Chris Graham: Stress, anxiety, and how you can worry yourself sick
I’d never thought of stress as something that could be characterized as a mental health condition, but now that I know this, yeah, wow.
I perversely pride myself on my ability to do more than is otherwise humanly possible. A profile once labeled me “Central Virginia’s most profilic newspaper writer,” and I wore that as a badge of honor, while also designing websites, marketing campaigns, training for marathons, writing books, while trying to figure out how to add another hour or two to the end of each day.
Like many of you, the COVID redshirt year was tough for me, though I didn’t acknowledge it or cop to it at the time, most importantly to myself.
And it started for me earlier than it probably did for you. I started tracking the COVID story when the first reports of what was going on in China trickled out back in January 2020, trying to get ahead of whatever impact the then-looming social distancing shutdown might have on business, my family life, even stressing that we wouldn’t be able to feed our brood of way-too-cute dogs.
You carry all that around – looking at COVID numbers day and night, trying to process a reporting workload that increased exponentially with the world changing every hour, still fitting in grueling running and cycling workouts, with an eye on a stressful election season that meant a lot personally and of course took a lot of time and effort professionally.
You may have read that I had a blood clot scare earlier this year, and that it made no sense that I’d have issues with blood clots considering my level of activity and lack of other possible contributing factors – no long travel preceding the clots, no injury or surgery preceding, no genetic history, no cancer.
I’m becoming convinced that stress and the resulting anxiety were the provoking factors there, and there seems to be some medical evidence suggesting that to be the case.
I’ve only come to think this after stumbling upon the notion that stress is a mental health condition, a realization that has helped me significantly.
This realization came with some web research that listed symptoms of stress that made my jaw literally drop, because they’re so spot on to what has had me in its throes of late.
The symptoms of stress include:
- Fatigue and headaches: every morning for me.
- Upset stomach: I’ve had two consultations with a GI doctor, after a lifetime of nothing in terms of issues with GI.
- Aches, pains, tense muscles: at times, I’m sore like I’d be after running a distance race.
- Frequent colds and infections: I’ve had at least two summer colds in the past two months. I’d gone several years without having a single cold.
- Ringing in the ear: holy crap, these people are in my head. I’ve had ringing in the ears like the kind that you get when you drive over a mountain or fly in a plane off and on for six weeks.
- Constant worrying and only seeing the negative side: I was a fairly successful high school debater, which can be a drawback when you’re inclined to only seeing the negative, and taking a .1 percent chance of something happening as an inevitability, and can’t be convinced otherwise.
The last several weeks started to make more sense, basically.
I’ve worried myself sick, literally, beginning with the blood clot scare, and then since with the colds and sinus and ear infections and what have you.
What I need to do will not be easy.
Constant worry is hard-wired into my Type A personality.
It’s hard for me to just sit and watch a movie or TV show, read a book, enjoy a pleasant conversation.
Thing is, I have to.
Stress has had me in the ER and doctors’ offices more days the past four months than I care to admit.
As much as I have come to admire and respect the various specialists, docs, nurses and others that have come into my life the past few months, I’d rather hang out with them after work over a friendly game of cornhole than have them poking and prodding me.
Story by Chris Graham