My heart was pounding! I felt the bed shaking.
Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup.
Was he going to feel it through the mattress?, I thought to myself, worried I was going to wake Mr. ET. I tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable, holding my heart tightly in fear that it was going to leap from my chest. I was unable to find a comfortable position and I couldn’t shake the feeling. It was getting worse and everything was getting faster. I was beginning to burn up and my thoughts were racing.
Holy-outstanding- financial-obligation! How did you manage this one?
You are holding a debt, how can you be back in school?
How do you expect to pay this off while being a student?
You’re only grazing the surface of your debt.
The minimum payments are sucking your funds.
I shot up in bed. Sweat dripping from my face, I couldn’t catch my breath.
Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup.
My mean self was kicking my ass. And then, in one fell swoop, I lost the battle.
What is wrong with you? Seriously, something is wrong with you! You just continue to rack it up even more!
I flung out of bed, raced down the hall and threw myself into the shower, nightgown and all. I knelt down in the tub and with the water beating down on my crumpled body, I cried. Actually, I sobbed. The warm water eventually ran out. I stripped off my soaked nightgown, dried myself off and climbed back into bed next to my sound sleeper.
That was my first panic attack.
As a nurse, I feel like I’ve heard the countless ways that stress can harm our health. We often speak about how being stressed can lead to a variety of health issues including obesity, skin disorders and heart disease but what interests me is the effect stress has on our bodies at a deeper level. Deeper beneath the surface, stress equally affects our bodies on a genetic level. Health psychologist, Elissa Epel, studied a group of mothers caring for their chronically sick children and examined their genes and what she discovered is truly amazing. Epel found that the stress experienced by these mothers led to “fraying” of the ends of their chromosomes. Think of it as the unraveling ends of an old shoelace. Normally, the fraying of chromosomes is an expected process of aging yet with these women, the fraying was happening so quickly due to stress that it had already accelerated their aging process by ten years.
However, not all hope is lost and there are ways to ward off the effects of stress on our bodies. According to Epel, reflection and acceptance are key steps in reducing the “fraying” of our DNA. The I-coulda-shoulda-woulda dialogue doesn’t help anyone. Reflection is the constructive tool of the worrier, turning negative thought into a useful assessment.
Maybe I should only pay with cash from now on.
I’ve recently found another way of managing the stress by slipping into a yoga and pilates routine. Normally, I’d opt for a nice long run, but due to a minor knee injury I’ve had to hang up my running shoes this fall. As a trained Ayurveda practitioner, I have a deep respect for yoga. As a nurse, I can understand the physiological benefits and as the girlfriend of a skeptic, who likes to eat bacon and question anything not firmly grounded in science, I know I need to offer a little evidence. Researchers have been studying the effects of yoga on anxiety and depression since the 1970s. Yoga helps regulate our stress response mechanism, assisting us in properly dealing with future stressors. A recent study has even provided MRI confirmation that everyday yoga enthusiasts have significantly higher pain thresholds, as yoga calms the stress response system. German researchers tested this notion on “emotionally distressed” women. One group partook in two 90-minute yoga classes a week while the other group of women continued in their normal routine without practicing. Three months later, the women were retested and the yoga group found their depression and anxiety scores reduced by half. Yoga is even being considered for future treatment for people suffering with post-traumatic stress disorders. The skeptics may not be reaching for a yoga mat just yet, but these are remarkable findings, no?
My debt is real, it’s large and it’s ugly. It won’t magically disappear and it will certainly not decrease in size if I continue to supply myself with the quick mood-boosting purchases like I have done in the past. I have to deal with the stress and not sidestep it any longer, if not for my hot water bill then for my health and delicate DNA. I strap on my runners and go for walks, dance around the apartment to a new playlist every week, have mind-blowing sex and laugh as much as possible. I also make a point to set aside thirty minutes a day for my own unique yoga-pilates-danceathon routine set to the soundtrack of whatever makes me move at the time.
My panic attack this past August sparked this stop shopping and behavior analysis journey of mine. It has got me thinking and journaling of why, on a personal level, I’ve gotten myself into such a financial mess. I’m finding myself fascinated by how some of us in society have become paralyzed by our poor ability to cope with stress. It makes me wonder, why have we continued to evolve with a weakness for coping with psychological stress?
Tips to share:
Take the time & shake it off or as Lady V says, walk it off!
We can chose and learn all sorts of ways to relax but the key is to make it a lifestyle change. Yoga, walking, hiking, dancing, etc… heck, it could even be taking a bath with a good book. I think the key is to simply play a little more. My accountant Mr S. teaches fitness classes at his office for his colleagues. I think he’s great.
Aside from a lampshade and a wonderful yet completely unnecessary book on sewing projects, I’m proud to report no nonessentials purchased!