About ten years ago, my marriage suddenly ended, triggering shock, grief and deteriorative life changes.
My new life was completely unaligned with my heart which caused prolonged stress. Unsurprisingly, 18 months later I was diagnosed with cancer.
Thanks to my support network, the surgeons and whatever other universal forces came into play, I survived the cancer. I also woke up to the importance of reacting carefully to the cards we are dealt.
As Epictetus said, “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” According to Admiral James Stockdale, who survived 7.5 years of torture and imprisonment during the Vietnam War, this philosophy underpinned his attitudes, actions and ultimately, his survival.
If I knew then what I know now about the link between stress and our health, I would have looked for effective ways to overcome depleting emotions (heart-break, grief, fear) that impair our immune system. By doing so, I would have gained more clarity and had a greater cognitive capacity to consider other actions that were more aligned with my heart and values. If I knew then, what I know now about the link between stress and our health, I would have made better decisions and my body may not have opened the door to cancer.
The good news is that there are effective ways to reduce stress and manage emotions. I teach them to clients in workshops and one on one, via video calls.
The first step is to determine whether you have too much stress. A small amount of stress can improve motivation and performance. Excessive, prolonged stress impedes your immune system and makes you vulnerable to illness- mental or physical.
Most people know when they're experiencing stress overload. Signs include: worry, muddled thinking, impaired judgement, hasty judgement, nightmares, insomnia, indecision, negativity, loss of appetite, over-eating, loss of sex-drive, alienation, depression, anxiety, irritability, loss of confidence, breathlessness, skin irritation, fatigue, muscular tightness, deteriorated posture and headaches.
If you're not sure whether your stress level is healthy or too high, you could try a free online stress test. If your score indicates that you have a moderate, high or very high risk, please take action to care for yourself.