My story is about how stress can creep up on you without you realising it.
I always thought I coped with stress very well, I loved multi-tasking, would run from one thing to another. Organising family life and working full-time. I was a “Multi-tasking Master” and I loved it.
My job in recruitment needs me to be able multi-task. Recruitment needs you to wear many hats; you are an interviewer, sales person, adviser, counsellor. You need a fantastic memory to remember all your clients and candidates, so you know who is a great fit with each other, not just skills but personalities as well. And then there are all the different types of roles all coming in different times. As a recruitment consultant your day cannot be planned too closely as a phone call can change all your plans. I am using my knowledge of recruitment as an example I am sure many other people are in roles where multi-tasking is required. Working full-time and being a parent also required lots of juggling and running from one job from another – Oh and there was the guilt that every working parent feels of not being there because of work.
To be a good multi-tasker, who could swap from one task to another without dropping any of the balls I was juggling, I was relying on my Adrenalin. I didn’t know I was at the time, but after years and years of being a “Multi-tasking Master” I started to get random allergic reactions. I was still functioning, still able to multi-task but I was tired and was getting these weird reactions from my body. My eye would swell up one day, and then a few days later I would get large raised lumps on my face, legs or arms. The scariest reaction was half of my throat swelled up, which resulted in me being prescribed an Adrenalin pen. My first thought was its food related or something like washing powder or body lotion. A sensitivity test, showed allergies for every food group, so I cut out as much as I could sensibly. Cut out gluten, lactose and as much as I could of the other foods, but the reactions didn’t stop. I changed washing powders, cleaners, lotions and potions still no change.
Then a Doctor pointed it out it was probably stress, to which my reaction was to laugh! “Me stressed – I love it, it makes me focus and enables me to do everything and work harder ” The Doctors response was “Well obviously you are not – your body is trying to give you signs that it’s not happy, you need to change.”
At this point I’d been working in recruitment for a number of years, the reactions had started about 4 months before I was made redundant due to the 2009 recession and closure of the business I worked for . Looking back now, probably the build up to the closure just an extra pressure and worry that tipped me over the edge. As I found myself, without a job and knowing I had 100's of people in the same state, who I was trying to help find a job in recession. I thought I have a skill that can help people find a job so decided to set up my own recruitment business. With no additional funding apart from 1 month redundancy pay I set up my own recruitment business and took on a part time job (to give me a bit of an income whilst setting up this new business). Oh and don’t forget I was a mother of school aged daughter and needed to contribute to household bills and mortgage.
So yes I was changing but not necessary for the better stress wise!
These allergies had been going on for around 18 months at this point, so I had to learn how to manage stress, with all that life was throwing at me. This was about 9 years ago so there was no talk about mindfulness and meditation was something that monks did! Also I am a big thinker; my mind even now is always whirring.
Never someone who thought alternative medication was for me, I was getting desperate, so decided to try acupuncture, my therapist also suggested I look into ways to relax. I didn't do relaxation, saw that as a weakness, I thought unless I was running from one thing to another and juggling lots of things at the same time I was a failure. I honestly didn't know how I would react if I did relax so I was busy at work and filled my time at home, very rarely stopping to think about myself. Although the acupuncture didn’t stop the allergies, I did enjoy the feeling of stopping for an hour, while I had the treatment and talking about myself and how I was feeling. One of the suggestions my Acupuncturist made was hypnotherapy, which I went on to study myself as I found the relaxation aspect of this very therapeutic. By the time I finished my training as a hypnotherapist my allergies had stopped, my recruitment business was giving me a full time income so I could give up my part-time role.
Now I am not saying to get on top of stress you need to qualify as a hypnotherapist or that you have to have lots of hypnotherapy sessions, it’s more about taking time to recognise you are pushing yourself too hard. To give yourself a break, learn to stop for a few minutes to clear your head.
This is now known as mindfulness, a term we are all familiar with. A few years ago, I started to appreciate the countryside as I walked my dog, taking slower breaths and looking around to appreciate the world. I’d stare into a cup of tea or coffee, letting the steam hit my face and breathed it in, I’d soften my focus as I lost myself for a few moments. At points in the day I’d breath in deeply, hold my breath for a moment and let it out slowly. Obviously you will now recognise this as Mindfulness but before it had a label it was just the way I relaxed and got my stress allergies under control.
Today, I am still an a great multi-tasker, a big thinker, with lots or ideas whirring in my head, still busy (which I enjoy), but now I find time to listen to my body and mind. If I notice and feel tension in my mind or body and act on it before it becomes a problem. Might be a simple as looking away from the screen for a few moments, looking into the distance and taking a few deep breaths. Did I need to worry about relaxing No! Did it slow me down No! No more allergies. Am I more creative - yes! Am I working through and achieving my goals yes!
Knowing how difficult it can be to actually stop having ideas popping into your head when you are trying to practice mindfulness, I decided to develop a guided mindfulness programme, using focusing and visualisation techniques to help people become the very best version of themselves.
Ann Downs DMH D.Hyp CPNLP