A few nights ago I didn’t sleep. At all. Not for one minute. Insomnia is not unknown to me, but it’s rare, and this was the first time I never went to sleep. Typically, I crash out between 03:30 and 04:30, but not this time. To make matters worse I couldn’t take a sick day because I had important meetings I was supposed to be going to. So, I toughed it out. Things went well. Around 14:00 I started getting punchy and was laughing way too much at funny cat pictures on the internet, and I left as early as I could shaving off an hour of my day. I even got a ride back to the apartment, so I didn’t have to deal with the bus stresses. After I got home I ate dinner, did the dishes, played an internet game with my wife, and went to bed around 20:00 falling asleep relatively quickly and mostly sleeping through the night until approximately 06:00, that’s roughly ten hours of sleep. Not bad.
Why did I have insomnia? What caused it? Why was this night different from all the others? These are the questions. We can’t really know why I had insomnia, but I have a pretty good guess. Stress and anxiety.
If you’ve been following this blog you know that I recently started a new job in a new city far away from my hometown and my wife. This is enough to stress out anyone and fill them with a mountain of anxiety, possibly even send them down the spiraling dark pit of depression and loneliness.
I thought I’d been dealing with all the changes and difficulties pretty well. I’m in contact with my wife every day, usually by phone or FaceTime. I’m making new friends. I’m getting acquainted with the environment, and even reaching an equilibrium with my less-than-stellar apartment complex.
The job has been going great. I’m really happy here and I work with great people. But the sheen has definitely worn off the new job. As I’m doing more, and doing it more confidently, I’m also getting exposed to workplace politics and being frustrated by bureaucratic policies.
Recently, I’ve been stressing out about two things: designing a Fall ’17 work schedule for my unit that accounts for any of several circumstance where one or more of my employees have taken opportunities elsewhere, as well as the “All Hands on Deck” schedule wherein they don’t; and hiring three temporary part-time employees with an eye toward hiring a permanent full-time position in the fall.
None of this has gone smoothly.
Traditionally, I believe that I’ve always been good at separating my work life from my home life. I don’t look at work emails on my personal devices and I don’t think about work when I’m home. Traditionally, I’ve also internalized my stress. When one internalizes stress it eventually comes out somehow. It is my belief that my stress got externalized by my lack of sleep. My mind wasn’t racing or running over the problems of work at all. My body was tired, but my mind wouldn’t produce sufficient serotonin to allow sleep. Brains are funny, that way.
We all have stress. We all have our ways of coping. I tend to drink. A couple of cocktails or glasses of wine in the evening take the edge off and allow me to enjoy myself and usually sleep a full 6-8 hours. Alcohol is the most efficient way I’ve ever found to deal with stress and anxiety. That’s not considered a healthy coping mechanism, but it’s mine. It’s also one reason I’m 20 lbs heavier than my doctor would like me to be.
So, what are some good ways to handle stress and anxiety?
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) gives us this handy infographic to help us out with this question.
All of this is great information, but several of these feel to me like tips on how to handle an anxiety attack or serious on-going stress and anxiety. What about everyday stress?
This excerpt from the CDC takes what I feel is a much more measured approach.
Feeling emotional and nervous or having trouble sleeping and eating can all be normal reactions to stress. Engaging in healthy activities and getting the right care and support can put problems in perspective and help stressful feelings subside in a few days or weeks. Some tips for beginning to feel better are:
- Take care of yourself.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Get plenty of sleep
- Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out
- Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol may seem to help with the stress. In the long run, they create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
- Take a break. If your stress is caused by a national or local event, take breaks from listening to the news stories, which can increase your stress.
Recognize when you need more help. If problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker, or professional counselor.
But what if you’re not sure if stress and anxiety are what you are dealing with?
The same CDC page had a helpful guide to let you know what to look for.
Common reactions to a stressful event can include:
- Disbelief, shock, and numbness
- Feeling sad, frustrated, and helpless
- Fear and anxiety about the future
- Feeling guilty
- Anger, tension, and irritability
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Reduced interest in usual activities
- Wanting to be alone
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Nightmares or bad memories
- Reoccurring thoughts of the event
- Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
- Increased heart rate, difficulty breathing
- Smoking or use of alcohol or drugs
I’ve already established that my primary method of dealing with stress and anxiety is on the “No” list. But what I am doing right is that my diet is relatively good (for an American, anyway). I normally get plenty of sleep. I have friends and family that I can talk to about whatever is happening in my life and I have a history of seeking talk therapy when life gets really bad. I don’t exercise, except all the walking I’m doing without my car. That’s bad. I need to make time to work out with the free weights I moved all the way from Missouri and get my bike fixed up so I can use it to commute to work. These are both for the future.
What is it that you are doing to properly deal with your stress and anxiety levels? What could you be improving?