After Twelve Rounds: Standing Up to Stress

Stress is like a slow leak.

I can feel it coming on. The slow heaviness starts in my chest hovering over each breath. The brain only takes a second to notice the change, to notice stress.

Stress Weighs In

Stress weighs in at different amounts. You could be managing it with yoga and breathing exercises and it checks-in under lightweight. Each round you’re beat up with only nicks and bruises. You hide it well. Twelve rounds and you’re still smiling at work. No one notices the way you linger at your desk at the end of the day or the way you take a second to register a coworker asking what you’re up to this weekend. The stress is manageable. You’re fine. I’m fine.

Sometimes, I forget to manage. The anxiety moves up a weight class. When I crawl back into bed mid day while my son fusses in his crib. I lie in the fetal position. I’m crying and I can’t figure out why. It’s a heavyweight crushing my breathing into labored heaves. The stress is noticeable. Twelve rounds and I can’t hide it then. We can’t hide the sick days that start stacking up and the far off daydreaming during conversation.

Anxiety can be debilitating (web accessible version). People who’ve never experienced it think it can be “shaken”. They tell you to take a walk, opt for change of scenery, DO something. The ones that are in the midst of it can’t always find the energy to change their circumstances.

Fake it ’till you make it

Sometimes, I push myself out the door. It starts with making myself put on real clothes in the morning. I turn up the music in the car and lower the windows trying to ignore the anxiety hovering over ever inch of my body. I fake it until I make it.

Volunteering is one way that helps me manage the beatdown. When I finally get to the drop-in center or donation warehouse and I see other people I shove the panic aside until I forget. For two hours I focus on someone else’s needs and I feel lighter for it. The drive home is refreshing. Someone hungry goes to bed full. Someone in tattered clothing walks home with a garbage bag full of warmer outfits. I played a part in that. I don’t feel so alone.

Connection is an amazing thing. Even those most introverted of us can experience it. Doing good doesn’t even have to involve conversation. It could be a nod in someone else’s direction. Mental health isn’t a topic people always want to talk about. I think of it this way: in the end, doing good made me feel good. That’s all it really was.

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