And what I did to get better.
Stress and mental health are a popular subjects since the pandemic. Because of what the pandemic did to my personal life, I started this crazy period crying. To say I started this period stressed is an understatement. But once I was out of the initial shock phase, I was so sure that everything I did after that was a healthy, empowered way of coping. About half a year later, when the signs started showing in my bodyweight and hair, I realized it wasn't. I felt empowered, and I wasn't the only one. I am a member of four different writer's groups, and all writers in those groups said the same thing. They felt excited about all the time they'd be forced to spend at home, because they were gifted an ocean of time to work on their writing projects. Every day I saw posts about people celebrating how many words they managed to write since they were in lock down. Time is a writer's biggest excuse not to write, so perhaps all these writers had something to prove. I definitely felt the same way. I felt that I owed it to myself to be as productive as possible. I started writing more, I started working on my illustrating skills, I started my Youtube channel, and I have a second Youtube channel drafted on paper. I was unstoppable, I was up early every morning, and I suddenly had the energy to work all day. My motivation was unwavering. I thought that I had hit a phase in my life where I finally found the strength to reach for the stars. As expected, as months passed I did feel this surge go down a little. Not enough to stop me, but enough to make me wonder if I will reach a point where this second wind will be depleted. If so, will I work myself into a burn-out, if I keep up with the hyper-productive habits? The tricky thing about burn-outs is that you don't realize you're at that point, until you're at that point. And I've always had it that my internal pain, was expressed physically. My emotions always go through my stomach and stress through my skin. To a point that I could tell exactly how I was doing by counting my tiny pimples or how well I'm eating. But like I said, burn-outs don't announce themselves before their arrival. And while I refused to allow my new power to deplete, one day I looked at myself in the mirror, stood on the scale and realized how sick I had been lately. The problem became more apparent when I suddenly found a patch of grey hair and bruises on my skin. Vitamin B, which is responsible for maintaining your hair and skin, gets burned up to compensate for stress. Additionally, not being able to eat as well because of how busy I had made myself, robbed me from other significant vitamins that caused the bruising. I called the doctor to talk about it, and confirmed that every single complaint I presented, could possibly be caused by stress.
That is not all stress can do.
Stress can cause alopecia (hairloss), lowered immunity, muscle twitches, insomnia, nightmares, and some doctors believe long-term events like the pandemic can cause a form of post traumatic stress. Never mind the ocean of mental problems that come along with underfeeding yourself and lethargy. When all of it finally forced me to sit down and think about it, I was genuinely confused. I thought I had been doing so well, I had been feeling like I could fight anyone and win. I was so sure that I was in power, that I owned the situation, and surely that sense of control shouldn't cause any stress? I knew I was fighting, but only then I realized I was fighting. Fight or flight, and all this time ever since the initial shock of the pandemic, I had been in fight mode, fighting the situation, fighting to change it, fighting that what I cannot fight, but merely adapt to. It is what most people are doing. I truly believe that most protests we see is stress coming out as a battle cry, a desperate attempt to fight back. It does more harm than good on many levels. I do think that fight was the better option, because in case of flight, where was anyone going to run to? Still, it wasn't healthy, my endless motivation was just me being on a constant alert to fight.
So, how did I reduce stress during a time where my mind was in a constant wilful battle to change things?
I think acknowledging this problem was a big first step. You can't effectively reduce your stress if you don't know where it's coming from. Additionally, it's hard to get better in the same situation that you got sick in. In order to interrupt this constant input of stress, I had to change the reason behind my unwavering motivation, and I had to change my environment. While I wasn't able to physically move, small changes completely transformed the metaphorical environment that was significant to my inner self. Your inner self doesn't care if you live in apartment A or apartment B. It cares about if you have your needs met, if you treat your body right, how much information you receive and if you feel safe.
These are the steps that I took to get rid of the pandemic world stress.
1. I convinced myself that, no matter how hard I try, I can't change right now, but if I keep going, I will change tomorrow. 2. I reduced the amount of input I got. During most of the pandemic I was glued to the news stations, reading interviews, scrolling through google scholar to learn the facts. I think a lot of people can relate to this, how much a subject becomes a ghost in your head if you're thinking about it too much. I removed some social media apps from my phone, so I could only access them via the computer while I'm working. I now only check the news for about an hour in the morning, and if something important happens, I'm sure I'll know. No news or social media right before bed: if I read something that sparks my interest, I'll end up debating it with myself all night. Stress. 3. I streamlined the projects that were started with the power of fight. I got rid of what didn't really serve me, and prioritized that what contributed to my long term goal. The pressure to do it all was doing a lot more to me than I thought. 4. My apartment is tiny, and while I was away at school all day this wasn't such a problem. Now that everything I do is done from home, my loving apartment turned into a prison. I changed that. I switched up the décor, added some lights, posters, and turned it into a happy cave, rather than just a hole to sleep in after school and work.
I'm still working on it. But these were tiny steps I took to feel better already. I made sure to put a lot of focus on my eating and mindset, accepting that I can't control today, but that I might be able to control tomorrow. For a while this blog will go into the effects of stress and the best way to handle the extraordinary amount of stress that we deal with these days. Hopefully everyone who reads how I felt, picks up something from my story to help themselves. Things like stress management, connecting with your inner self, selfcare and your mindset are themes we will explore in the next few weeks. photos by: Photo by Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash