Updated: Nov 12, 2019
As I’m typing this, there’s a stillness in the air and the only thing penetrating the darkness in the room is coming from the light emitted by my cell phone. I should be asleep. In fact, I did fall into a restful slumber hours ago watching coverage of the US Open with my husband (no offense to the players, it was a great match but I was beat). That sleep unfortunately didn’t last long, so now I’m propped up in bed with a few pillows plotting this post. Of course, this has to play out just a few hours before I head to the hospital in the morning to undergo a stress test requested by my cardiologist. The reason you may ask - well, it probably has a little something to do with the fact that I’m writing this post when I should be sound asleep. Sometimes my mind just doesn’t stop. There are usually so many thoughts and ideas running through my head that I feel like I’m on overdrive. Admittedly, on an almost daily basis I feel like I’m fighting with my body and the effects of a behemoth that batters so many of us... stress.
Thankfully, I did manage to fall asleep for about 4 hours before my appointment, so I’m picking back up with writing this post in the hospital waiting area. It’s newly constructed with beautiful furnishings and a big screen tv with a low key infomercial, yet I feel my heart beating a little faster than normal. Truth be told, I think I’m a little stressed about a stress test - haha. I guess that makes sense, right? It‘s not like I think there is anything wrong. Granted, the test was scheduled because I was having a few chest pains several months back and heart disease does run in my family, but I’m pretty sure I already know the reason. It’s the same thing that landed me in the back of an ambulance about 9 years ago - that ugly 6 letter word...stress.
Stress in America has been on the incline over the years with 7 out of 10 people now admitting they feel the effects of stress and a third of our country feeling like they live with extreme stress. While stress can impact anyone at any age, Millennials are actually the most stressed out generation to date. So what do we do to change that? Well, there is no such thing as a stress free society. Stress will always be there, it's just how we manage it. The scary part is that we're becoming so desensitized to it that sometimes we don't realize when it's creeping up until it's too late.
A recent study by the Advisory Board found the average level of stress that respondents perceived as healthy increased from 3.7% in 2017 to 3.9% in 2018. Some researchers suggest that it shows our stress tolerance is just getting better as a whole. I happen to believe it's more about ignoring some early warning signs when we first see those red flags that tell us to slow down or take better care of ourselves. I know this to be true because that's exactly what happened to me.
You know that ambulance ride I mentioned earlier in this post? Well, it happened on a day that I literally thought I was going to die. I had been feeling "unwell" for months, with memory issues, trouble breathing, insomnia, heart palpitations and feeling like I was going to pass out all the time. As usual, that day was a race to get from point A to Z without skipping a beat. A flat tire in the morning before racing off to a charity event seemed to be enough to finally force my body to say enough is enough. Before I knew it I was in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital feeling like there were cinderblocks crushing my chest.
The sound of sirens swirled around me when I heard the EMT utter the phrase, "Stay with me, Michelle" as I began to take inventory of my life. "I'm too young for this to be it," I thought. Thankfully, it wasn't, but I still didn't understand why.
After missing about a week's worth of work and undergoing a slew of tests, the prognosis - nothing was wrong with me, but the effects of stress were manifesting themselves in very real and physical ways and if I didn't reverse course those stressors could in fact have a fatal affect on my life. As it turned out, I was having a panic attack during that ambulance ride and I suddenly realized I had one a few months before - not in the privacy of an ambulance, but on the anchor desk as I was delivering the news to tens of thousands of viewers. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.
The next few months I cleared my calendar of all work related extracurriculars and focused solely on reducing and managing the stress in my life. It's an ongoing battle, but over the years I've received some great advice, some of my favorite from a sweetheart of a woman I had the pleasure of interviewing several times - the founder of The Stress institute in Atlanta, Dr. Kathleen Hall. The concept is simple ... making time to do all four of these things every day. It's all about S-E-L-F love.
S ... Serenity
Find at least 5 minutes a day to shut out the rest of the world. Whether it's in mediation or prayer, sitting on a bench or on the beach, or just listening to nature or throwing in air pods to listen to your favorite music - take a few minutes to find a place to clear your mind.
E ... Exercise
This is pretty self-explanatory, but for those of you out there saying "I just don't have the time" - try taking the stairs or parking a little farther away from the store. Even a 5 or 10 minute walk can make a difference. Just do your best to get moving.
L ... Love
Find someone/something to love every day. Hug a family member, cuddle with your pet, call up a friend, pop in to visit a neighbor. Not only does being social have proven health benefits, it just feels good to show someone you care about them.
F ... Food
We need to fuel our bodies and our minds with the right energy. When you're stressed, sometimes nothing can make you feel better than a big hunk of coconut cake (is that just me?). Kidding aside, when we're going through those rough patches we tend to reach for foods that are overloaded with sugar, salt and fats. They make us feel "good" initially, but it's the healthy grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins that will benefit us the most and make us feel so much better in the long run.
I'm hoping these tips will help, but they may not be the full solution for some of you. If you're suffering from extreme stress and/or anxiety, think about talking to someone and seeing a doctor to discuss more methods of treatment. Just know that you're not alone and remember that stress doesn't have to be a death sentence if we take the right steps to manage it. There is always hope - something that I feel a little better about after this morning‘s episode which brings me to the conclusion of my story.
The stress test came and went, although it went a little more quickly than I would have liked. Yes, I was able to get my heart rate up high enough for them to measure my heart function (which thankfully looked good), but some anxiety set in about 6 minutes in of the expected 12-15 minute span that forced me to quit because I felt like I had trouble catching my breath. I was embarrassed, defeated and mad. How did I let this happen to my body again? I've got a lot of work ahead of me folks. Everything I just shared with you has once again become MY lesson to learn, but when you fall off the horse (or carefully step off the treadmill), what's important is getting back on again. So, I'll see you at the gym tomorrow. I'll be the one eating a celery stick - NOT coconut cake. ;)