Choosing my stress

I made a resolution the other day (suck it, January 1) — I am no longer going to let my body be a source of stress for me.

I had a near-meltdown two weeks ago. Some may call it a meltdown; I’m not sure what an adult meltdown looks like, so I don’t know if mine qualifies, but I was mentally and physically spent and d*mn near panicking, so I assume mine applies?! My moment of realization came when I had to return a book to the library and it took a Herculean amount of effort for me to walk across campus. I felt numb inside and also like my body was being pulled towards the earth. My brain started to feel frozen. I couldn’t sleep. Then I had a day where I couldn’t stop crying. Then I stared at the wall in a mess of despair and hopelessness for an hour and tried hard to wish the next two years away.

No, things are not going well or even normal for me here. Thanks for asking.

So in the face of my meltdown, in the face of too much for one body to handle, I decided to start taking care of my body. I work out, in part, to help my anxiety and depression, and while it really has been helping (and I absolutely love it), I realized I had been overdoing it, using workouts as an excuse or a weapon against my own body. My poor body needed a break. (Feeling like you need to sit down after walking 10 steps is a preeeettty good sign that one’s body is, as they say, on the struggle bus.)

When I was talking about how unbelievably weary I was, my husband told me that for bodies to recover, they need a break from physical stress. I already knew that, which is why I make sure to incorporate rest days into my workout habit so my muscles can recover. But then he said that rest from stress needs to include all stress. Mental as well as physical. (It’s all physical, anyway, isn’t it?) All stress taxes the body, and my body wasn’t able to recover from the workouts simply because it was overburdened by the psychological stress that I was suffering on top of the physical stress I was choosing.

There is no way for me to fix my psychological stress in this place (unless I just up and leave tomorrow, which is dreamy-sounding but not realistic), but I can work on my physical stress. So I took a week off. I didn’t go to the gym or pop in an Insanity DVD all week. I put homework aside for two evenings. My husband made dinners so I wouldn’t have to worry about how to feed us. I went to bed as soon as I was tired and I slept in until 6am every day. (For me? That’s late. I am a 4am-wide-awake-and-annoyed kind of person.) I took many, many, many deep breaths and tried to unclench my jaw.

It didn’t fix my life, but it was really nice. So I decided that I am going to work really hard on not making my body a source of my stress. I want to instill good beliefs in my head about my body, specifically about not beating it up as a perverse way of trying to relieve stress. I love working out, and want to make sure my working out is for fun and for health (health focus as a love for my body, as a way of nurturing it) rather than a way of punishing it for not looking the way I want it to, or punishing it because the rest of my life is a wreck and I need an outlet.

BirdTraacks

This is my happy place. I want to preserve it as a treat, not a punishment.

In addition to getting as much needed rest as I can, I want to speak only good things about my body to myself, and work on believing that my body deserves the rest, needs the rest, and will be happy and healthy with rest.

Of course, that “body” includes my brain. My poor little overworked, anxious, depressed, empathetic, baffled, justifiably-angry, intellectually-stretched chunk of gray stuff. It really is working hard and can only handle so much. Just like the rest of me.

I know I can’t just decide not to be stressed about things (my psychology is more complicated — or more stubborn — than that), but I can work to make some things eventually less stressful. My relationship with and to my body is a good place to start, because my body carries me through life. Indeed, it is the source of my life. It needs to be treasured and appreciated, not beaten to a pulp; in my head or in the gym. If I don’t treat my body kindly, I don’t treat me kindly. And not treating myself kindly is not an option. I deserve kindness and I should be one of the first to give kindness to me when life gets toxic.

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2 thoughts on “Choosing my stress

  1. Jana, this resonated with me so much. I love how you ended the piece with a declaration to show kindness to your body. I think you are on to something…by pushing our bodies, are we just trying to push ourselves? How do we overlook the fact that mental stress takes a physical toll? Glad you got the much needed downtime and shared your insights as well!

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    1. Thank you, MJ. I’m glad to know others understand this kind of complicated relationship with working out — good for the mental and physical health, but perhaps only problematically so? And how do/can we fix the “problematic” part?? If you have any thoughts or wisdom to share here, I love to read them!

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