It turns out that stress really can kill. From an intellectual standpoint, I have known this for a long time. Yet, it took nearly experiencing it for myself before I truly understood the harmful effects of prolonged stress on the body.
Google’s definition of stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
Stress does not just describe an emotional reaction, either. It affects us on a cellular level, even changing our brain chemistry. And… it affects us whether we acknowledge it or not.
As someone who can tolerate quite a lot of suffering, I never used to take the symptoms of stress very seriously. I assumed that stress was simply a part of life and that my body would adapt. After all, I was healthy, my diet was good, I slept eight hours a night, and I rode my bicycle to work every single day.
Unable to eliminate the stressors in my job, I tried to cope as best I could. Yet, when the adverse and demanding circumstances became even more untenable, some very abnormal symptoms arose. They were so unusual, in fact, that they got my attention.
The Four Red Flags of the Apocalypse
The first red flag appeared a few months ago when I went for walk during my morning work break. The sidewalk was wet from an earlier rain, and halfway through my walk I took a step and felt myself slipping as if it was icy. Yet, it wasn’t icy. The sidewalk wasn’t slippery in the least, but my brain still thought I was in danger. It didn’t go away, either.
While I was trying to cure myself of this strange new phobia, the second red flag began to wave. It didn’t happen every night, but on many occasions as I was just starting to drift off to sleep, I felt what I can only describe as an electrical discharge in my brain. It was like a strong ZAP that I experienced physically as well as audibly. Some nights the zaps were stronger than others, but they always startled me… and scared me!
I wondered if the stress of too much multi-tasking under constant and increasing pressure was causing my brain to literally short circuit. “Perhaps I just need to give my brain a rest,” I thought. I tried to ease up a bit on the projects I was working on, but the pressures at work did not ease up.
It wasn’t long, then, before a third red flag arrived on the scene – a constant headache. I rarely get headaches, and this one didn’t resolve with medication. I began to wonder if I had a brain tumor. But, being the persevering gal that I am, I just kept doing my best.
Then, three weeks later, the fourth red flag was raised big and bold right in front of my face. On a day like any other day, I was working at my computer when my brain suddenly snapped. I don’t mean emotionally, either. I literally felt it happen physically, inside my cranium.
The One Undeniable Conclusion
When I added up all the red flags, it was evident to me that it wasn’t a brain tumor at all. I was suffering from severe stress. I also knew that if I didn’t listen to what my body was trying to tell me, this job could very well cost me my life.
Stunned by this unexpected reality, I went home. In complete and utter silence I stood looking out my dining room window. I stayed there, gazing at the trees, while listening attentively to my inner voice.
After a while, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I drove slowly back to my office. I took one last look at the place where I had toiled for the last eleven years. Then, I loaded all my furniture and other personal belongings into my car, submitted my resignation, and simply drove away.
That was nearly three weeks ago and the only regret I have is that I didn’t walk away sooner. Yet, it took me getting to the point where my life was on the line for me to see the truth. People are not machines. There are limits to what we can endure. Not only that, but our allegiance and loyalty ought to be toward ourselves first and foremost.
As my symptoms slowly begin to subside, I am envisioning a different life that truly supports who I am and nurtures to life the person I hope to become. Never again will I be a worker bee. Never again will I jeopardize my well-being for a paycheck.
Each of us was created for a purpose and that purpose was never about enslavement. It is about discovering our gifts and talents and using them to manifest our dreams. Only then can we hope to achieve our full potential. Only then can we hope to live the life we’ve always imagined.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1