Every day I hear from readers who just can’t figure out what they feel, why they feel it, or even why it feels like a big deal even though it doesn’t seem like a big deal. One of the greatest examples of this is having doubts no matter how small that keep niggling, but that you just can’t put your finger on. Or even worse, having doubts that you can put your finger on but you keep ignoring or attributing to something else. In fact, you may not refer to them as doubts – you might call them ‘misgivings’, ‘insecurity’, low self-esteem, or even blame them on a past relationship or even a parent instead of on what is actually happening.
It then becomes ‘I’m not having these doubts because I’m making choices that work against me or am experiencing a current stress/have a current concern that I’m ignoring – it’s because I’m not good enough / they’re amazing and I’m just a very insecure person / my parents did X/Y/Z / I’m scared because of all of my previous relationships”.
The thing is, some of these may be true or may highlight things that you need to address, but the problem is that whatever you attribute the stress to (or insecurity, misgivings etc), it will remain a stress as long as you keep thinking about or putting it to the back of your mind but not actually addressing it.
It’s also important to note that if you’re actually denying the cause of the stress and blaming it on something else, the cause will remain a constant factor no matter what. Hence why if you keep playing down those niggling doubts about a partner and saying it’s your insecurity and a previous relationship, if they’re actually behaving in ways that give just cause for doubt, it will continue happening – you just won’t be addressing it and damaging yourself in the process.
What I do know after having the immune system disease sarcoidosis and then vertigo, tinnitus and TMJ is that when you get used to dealing with ‘stress’ whether it’s emotional, or work pressure, physical stress or whatever, you acclimatise to it. At it’s worst, like when I had sarcoidosis, you don’t even know where to begin when you have to figure out what is wrong because ‘everything’ seems to be wrong. It’s only when it becomes intolerable or you get a proverbial boot up the bum that you finally change.
That’s why I ended up addressing everything – health, work, family, relationships etc – which balanced me out and they all had a knock on effect on each other.
Much like when I wrote about the Broken Windows Theory applied to boundaries and relationships, where you’ll ignore one thing that you shouldn’t, it paves the way to ignoring another. Ignoring, delaying, rationalising, denying, minimising are habits, and habits can most certainly be broken.
If you’ve ever found yourself putting up with stuff in your relationships that on later reflection have you wondering if you were on crack, or even have you feeling like you practically have to learn a new (healthy) language post breakup, it’s because you normalised dodgy behaviour.
What you might not have realised is that you’ve also normalised treading water in stress instead of resolving it. In fact, it’s the fact that you may be used to stress and even numb to it that will have you failing to realise that you’re knee deep in an unhealthy relationship until you’re very immersed in it.
You’ll also find that it won’t take much to tip you over when you hit ‘capacity’.
I think there’s a certain amount of stress we can all manage with, after all we’d be wrecks otherwise, but after that we can become very sensitive to it. Then little things that genuinely aren’t that big a deal can throw a monkey wrench in the works and have you in a serious tailspin or you start seeing rejection, problems, ‘flaws’ in yourself, and a lack of options. You become indecisive, panicky, anxious, find it hard to articulate what you’re pissed off about or can articulate it but won’t action it, or you compare problems and try to identify which one is the ‘biggest’ one as if that will change the nature of the others. You may inflate the size of the wrong stress while still continuing to ignore the core stress that you really need to address.
While surfing Pinterest for wedding inspiration, I came across a factsheet on stress and the first line flicked a lightbulb in my mind: “Your body doesn’t care if it’s a big stress or a little stress.”
This was only a few days after writing about How I Learned To Listen To Myself where I explained how realising that bouts of tinnitus, vertigo and TMJ were triggered by not listening to myself and stress. That stress was a combination of some work stuff which in turn I was privately busting my proverbial balls about, some family clashes, and even at times child induced sleep deprivation.
Hours after reading the fact sheet, I spoke to a friend who was feeling panicked because she was experiencing what were clearly stress symptoms but was insisting she wasn’t stressed about anything big or ‘new’. I suggested that maybe it was a just some freakish thing and not to worry about it, but then I asked if there was anything she could possibly be stressed about – man that list couldn’t stop coming!
I think the way we live has us very ‘programmed’ to take stress in our stride and while this has its uses, we’re not supposed to take it so much in our stride that we become unable to really have a quality life or are unable to figure out what we feel.
You know that you’re too acclimatised to stress when you you find it hard to identify what’s bothering you or you reel off them off like your grocery shopping list. You get used to Staying/Talking and Complaining.
It’s like ‘Yeah, so I’m stressed! What am I supposed to do about it? It’s just groundhog day around here!’ You may even think ‘Well this is nothing compared to other stresses I’ve had. Hey ho, hey ho, it’s off to work or dodgy relationship I go!’
By being available and feeling out all of your feelings and taking your time to address stress in your life (whatever the source of it) rather than letting it run and run, you can differentiate between your sizes of stress.
Because our bodies don’t differentiate, it’s important not to let it pile up, because when you hit capacity, you will find that suddenly, even though you thought you just had a problem in your relationship, now you’re struggling to concentrate at work, have become sensitive to certain foods, or are feeling physical symptoms of stress.
If you’re feeling ‘stress’ or doubts, anxiety, or whatever you want to call it, and you can’t nail the source of it and basically keep going round and round in circles, you know that you’re too acclimatised to not listening to yourself. If you keep wondering “Is it them or is it me?”, aside from always looking at whether it’s internal or external fear talking, what you immediately know is that if you can’t figure out which one, it’s because you need to address both.
Our natural inclination is to put the focus on others or external factors because that puts action in an area that’s uncontrollable – it’s no wonder our stress increases. Learn to listen to yourself, keep a Feelings Diary, have an honest conversation with yourself, make decisions – take the focus off ‘them’ and bring it back to you.
Check out my book and ebook Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl in my bookshop.