Adult Mental WellnessMindfulnessStress Coping Strategies

Our Great Teachers: Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety

How important is inner peace to you?

No, really. The foundation for inner peace is not something that is just naturally there all the time. And when it starts crumbling, look out! The building topples with exceptional velocity.

There are many wonderful ways to foster and grow inner peace in your life, but what I want to focus on here is the inner voice inside, that information system that sometimes turns up the volume to alert you that something is very wrong, and if ignored, will result in utter turmoil.

What I am referring to here is stress. Symptoms of stress are easily overlooked in the bustling activities of our lives. Busyness masks the tension that is building up, causing tightened muscles up the back and neck, causing headaches, and an overall feeling of edginess. Anxiety or apprehension often gets whisked aside, with little attention paid to the escalating sense of fear, agitation, and maybe even doom. For some, shortness of breath and increased heartrate or heart palpitations are experienced, going so far as to even turn into all-out panic.

The good news is, all of this is telling you that your internal emergency alarm system is operating as intended. It maybe started out gently knocking on your door, but you dismissed it. Then as time went on and your life continued careening downhill at a reckless speed, you began feeling some uneasy feelings that finally began getting your attention.

Not that long ago, I was offered a project that I had pitched very hard to get. I had met with the client on several occasions to discuss the implementation of the task at length, and was finally awarded the contract – the prize! So why was I not elated? Instead of excitement, I felt a pit in the bottom of my stomach. But why? The job was perfect! It matched all my skills and talents to a “T.” Yet there I was, filled with apprehension to the point of feeling ill. Where was this coming from? What did it mean?

My first instinct was to dismiss it, and feel disdain at my double-mindedness. After all, I had wanted and prayed for such a perfect contract, so was I now being fickle, ungrateful for the gift I’d been handed?

I decided to not dismiss the feeling, but to let it reveal to me what its message was. That feeling was my inner alarm system. I decided to stop everything I was doing, and just sit and be quiet and listen to what it had to say to me. I could sense that people-pleasing was at the root of the problem. You see, I’ve been a die-hard people-pleaser all my life, working tirelessly to help others, to the detriment of myself and sadly, often my family.

I decided to let my mind and body experience the sick feeling that had come over me. I needed it to teach me what my next steps needed to be. I let my mind clear by focusing on the present moment and gently bringing it back to an awareness of the present every time it wanted to wander off. Before long, my mind saw clearly what the problem was that was causing my stress and anxiety symptoms. That job that I had been awarded was beyond my ability to deal with, time-wise. There were so many other things and people to which I had already committed, that my sub-conscious mind knew better than my conscious mind that I had no time to take on one more thing.

In order to see this, it required stopping and meditating on the present moment, so I could de-clutter my mind long enough to let my subconscious actually have its say. When I listened, I heard the warning as though through a megaphone: “Do not go ahead with this project, because you will harm both the client and yourself (not to mention your dear family) if you do.”

This was not the first time I’d headed off down a certain path, only to crash my head into a tree in order to jar me to my senses about my limitations. I am not superhuman. I am just me, and there is only one of me (thank goodness!). I am confident that this will not be the last time I will have to backtrack and make a course correction.

If you have symptoms of stress and anxiety in your life, please allow yourself to stop and listen to what your mind and your body are telling you. Those feelings of illness, fatigue or panic are your friend, saving you from delivering yourself into ruin. Life is short, and will be even shorter and, in fact, bitter, if inner turmoil is ignored.

(Original post: October 15, 2009.)

Share this post