Jack had a steady job. He was a gentle and kind person and everybody loved him. He had a shy smile, but when he first came to me, he was not smiling. The first day I saw him in my office, he was under so much stress that he could hardly catch his breath. He worked at a school for boys and his conscientious work granted him a plaque on the wall as one of the top teachers.
Then one day, it all changed. His school got a new administrator, which triggered a cascade of events that changed his life. Suddenly he was re-assigned to a different class and given the responsibility to teach subjects he was unfamiliar with, along with larger classes, bigger workload and longer hours. He tried to keep up, but after months of working hard, he felt emotionally, spiritually and physically drained. The gentle, calm and caring nature was replaced with anxiety, worry, and constant fear.
His home life was no better. His wife had her own challenges and was unavailable to him. They still loved each other but because of their own individual stresses, their relationship had become platonic in nature. He felt more tired than usual, he was having difficulty with multi-tasking, his concentration suffered and he started having memory difficulties. He developed an episode of loss of vision in one eye, which resolved after a few weeks. An MRI obtained showed the typical lesions. Jack had multiple sclerosis (MS).
So, why am I telling you this story? When we think of chronic diseases, we focus on the physical treatments. And rightfully so. But most people do not understand that there is a psychological basis as well.
As far back as the nineteenth century, the neurologist who first gave a full description of MS, Jean-Martin Charcot, noted this association of “long continued grief” with the onset of symptoms. And it is not only MS, but many other diseases that have an association with emotional stress in their genesis, including Alzheimer’s disease, various types of cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions. In this case, it is the inability to say no.
Further exploration into his history revealed that Jack was always a people pleaser. He was always there for anybody who needed help. He never said no to anyone, even if it meant going out of his way. In fact, if he ever said no, he would feel bad afterwards.
April is Stress Awareness Month, and I wanted to discuss this topic from a different perspective, If you look online, there are many blogs and articles on people providing all types of tips to manage stress. Most of these tips have a lot of merit….for the right person. For example, I read somewhere that taking your pet to your work has been shown to decrease your cortisol levels. And that may be true…if you are a pet lover.
The same study showed that people who did not bring their pets to work had a higher level of stress, as did people who did not have pets. I can understand where people who had pets and did not bring them to their work can increase their stress. But what about people who do not like pets? Are they stressed because they don’t have pets or because the presence of animals in the office increased their stress? In my case, though, it would probably be the animals which increase my stress…lol.
Be that as it may, I am more interested in finding the cause of stress. We can divide them into internal and external causes. If you have a bad boss, you can learn some techniques to manage your stress temporarily. But I doubt you can change him to become a better boss and not cause you stress. It is an external cause that you don’t have much control over.
But there are internal causes as well. Such things as how you react to other people and life’s circumstances, how you spend your time, what types of people you hang out or associate with, etc. Are you a people pleaser? Can you say “no”?
I do want you to learn some of these stress-management strategies. If you like yoga, go for it. If you need to learn how to meditate, find an instructor or a school or a course where you can do that. If you need to get some aggression out, because someone caused you to become angry, I advise you to go to the gym and take out your aggression by doing something physical. But at the same time, look at how you react to circumstances. Learn how to say “no” when you don’t feel like saying “yes”. There are certain obligations you cannot avoid, but there are many that you can. You just have to learn how.
Just like Jack did. Luckily, he came to me when he was still unable to say no. He listened to me and followed what I told him, and slowly started to improve his life. When he got out of his own way, he was able to find a solution at work that decreased his stress level. He was able to convince his wife to go to a marriage counselor and they have come a long way.
What about you? Have you repressed your emotions? Do you difficulty saying “no”?
Until Next Time