So much for relaxation

After decades of living in darkness, I found light, and after decades of violence, I found peace… after decades of chaos, I found inner peace, and after decades of hate, I found love. I’ve found a lot of things in my life that I’d never thought I would be able to afford or find, even now in my mid-forties, my *gasp* mid-life, things that no amount of money could honestly buy. I have not for one minute believed I would even be this healthy and in shape at any point in my life, and yet, relaxation… something so simple often eludes me. 

I’m not saying I don’t go through periods of rest, but there must be a clear-cut distinction between general rest such as sleep or sitting, and true relaxation also known as decompression. I could sleep for 12 hours, and not feel relaxed in the slightest, covertly, I could take a brief nap and feel more relaxed than ever in my life, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Stress is generally the culprit keeping relaxation from becoming a reality, it’s behind about 90% of all cases where relaxation is kept just out of arm’s reach. Stress is a horrible problem we all face at some point; sometimes it’s real and sometimes, it’s more devised within our own minds, but regardless, the effects of stress are the same and can be downright deadly.

Now, before I talk about combatting stress, and how stress stalks each of us differently, affecting our lives in various ways and even killing thousands of people a year, I want to talk a bit about the struggle…

Sometimes I feel like I can let my guard down, relax, and just be free, and then out of the blue… bam, something horrible happens and my stress levels rise and consume my daily life, doesn’t that sound familiar? I’m sure many of you can relate to that, a lot of people are probably shouting, “I’m cursed,” or “Someone take the pins out of my voodoo doll,” but honestly, there’s a better way of looking at things and reacting to stress. Life simply is… what I mean by this is that you can feel cursed by life, or plan for possible eventualities whereas it will not go your way and you will have to dig your way out from the rubble of something horrid. Things happen when you least expect them to, so being prepared ensures you won’t need to recover for years, for something that occurs in a flash of moments. 

But some stressors you cannot avoid, like sudden deaths in the family, injury, or illnesses, but you can mitigate the damage such as prebuying funeral plots, having a will, taking age-specific multivitamins, and eating healthy, but never avoid them entirely. So, where does that leave us, right? Unprepared, ill-equipped, and in some cases almost entirely crippled emotionally or physically from just the stress and grief alone. 

Stress itself is horrendous, but when grief is involved, you can amplify the immediate effects of stress on the body tenfold. We’re not going to find some magic formula that gets rid of the grief or stress of loss, severe illness, or injury, nor anything that makes the journey through it fast and easy. Some people turn to grief counselors, some turn to substances, others try to return to regular life as soon as possible, others turn to religion or spiritual practices or beliefs, and some try to bury their pain… but all in all, people deal with it in unique ways. Measuring each of those ‘unique ways’ by their mental health positive benefits, they would not all be created equally obviously, and some would be downright destructive.

Stress forces the body to release chemicals in the brain to help deal with the stressors one is facing; these chemicals are released from the adrenal glands and are;

  • Adrenaline (epinephrine): Increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels
  • Cortisol: Initiates the “fight or flight” response
  • Norepinephrine: Helps deal with stressful situations

Those chemicals are used to help an individual deal with a situation in which the stress signals in the brain are activated, however, when you’re constantly under stress or combined with grief, the overabundance of these chemicals can become detrimental to a person’s overall health. Stress in moderation isn’t terrible for the body or mind; however long-term exposure to stress or stress and grief, and you’re playing Russian roulette. Capisce?

What do we do then… grief is going to happen, stress is going to happen, and sometimes, and for some of us, at the same time, these monsters will join forces, what then? Take it from someone who has lost a lot of close friends and loved ones, who continues to lose people in his life, who has depression, who has a family, not enough money, and a ton of stress… I don’t know… you don’t know either honestly… but I can offer one piece of advice, take it one day at a time. Tip number two… don’t let a moment of sadness or stress define something in you, it’s poison, and every fruit it bears will be poisoned. 

A lot of people will offer advice, but most haven’t a clue about your pain right now; consider hiring a grief counselor, finding a friend you can talk to whom you trust, or getting an emotional support animal you can talk to, or something or someone. Keep a journal and write everything inside of you, inside of it, let it out, get it all out… just make sure that no one will have access to reading them. You just need someone… or something to listen to you, who you can implicitly trust… that’s a great start. 

Relaxation though… my body and my life are like, “Not on my dime homie… shut up and hold on tight son!”

It seems like every new year I feel like nothing can top the calamities of the previous year, and then the new year says, “Hold my beer.” Stress and grief have a permanent castle built for one in the back of my mind and some days while I’m treating a client I literally can relate to something they feel or are going through and wish I could shout it out loud. I can sleep, play video games, watch a movie, read, and the whole time I will be stressed out. That or in tears… In just the last few years I’ve lost my father, an uncle, and a friend, and currently (as I write this), my mother is in the hospital with a severe cancer diagnosis, a lung full of fluid, and several infections. 

Relaxation for me would be like going on a nature hike and finding an animal reported to be extinct some 200 years ago just wandering around… about that rare!

I can combat the stress I go through fairly okay, especially for a guy with five kids and a wife, but I often have to eat my grief to help my kids and wife through theirs first, and then I can privately go through my own. This isn’t easy in the slightest, it is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, let alone having done it several times now in my life. So, get this… the stress returns in the form of me not being able to relax, always grieving, always combating stress. Quite the vicious circle…

So, is relaxation just a pipe dream, at least for me? It’s definitely illusive and has been for the better part of the Covid and post-Covid years thus far. I have tried movies, video games, meditation, various therapies, tai chi, marijuana (which does help a little, but I can’t smoke all of the time), napping, etcetera, and nothing works very well. My reflexes are always on edge, which leads to me reacting to things faster than most other people’s reflexes and timing, and when a high-stress situation arises, adrenaline has the effect of making things around me seemingly move in slow motion. I am always in a state of stress, even if that stress is mild.

I continue to search for this ever-illusive thing people call relaxation, finding new things to try, and new paths to take. I will continue to keep an open mind and heart full of optimism that I’ll find something at some point to help me relax… but for now, so much for relaxation…