More than a two months ago, I was falling in love with a beautiful country – Kenya. She lured me in, made me feel like I was special, and boy was my guard down. Without my knowledge, a parasite entered my body and one increment at a time, it took over my digestive system and my sanity. I should have stayed away from the salads, but now that I know what I know, I’m glad I didn’t.
Cut to a week after arriving home from Kenya, and I was ill. Pain in my stomach and severe cramps. I was in a bad way.
Did I put two and two together straight away? Nope, I quickly and conveniently put it down to a bout of stress because of a particular project at work.
Cut to a week even later and I had an on-and-off symptoms mixed with the sweats.
Do I put two and one together? No, I put this bout purely down to stress because of a work colleague.
A week later and I was falling into bed at 19:00, exhausted with brain-ripping headaches, and what did I do? I calculated that three and one was still due to stress because of the intensity of bringing a Summit of international scale to South Africa.
Now, looking at my attitude of ‘shrug-off’ towards the severity of my situation, it is clear that I’m not the only one who just makes do with barely surviving through each day. Some of the stats on stress online illustrate how it’s slowly crippled an entire generation as people don’t effectively cope, over long periods of time, with terrible symptoms. And the scary thing is that fright or flight is not a chosen response, it’s natural and out of our control.
Now, I believe that after the roller coaster of being in bed and in pjs for ten days, itchy from the welts of infection, and immensely dehydrated, I have some perspective of what a real threat to my survival is.
I’d like to launch out and state that I believe that it is my relationship with stress that is killing me, and not so much the stress itself. I think that perhaps for too long now, my stress has been shrouded in mysticism where it’s the big bad Medusa who will grow back another two heads as soon as I cut one off. Because no matter how many articles I’ve read or how many pep talks I’ve been given by my folks, I didn’t quite get it… until I got it.
I finally can claim my belief statement:
Unless I’m the president of a developing country or of the USA; or the scientist responsible for the cure for Cancer; the next attorney to represent the state in a case where the husband is the wife’s suspected killer; I actually have no right what so ever to say that I am stressed because of work, more than three times a month.
This is not unrealistic as I’m not in any election campaigns, neither do I have a PHD nor have I written a bar exam. Here are the facts: No one has died because of a work decision that I’ve made. No one has been shot at on my watch (other than by a pretend gun on a video set for a corporate remake of the A-Team – pretty intense stuff, right?). Never has someone starved to death due to a late submission of my paperwork or my timesheets.
So with all of this extra insight into my own psyche, I wanted to assess what it was about stress that has had me twisted by the intestines for such a long time that I assumed a real threat was the same thing.
Perhaps I was using the idea of stress as a crutch?
This was my first hard thought about my relationship with the idea of being stressed. I figured that I was using one blanket to explain the general condition of my working days.
Perhaps, I needed to separate out a few things? Instead of being stressed because of another person’s lack of respect for a deadline – perhaps I should think about how a frustrated person deals with their frustration. Frustration and stress are two separate experiences. One is agreeing that I have capacity to change my reaction to it and the other one renders me powerless.
And yet again, perhaps I was ‘getting stressed’ because I was seeing the complications of other’s actions and instead of vocalizing my objectivity, I was getting swept up in having to do things the hard way or the long way, when I knew perfectly that there was an easier way of achieving the best outcome. One way celebrates my intuition and ability to communicate my concerns beforehand, the other renders me speechless.
And again, perhaps I was feeling stressed because I was taking other people’s notions of how to do business and reacting as if it had anything to with me. As an employee, the way that I do business is only apparent within my scope of work. The responsibility of entire departments and companies is not something that is directly connected to my emotions and therefore doesn’t require as much energy from me as one would think. Perhaps I was ‘getting stressed’ because I was handing over my emotions and reacting, instead of seeing the wood for the trees. All that need be my concern is my own output, my own reactions, my own emotions, and with any extra time or energy, I could ask a colleague if they need any assistance from a work output point of view.
And I hear you protest, “But Perrin, this sounds so airy fairy, what about the practical things like my bond repayments and children’s education and dealing with my interfering in-laws?”
The same applies: check your relationship with the stress. Once you understand the relationship and look at situations objectively, you’ll know that perhaps you need to chat to a financial advisor or get extra lessons for kids and chat to a psychologist in order to cope. I’m not saying that you need to figure it all out yourself – life’s not about that, I’m saying that you need to remember to carry around your yardstick for what it is that you are giving your power away to.
I’m also not saying that you can’t be stressed or (insert the name of your crutch you’re experiencing here). I’m saying that you owe it to yourself to embrace each day with an awareness of what it is that makes you tick and how you deal with stuff. You owe it to yourself to check the signs, ask the questions, interrogate your conscious and give your unconscious time so that it too can check itself. There are a whole host of marching bands, advertising campaigns and support-your-crutch-causes that your crutch has signed you up to.
This is all in the name of ensuring that you carry on buying into your crutch’s apparent values. Mine was to always let something pop up that needed my ‘urgent attention’ when I’ve got to leave work on time in order to get to a family event. But not any more!
And if you have a crutch that you might need the universe to point out to you, I hope you find yourself in an African country, eating a salad – it might just save your life.
Thank you for this new perspective, Kenya!