide from her emotional pain. This made her very successful at a young age but now the stress was catching up to her.
Martha had chronic stress due to the abuses she experienced as a child and young adult. Instead of dealing with the pain, she stuffed it and pretended that it wasn’t there. This only resulted in an explosion-like attack where Martha released more emotion that was appropriate for the moment. This inconsistency in her behavior was causing problems with friends and family members who pulled away from rather than engage.
Martha knew that her life needed a drastic turn but was unsure where to begin. Here is what she did.
- Talk to a therapist. Her therapist made a list of the unresolved traumas, separated out past events from current experiences, identified areas that Martha needed improvement, and provided a safe place to vent. Just talking to her therapist weekly made all the difference in Martha’s life. She could feel the empathy, understanding, and peace that came from having a new safe place.
- Heal from trauma. Martha did not understand at first how her past abuses were impacting her current life. She thought that by avoiding abusive environments she would not have any issues. But she was wrong. Writing out the traumas and learning to let go and forgive were necessary steps for Martha to move forward.
- Increase sleep quality. Martha’s insomnia was out of hand. Most nights she got between 3-4 hours of quality sleep. She developed a new sleeping routine at night, eliminated all electronic devices at least one hour before bed, and took some natural supplements to help fall asleep. It took about a week of doing her new routine to feel better and get the 7 hours of sleep she needed.
- Reduce decision fatigue. One of the issues that Martha experienced as an executive was having to make hundreds of decisions in a day. By the end of the day, the quality of her decisions was poor which only caused more issues later. Martha never took a lunch break before but now she began to take an hour a day away from the office. This helped her to reset her decision quality and reduce her decision fatigue.
- Mindful prayer/meditation. Learning to be still and quiet was a new experience for Martha. Rather than trying to do 20 minutes at a time, Martha began meditating for one minute. She did this by taking some deep breaths, imagining herself sitting on a beach, feeling the relaxation in her shoulders, and focusing on her breath going in and out. This mini-meditation helped her to become mindful of how she was feeling rather than pushing the emotion away.
- Reduce cravings. Martha discovered that she craved chocolate, potato chips, sweets, caffeine, and bread. But it was her increase in alcohol consumption that shocked her the most. Martha learned that she had an addiction problem and although she wasn’t as destructive as her father, she still needed to admit that she had a problem. By treating her cravings as addictions, Martha was able to stop the behavior.
- Take supplements. Martha’s cravings resulted in poor eating habits and her body lacked the essential vitamins and minerals it needed to recover from stress. After seeing a nutritionist, Martha began taking supplements that were designed to help relieve her stress symptoms and help her body to heal.
- Change exercise. One of the best ways to reduce stress in exercise. But the wrong type of exercise doesn’t do anything for the body. Martha found that walking and doing yoga helped to relieve her stress far more than going to the gym. These activities gave her brain space to rest and rejuvenate.
- Get massages. The last thing Martha included in her plan was a regular massage. Her muscles were so accustomed to the stress that even when there was no pending issue, it was hard for them to relax. Getting a regular massage helped to let go of any increased tension and stress that was stored in her muscles.
It took several months of doing these 9 steps before Martha could see a noticeable difference. However, her friends and family noticed it far sooner and began re-engaging with her. Now, Martha is a proponent for taking breaks, meditating, self-care, and therapy.