I’ve always been proud of my multi-tasking skills, and considered my ability to prioritize work as one of my strongest skills. While I enjoyed the confidence and the recognition my skills got me, I forgot to account for the fact that too much of something is harmful in the long run. Allow me to share with you a personal story about how I let stress take over me. But it isn’t really that simple. To help you understand context, I need to rant a lot more than usual. Bear with me. I could have finished this off with a “Reasons why rest is important” but a story of a personal failure always leaves a better impact (so my Google Analytics tells me about my posts in 2017)
Freelancing left me insecure.
Freelancing is tough for a bunch of reasons, all of which depend on one personality trait- discipline. Thankfully I had that sorted out for me thanks to my folks and upbringing. Getting into a routine would come naturally to me. The first year of freelancing was about sending pitches, making cold calls, trying to get out to network (as an introvert this was a daunting task) and collecting as many projects as I could in my kitty. I missed the security of a full-time job, so to keep a part of me satisfied, I started consulting with agencies. This way I made sure I could get in a fixed amount every month, which all went into my investments.
5 years later, the investments have paid off, I am investing five times more than what I initially started with, because I now have the confidence to say that I am here to stay, my work is appreciated, and investing is the best thing in the world. Why am I telling you all this? Of course there is a point to all this rambling. MONEY.
The greed of money
Once you get the confidence in your work and professional skills, it gets necessary to stay grounded. This is a lot more than just trying to avoid speaking from a place of ego while interacting with others. Being grounded has a lot to do with how you treat YOURSELF. Before you know it, money starts dictating your life. Money makes you be too hard on yourself- I earned x last month I need to earn 2x this month. This attitude made its way into my life, and next thing you know, I was asking for 48hours in a day. I’d sleep for 4 hours, exercise, work, network, party. For me, I was living a balanced life, doing everything I wanted to, enjoying all the recognition my work got me.
Many well-wishers asked me to take a step back and relax, let things flow, not let my work define my life. I never understood what they meant, because for me ‘I am not being a dick so why do you think I am letting my work take over my life?”
And then came the stress related problems.
Greed + Stress = Breakdown
My allergies were aggravated – I was popping cetrizines every 4 days, my sinusitis got worse, PMS got out of control ( I pride myself on having a control over cravings and mood swings) Speaking of mood swings, I’d scare myself. I’d snap even when I was not PMSing. I started getting tired of people (not in a ‘damn it’s exhausting to socialize’ way, I love that stuff! But it was physically draining me out, I couldn’t manage a smile, my eyes would look tired) I started disliking people who were trying to be nice, I also became extremely judgemental. I started avoiding my inner circle because I was not left with any energy to have a conversation. I’d sit back and listen, and doze off mid-conversation. I also started realizing that I didn’t remember the last time my mind was calm. I was constantly thinking about something, constantly stressing, constantly questioning things, constantly frowning. I then consciously made an effort to stop frowning and I literally felt a weight being lifted off my head. But the thinking didn’t end. But at least I didn’t look like thinking was eating me up alive, so there’s that.
Physically, things got worse. My period pain went from bad to worse. Even after popping 2 painkillers, I’d throw up and blank out- anxiety and panic attacks were also a part of the menstrual cramps now. This happened 3 months in a row. My neck was stiff with all the stress, but I ignored it. I continued going to the gym and lifting heavy weights. On days I was dealing with a LOT of stress, I’d get a shooting pain near my right shoulder that would leave me incapable of writing on the laptop. I’d put my right hand in a sling and continue writing with my left hand.
I ignored the warning signs
The first time the arm pain surfaced was in 2015. I took a vacation for 2 weeks and was back to normal. It showed up again in 2016, and twice in 2017. December 2017 is when it got worse. I suffered a muscle pull in my cervical region that left me incapable of evening getting out of bed. My back, neck and right arm were in pain. Cervical spondilitis was a possibility, and being the anxious person that I am, I had planned out all the alternatives to get work done (I’m a writer FFS, how could I survive now?!) Muscle relaxants didn’t help much. I had deadlines to meet and now I didn’t know how to even get on to my mobile to write. I was miserable in pain, stress and sadness for the first 2 days.
Acceptance of stress
Many times we don’t want to accept that we’re stressed. We pride ourselves on being such hard workers. A simple acceptance in fact is what changed my attitude. I made efforts to get back to normal. I switched off my WhatsApp and social media notifications. I started limiting my time on social media. I took a guided meditation class and made it a part of my daily routine. I started yoga. I took time off work, I slept for 8 hours (initially I’d wake up after 4 hours, fresh and wide awake, and then force myself to go back to sleep) I stayed active by walking and cycling. I started reading again. I started saying a firm NO, I refused work just for the sake of extra income, I stuck to my charges instead of letting greed take over me. I started maintaining a gratitude journal too.
December, a main season for lifestyle, was an important month for me. I had 0 collaborations, but I had never felt more satisfied than I did this month. I was happy, I was alive and healthy, I had a great family and friend circle who took care of me (mentally), the boy was a constant support even through my mood swings and on those bad days when I couldn’t help but compare myself to someone on social media, or get frustrated that I didn’t have a definite muscle tone yet, and I was good at what I did – I had no reason to NOT be grateful.
None of this was an overnight change, it took me a week or two to get used to this, but it changed the game for me. Work became exciting again, the pain reduced, and things started falling into place in the personal sphere too.
Work in progress- ALWAYS.
This is still work in progress- I wish to be stronger, mentally and physically. I wish to learn a lot more about yoga and spirituality. I wish to travel a lot more than I allowed myself to imagine earlier. I wish to work with bigger brands, but not at the cost of my mental health. Currently my WhatsApp and social media notifications are still off, I take time out for yoga, meditation and the gym 5 times a week. I connect offline. I limit my time on social media. I have cut off those who bring negativity, and I am resolving to live life MY way. I am doing all this even though it means my growth as a brand is slow. I want to enjoy each and every moment, and I am going to make a conscious effort to do that. At the end of it, you’re the only one who can help yourself.
This one was a long post, I have been wanting to talk for so long. I hope this helps you understand how stress affects us not only mentally, but also emotionally and physically. Take time out for yourself, don’t be proud of working for the majority of the day. Stress can literally kill you. Please take care of yourself, and please reach out whenever you feel low. Things will work out in the end, you just have to let go and take care of your health before everything else. Health is the best wealth :)