Stress accumulates in your body and stress kills.
When the docs told me my first heart attack was 100% stress related, I thought "Ok, I need to reduce the stress in my life and learn to recognize it earlier" What I didn't realize is that while I was deflecting current stress from my life, I still had 20+ years of stress stored up.
According to Kerstin L. McSteen, (BSN, MSN, ACHPN, CNS-BC) at the Oncology Nurse Advisor blog stress accumulation goes through three phases (and is SUPER common amongst professions in healthcare) . There are early warning, mild and ingrained symptoms that we can look to no matter what phase we are in. (https://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/home/the-total-nurse/cumulative-stress/)
Early warning signs include: apathy, depression, emotional fatigue and vague anxiety. When I look back on my experience emotional fatigue often came in the form of random crying, mostly frustrated crying (not sad), and very often at the end of the day.
Mild symptoms can include frequent headaches, colds, and stomach problems, Intensified physical and emotional fatigue, intensifying depression, irritability, more frequent loss of emotional control, Muscle aches, Sleep disturbances, withdrawal from contact with others.
I call this phase my "peopled out" phase. I could hardly bear to be around anyone outside of work and would retreat to our farm to sit in the yard in total quiet. I couldn't listen to the radio, to music or podcasts. They all seemed so intrusive and I had no mental bandwidth to support listening. I found that repeated watching of movies however was more of a relaxant. I didn't have to think about the plot or the characters, I could just float along inside the story.
The ingrained symptoms start to become ominous and I am lucky that I didn't have all of them. While elevated blood pressure was an issue, it had been an issue for me for decades and I was well managed pharmaceutically.
General physical and emotional fatigue had been a way of life in healthcare work due to the relentless demands but Increased smoking (I have never smoked). Intense depression, intense irritability, loss of sexual desire, migraine headaches, poor appetite, relationship problems, skin rashes, ulcers, use of nonprescription drugs or increased alcohol use were never issues in my experience. They can be significant for others. Well maybe I was more irritable, if I am being honest, and my irritability took the form of becoming the "protector" of my team and was quite confrontational with people outside our particular work site. I took on too many small battles became more and more exhausted by them.
Cardiac problems was where my ingrained symptoms showed up big time. And this accumulated stress, this ingrained aspect of stress is something I had never realized. All the years of poor sleep, of worry, of trying to live up to the modern ideal of a "good leader" built up like sludge in my body.
When the second heart attack came 18 months after the first, after a solid effort to reduce the stress in my life, I was actually devastated. More so than the first one, this heart attack surprised me. I had done everything I was told would help me. I lost 40 lbs. I ate better. I exercised. I meditated daily. I focused on breathing.
And yet that was not enough to counter the years of neglect that I had inflicted on my body. And what this second heart attack was mostly about was my mindset. I could no longer blame an oppressively stressful work environment. I had to come to terms with my choices, my beliefs, and my behaviours going forward. I remember being driven home from the cardiac unit and thinking "what's the point, if I am just going to have another one...."
While the Cardiologist told me the true cause of the second heart attack was just "shit house bad luck", I knew that like all luck, I had created the perfect environment for that luck to happen....it just took 20 years.
This blog is a way of decluttering my stress accumulation. I am working through it room by room, investigating beliefs and behaviours and getting rid of the ones that no longer bring me joy (sorry Marie Kondo) or at least no longer bring me some warped kind of leadership dopamine fix. I now realize that I took on that stress willingly, thinking I could withstand it and that somehow it just miraculously dissipated once you took a vacation or retired.
Now I see that it takes as long to clean those rooms as it did to fill them -- at least if you want it to stay that way.
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