The Shame of Stress

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Webster’s Dictionary defines stress as follows:

“a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”

To me, this definition is so very vague. I’ve literally looked through four different dictionary sites for a more concrete answer. And then it hit me: I suspect that the vagueness of stress creates more Shame for having stress.

I got married to my husband a few years ago. About a month before the wedding, I had my quarterly blood work drawn. As we were sitting down with the doctor, he inquired about where my stress was coming from. I was floored! I had vowed that this wedding would be absolutely stress-free! What was he even talking about? Now, I have the knowledge that stress doesn’t need our consent to register.

As people, many of us have been socialized that experiencing stress is a weakness. The phrases that reinforce this include, but are not limited to: “suck it up”, “grow some balls” “get over it” and the list goes on and on.  Some people are so much in denial that they don’t even recognize signs of their own stress growing, let alone existing. A quick review of the side effects of a growing stress level include: higher blood pressure, body aches and pains, sleep issues, digestive concerns, a feeling of being overwhelmed, sensation of being lost, low energy level, change in appetite, increase in heart rate, and decrease of sexual desire or satisfaction.

In case you have any misconceptions, I want to spell out my beliefs very clearly: stress is a response to some stimuli. Nothing more and nothing less. Stress doesn’t make you less of a person and it doesn’t challenge your worthiness. And here specifically is where Shame shows up. Shame does not make you flawed. It does not make you unworthy of a connection.

I think the time has come for us all to step up to the plate and do a few things: we need to monitor our own symptoms more efficiently, we need to recognize stress coping responses quicker and quicker, and we need to have the conversation in an honest way about where our stress level is.

As is the custom, I can only talk about what works for me. I’m not a proponent for spewing stuff that I have learned from books, seminars, etc.  I am a proponent of sharing what works for my own personal experiences. My suggestions are as follows:

1.    Movement:  The technical reason behind this is because when stress takes up a location in our body, it creates more issues for us. From a trauma standpoint, moving our body releases substantial amounts of stress from our physical existence. Dance, walk, stretch, do some yoga, vacuum the floor, etc.

2.    Sing: Literally turn on some music and sing, it doesn’t matter how you sound. I’m not asking you to go sing show tunes on Broadway. The science behind this suggestion says that when we are signing, it activates that piece of our central nervous system that activates social connectedness. When we are socially connected, we are typically much less stressed and have an increased feeling of safety.

3.    Write it down: Whenever I become overwhelmed, I pull out a piece of paper and a pen. Writing my thoughts and experiences down keeps my brain on track and stops all the squirrels from distracting me with other things. Also, my experience is that when I write things down that I need to accomplish each day, I’m more productive.

4.    Prioritize:  So many times, we take on way too much. We end up over committing ourselves and strive to be all things to all people. When we prioritize our responsibilities, it allows us to focus our time and energy where we want it to be versus all over the place. I’m a big advocate for making a list of what the priorities are, and just focusing on that. Sometimes I just write the priorities down on a calendar. 

5.    Reward Yourself: When we establish a treat for ourselves that we receive when we accomplish our objectives, it creates a reward system that we are more likely to respond to. I advocate for creating small rewards along the way to keep the momentum going.

6.    Rest: I’m going to share a little-known secret with you all: I have fallen deeply and madly in love with sleep. On my longer days, where I have a long list of clients to connect with, I take a nap. I’m also a huge believer in getting at least eight hours of sleep every night. The other piece of this puzzle is that when you develop a consistent routine of sleeping and waking at the same time every day, it helps your entire day go by more smoothly. As far as naps, even if you just rest for 20 minutes and allow it to be a time of reset, you will see improvements.

7.    Speak the truth: As a society, we’ve become people who offer fake responses about simple things like how we are doing, how we are feeling, etc. When we honor our emotions and experiences, it allows the intensity of them to dissipate, even if slightly. There’s an old saying that a burden shared is a burden halved, a joy shared is a joy multiplied.

I hope you found this blog to be helpful.  Tell me where you are on the stress continuum, as well as what stress coping skills are your go-to’s. I'd love to know!
Jenn Bovee is a Shame Busting Coach. She works with people all over the world to implement the concept that Shame has no place in their lives today. Learn more about Jenn here: