The bruise under my toenail
By Paul Krauss MA LPC
As you can see in the picture, I have a bruise under my toenail. The marker of the bruise under my toenail is almost gone, and in a few weeks my nail will have grown and pushed the mark to an area where my toenail will eventually be clipped off, and with it—all evidence that it ever existed. Yet, six months ago this bruise was much closer to the skin on my right toe and it still hurt for, the original bruise showed up when I dropped a full 32-ounce metal water bottle on my big toe from about 5 feet in the air.
This painful bruise happened during one of the most stressful months of my life. I was so stressed that I walked out of a meeting, which I had scheduled (too late) to help me reduce my stress. Instead, everything just kept getting worse, because I was not prioritizing my health—I let stress creep up on me. Stress is the killer of joy, of calm, and of peace in our lives. Yet, it is inevitable that in my daily life, I will have stress and major life events that give me stress will come again. Stress is a part of life. However, it is important for me and for you to apply measures, each and every day to reduce stress. Getting back to the story: For me, moving across the country (again) and starting from scratch, was a perfect storm of stress factors, which caused me to have multiple anxiety attacks, doubt myself, and doubt my abilities.
My family, friends, and mentors told me “just take your time and take care of yourself…don’t overwork…believe in the long term goal you are working toward.” But yet, I couldn’t hear them. In fact, I believe my nervous system was deeply affected, and my inner confidence was off-kilter due to the biggest move (Phoenix to Grand Rapids) I’d had in nine years (Since I moved from Chicago to Phoenix in 2008) and I was determined to get everything in my life and business ready as fast as possible. As a result of this I stressed myself out by not taking care of myself, not resting, not reflecting, and running from place to place and conversation the conversation to the point where my functioning became somewhat impaired.
Eventually, I experienced what I thought I would never go through: “Burn out.” Me, burned out? No way! I was totally in denial for a few weeks! I mean, I have an entire 6 hour Continuing Education Course I wrote for Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage and Family therapists about best practices in counseling and one of the sections is about “Self-care” and “Avoiding Burn Out.” I mean I preach this stuff! I had made it a point to live this stuff! I helped my clients with this very issue—yet I was experiencing a burn out from stress? This was an awful experience that I don’t wish on any person.
Burn out from stress is worse than you can imagine (if you haven’t had it). My body would not do what I asked it to do. I had little to no energy, yet I still had trouble sleeping. I was almost shaking at times when I would get stressed, and other times I couldn’t seem to move. My mind would not respond normally to almost anything—I was having trouble doing both complex and simple tasks for several weeks. I had never experienced anything like this in my life before. My creativity had vanished and I began to experience depression-like symptoms. It began to affect my personal relationships. That is when I knew something had to change. I sought help from multiple people in my life and from professionals. Within 4 weeks I was feeling better, but it took about 3 months until I felt normal again.
How many times do we put unnecessary pressure on ourselves through arbitrary goals that we set? How many times do we become fixated and worried about something that is only short-term issue? How often do we find ourselves rushing toward a goal and forgetting about the important journey of learning? How often do we find ourselves not trusting that if we are putting in effort, something will work out—even if it not what we originally tried for? Trust me, it is not worth sacrificing your health to move anywhere, set up anything, or meet any goal faster than the pace you naturally work. If you are going through a large transition, or wanting to work toward a goal, or just living your life and worrying a lot—it is important to get into a rhythm of giving yourself time and space to work to lower your stress level. Getting in a rhythm of “being” instead of always “doing” will help keep your stress level low, and thus you will be less susceptible to burnout, anxiety and depression.
Learn how to manage stress
- Having a rhythm is not having a perfect schedule. Rhythms can be adjusted and goals can be reworked. If we stick to rigidly to a goal, we are missing the point and we are probably missing out on life. In fact, I make it a point to set a lot of goals, yet I am constantly adjusting and moving them to make way for the “flow” of life. Perfection will never be apart of nature. Look at the trees–they are beautiful the way they are, but their roots are not symmetrical, nor their foliage, nor their growth patterns–they are often shaped by their environment and the weather around them. If trees are too rigid and don’t bend from the wind, they may snap in half and die. Trees must bend and become “elastic” in the elements for their survival. If they impose a false sense of perfection on themselves, they will die. We too will always be imperfect (so will our schedules); we are part of nature too, if we accept this, life doesn’t get easier, but our reactions to life are certainly more balanced and helpful to us.
- Make sure you insert spaces in your schedule to “just be”, or any spaces will get filled with something that you had not intended –tasks or mindless activity or social media or mindless TV—something will end up there, invited or not. People, media, tasks, are all vying for your time. The trick is that we want to be with the people that we have decided make up our family or close group of friends, we want to consume the “right media” (not just any media), we want to invest ourselves in meaningful tasks and work, just to name a few aspects of our focus. If we don’t put spaces in our schedules to reflect or “just be”, we will hardly grasp what the “right thing” is for us.
- Find activities that reduce stress, things you get “lost in” and make sure you have 1 or 2 activities in your life per week, if possible.
- These activities could be almost anything, but some ideas I will suggest are exercise, walking in nature, mindfulness based stress reduction, reading, cooking, cleaning, meeting with certain friends, darts or bowling league, dancing, arts and crafts, social groups, discussion groups, having a favorite TV show or podcast that is engaging and not mindless, sports, getting involved in causes that you believe in, spiritual or religious activities, volunteering, helping others, spending time with animals, mentoring a child, etc.
If you have to make a large change in your life and your living environment, please allow yourself extra time to get done what you need to do (if possible), make sure that you do not give up your “self-care” activities, do not give up your time with your friends, helpers, or family, and do not put to much on your “to do list.”
Here’s to hoping that the next time you or I bruise our toenail, it is just an accident, and not because of a period of “burnout” caused by excessive stress that we could have avoided.
Take care of yourself. You are worth taking care of.
If you are finding yourself stressed out and not knowing what to do, call our office (Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids) at 616-200-4433 and schedule a complimentary 15 minute phone consultation with one of our clinicians.