Stress can make you physically sick. I’m not talking about the obvious stress of nearly missing a connecting flight or paying your rent late. This stress is the kind that sits quietly in the dark, almost invisible, until it LEAPS out at you unexpectedly and shouts- BOO! You weren’t even aware it was there. Everything felt fine…until it wasn’t.
This was me about five years ago. I was married to someone who mentally and physically abused me. For years prior, I was a successful and independent woman. Then he came along. The shell I wore on the outside looked mostly the same, only inside I was dependent on him for nearly everything. Don’t ask me how.
After all, I was a strong-willed woman who could never be in that kind of situation. Right?
Finally, after an episode resulting in police assistance and his arrest, I was strong enough to leave the situation. It was then I became violently ill. Without grossing you out, I will just say I could not keep anything down besides water and crackers, maybe some oatmeal. I lived in a constant state of panic and anxiety. My friends and family were very concerned and did not know how to help me.
No one could figure out what was wrong with me. I went to several doctors who ran multiple tests. Over one YEAR later, I went to a doctor who (for the first time) asked me what was happening in my personal life. I. Broke. Down. It felt good to get it out. Although I was terrified, I was also relieved. We had a reason for all of the suffering!
The stress of living that life for seven years took a toll on my body and mental well-being. I did not recognize myself. I missed the old me and something had to be done. Once we determined the stress of the divorce and starting my life over was the cause, I was able to focus on how to heal.
Before I go into the steps I took to heal, I want to explain why the stress made me physically sick. Please note, this is NOT medical advice.
According to Jim Folk, President of anxietycentre.com, “behaving anxiously activates the stress response. The stress response immediately causes specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat – to either fight with or flee from it – which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.”
He goes on to say, “when stress responses occur too frequently and/or dramatically, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can result in the body remaining in a semi-emergency readiness state. This state can adversely affect normal stomach and digestive system function, which can cause all sorts of stomach and digestive related maladies, such as nausea and even vomiting.”
Needless to say, this was happening to me and I could not live with it anymore.
What worked for me:
- Practice Self-Care: pause life when possible and just breathe. Go get your nails done or shop for a new pair of shoes. Attend a concert or have lunch with a friend. Try to relax and just be.
- Take Vitamins/Fuel your Body: It was imperative for me to take certain vitamins and eat healthily. After about a month I noticed a dramatic improvement. I had more energy and just felt better overall. Ensure you are fueling your body with the best nutrition plan for you.
- Get Moving…Exercise: I HATE working out! I love the after-effects though. Taekwondo was my saving grace! I love martial arts. It’s fun and it helped me with my anxiety. Find something that works for you, but just get out there and MOVE.
- Find your Tribe: I reconnected with my now-husband over the internet and he saved my life…literally. He was my main support person, listening to me and keeping me calm. Additionally, I had several close friends and my family around me for support.
- Smile More: It automatically helps you relax. Try it.
- Seek Professional Help: I talked to a licensed therapist. The negative stigma associated with going to therapy is unfortunate because it helps, SO MUCH. It may take a few different people (it’s like finding the right relationship), but once you find that person, it’s definitely worth it.
In total, it took about 14 months for me to completely heal my body and mind. That’s not to say I don’t struggle from time to time. It’s important to continually practice self-care and check-in with your Tribe.
Although they were the toughest years of my life, I’m grateful for those experiences because they brought me here.
What is going on in your life that may be causing stress? What steps can you take to improve your mental well-being?
- Jessica Pierce is a coffee-obsessed Michigan native, spending 18 years living all over the United States while serving in the US Air Force. She and her husband (also an Air Force member) enjoy spending time with their kids, trying various cuisine, laughing, and attending baseball games.