Life After Stress

I spent most of my early life worried about the days that hadn’t happened. No matter how much I wanted to stop stressing out, my brain never allowed me to do so. Whatever the issue – good or bad, my mind went in a million frazzled directions.

Oh man. I have to do that thing tomorrow. It’s going to be terrible. The people will be rude. I’ll probably get into an argument with that guy. I hate that guy. What’s up? What did you say? I didn’t hear that. Oh really? Huh? Well, let me tell you something…

This was usually followed by an hour of mental drama featuring me as the protagonist battling everyone in the imagined room. Needless to say, these scenarios never played out in real life. The thing I had to go to was never as horrible or memorable as I anticipated. All the time I spent working myself up into a frenzy was for nothing.

stressKeep in mind, this is just one of many different stresses that I, and you, have faced. There’s school stress, work stress, relationship stress, personal angst, over-analyzing all the day’s interactions, and tons of other self-loathing situations that leave us with daily knots in our stomachs. Stress. It’s a killer.

I mean that literally. When I went in for my unexpected quintuple bypass at 35, the only thing I kept hearing about was how stress can lead us all to an early grave.  Given that I had just been told that I would have been dead at 40, had I not gotten checked out when I did, I was looking for anything to help avoid that.

The life changes I made after my surgery may seem difficult. Cutting out most meat and exercising more weren’t as bad as I would have guessed. That was almost routine compared to cutting out aggravation. It had to be done, though. That, more than anything, was the key to good health.

In the days of recovery, I was genuinely concerned over how I would, for lack of a better term, chill the hell out. For the bulk of my life, I was always somewhat high strung. There was a steady stream of anxiety about the future and a constant worry about nearly everything. I reacted fast and first to any issue and my reaction was usually extreme. It’s just how I was.

Growing up, I remember seeing a great amount of stressed-out adults.  From teachers to preachers to scout leaders, many grown-ups appeared to be easily rattled. It seemed that being tightly wound was just a part of being older. By the time I was “older”, the term tightly wound could definitely apply.

The thing is, though, worrying never did anything for me. That sounds like a cornball slogan, but it’s the truest statement that can be said. All it did was make the moments before uncertainty worse by filling me with impending dread. There was never one situation in my entire life where I looked back and said, “That was great. I’m sure glad I stressed out over it.”

For many, having a severe health scare before the age of 40 would be something to worry about. They’ll spend all their healthiest years living in fear over a fluke illness. I worried about that too. Guess what. It happened to me anyway. I’m still here and the new perspective it gave me was more of a positive than anything else.

Perhaps you worry about having a child with special needs. I did. Now I have one. Guess what. He’s freakin’ fantastic. It’s yet another doom and gloom scenario constructed in my brain that was nothing like I imagined.

Maybe it’s social gatherings. Like the one you stressed out about two years ago, went to, and now can’t even recall a single detail from? How about work drama? You know, just like the work drama you worried about at that job you had in college…with coworkers you can’t even remember the names of today. A lot of good that stressful time did.

stress2Once you start to realize that time moves on and worries never match reality, it affects every anxiety-inducing situation in your life. Even something as simple as a spilled cup on the floor, which used to cause me to flip into panic mode, goes away. Now, I literally stand there and watch it pour out. Once it’s done, I get a paper towel and clean it up. It’s the exact same way I used to handle sudden spills before the surgery, only with less yelling, jumping, and nausea.

You might be thinking that this lack of urgency means that I’m less productive. It’s the exact opposite. Stress doesn’t get things done. Actions do. In fact, the lack of agitated chaos surrounding my tasks at hand actually helps me finish quicker and more efficiently. It’s like the escape artist who can get out of chains underwater not by using magic, but by remaining calm enough to undo them.

Look, I can’t guarantee you that bad things won’t happen. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that they will. Whatever is going to take place will take place and worrying doesn’t change that. Right now, you could be spending your days stressing over an event that will happen after you’re dead. You have no clue and now you’ve spent your final moments freaking out about something you’ll never see. I know it’s a macabre example, but it’s one that has almost definitely come true countless times.

Have some tea. Take a walk. Enjoy your loved ones. Forget not sweating the small stuff. Don’t sweat any stuff. Whatever has to get done will be there when you’re ready for it. You’ll get it done. Even if you don’t, that’s fine too. No matter the triumph or failure, we always come out the other side.

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