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Why Ignoring All The Signs Led Me To Take A Stress Leave

For those of you familiar with the Wizard of Oz, you might remember the story of the Tin Man who aside from needing a heart was constantly dealing with his body falling apart.

Imagine my surprise as a thirty-something-year-old woman who found herself relating to the Tin Man simply because it felt like my body was also giving way on me. The Tin Man’s problems were easily fixable though, as all he needed was oil to prevent his body from rusting. Unfortunately, my problems weren’t so straight forward.

In the last year, I was experiencing sudden autoimmune disorders that I never had before, chronic skin conditions, brittle and weak hair that wouldn’t grow, nausea and headaches, cervical dysplasia and most surprisingly, two incidents of shingles, which at my age isn’t entirely common. Finally, after diagnosing me with my second round of shingles, my doctor asks, “are you dealing with lots of stress?” and I just let it all out.

I quickly confessed to my doctor that the last three years had been full of stress. I had so much trauma that stemmed from a relationship that ended personally but not professionally and on top of that, I worked in an environment that was indisputably stressful due to the nature of the job. Together, we decided that I should take a leave of absence from work as I couldn’t heal in the same place that was causing me all this pain. 

Coming to terms with the fact that I needed to take a stress leave was a hard pill to swallow.

I’ve always prided myself on being resilient and strong and those two traits are specifically important in my line of work and left me feeling ashamed. From my perspective, there are so many people at my work who do the same job and have their own issues, yet they appear to be managing their stress better. They were showing up and not requiring their own leave of absence. Why did I feel entitled to time off?

I brought up these feelings of shame and guilt to my therapist who quickly helped me see that we should never compare our struggles, as we can’t possibly know what another person is going through or know how they manage stress.

On top of the stigma of stress leave, the inability to work overtime like I was doing consistently before would further add to my stress. Do I really want to worry about money while I’m on stress leave? It seemed counter intuitive.

Despite that, I decided to take the stress leave and here is what I’ve learned so far.

Money comes and goes; it can be grown and it can be spent.

Yes, going on this leave will mean that things would be tighter in terms of my budget, but is that necessarily a bad thing? My first lesson on stress leave was a lesson I had been desperately needing all my life: How to budget and save better.

I can’t say that I’m an expert on it yet or that I don’t have money issues still but I can confidently say that all this free time has allowed me to read articles, listen to podcasts, and speak to others about budgeting tips and advice. I’ve slowly started ingraining habits in my life to save better, spend less, and most importantly, be more mindful of what I really need in my life.

Use time wisely and sometimes that means doing absolutely nothing.

Without sounding like an oxymoron, you don’t want to take stress leave and accomplish nothing, but you also want to give your mind and body a break, and sometimes that comes from stillness, relaxation, meditation, mindfulness or even just binge watching the show of your choice on Netflix. 

But when you’re not relaxing and recouping, do something that increases happiness hormones by accomplishing things, whether that’s a personal fitness goal or reorganizing your place using the Marie Kondo method. Setting and reaching goals gives you a solid hit of dopamine.

Try to eat well but also, eat what you want.

To feel better overall and kick the physical symptoms of stress, you need to build your immune system, so eating right and getting in your essential nutrients is key. But also stressing out over food and not enjoying what you’re eating won’t do you any good either.

So treat yourself by treating your body well, while enjoying a slice of cake here and there too.

Be aware of your emotions and seek to gain control of them.

Don’t numb your emotions with alcohol or other stimulants like too much screen time, but especially don’t avoid your emotions as you’re just delaying the inevitable.

If you can, go to therapy, it will help significantly if you find the right therapist for you.

In addition to that, listen to uplifting podcasts from people you admire or respect or podcasts with subject matters about personal growth and development. Improve your emotional intelligence by realizing what you can and can’t control and shift your focus solely to what you can control.

So what can we control?

Certainly not everything.

Stressful events will pop up, but how we respond is always in our control.

Learn what you need to do in order to keep yourself from falling apart when stressed.

If I’m feeling tired, then I need to rest. If I’m having physical symptoms, I need to look at them as a warning sign that I likely need to slow down and reassess.

Consistently ask yourself, what do I need to keep myself going and from falling apart? Maybe you don’t need a stress leave, maybe you just need a vacation.

Be aware of the signals your body is giving you and assess them early enough to avoid stress leaves altogether but more importantly, don’t feel bad if you do need one, embrace it instead.

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