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With Thanksgiving last week, I’ve been reflecting on what I am grateful for this year. To be honest, it’s been a long, somewhat arduous year.

I hate to say that because I got married this year. Marriage is a joyful event, right? Yes, in many ways. I am truly happy to be married to Mark. He is the friend and love I turn to every day and I am very grateful for him. It also seems the universe conspired to balance that happiness with a good amount of stress.

Health concerns

In January, I had the weird spell with numbness in my arm and light headedness which led to major tests including a brain fMRI, an EKG and a stress test. Was it a mini-stroke? A heart attack? A panic attack? I had not slept well for a few days prior to the event. My mind raced thinking about all of the upcoming changes from the wedding and their effect on our home and family.

In the end, the doctors found nothing. The neurologist said to lower my stress levels.

The lessons I learned from that episode are that I’m getting older, I can’t take my health or life for granted. I also need to find ways to reduce my stress. I can’t take on all of the potential problems and pain of the future. I need to let things roll off me more and let go of perfection. Somehow, I still believe perfection will save me from pain. My body says differently.

Financial stress

This ended up being one of the most expensive years I’ve had in a long time too. The extra medical expenses, wedding costs, home remodeling to accommodate our combined families and freak hail storm that required us to replace the roof on our house (with a steep insurance deductible), hit our bank accounts pretty hard. I found myself pinching pennies and scrutinizing the credit card statements. The scarcity mindset took over. Everyone worried about their needs and expenses getting covered. Relationships got strained.

Stress makes you ugly

Needless to say, the added stress did not bring out the best in me. I found it harder to laugh things off. More things annoyed me. Lost sleep does not enhance my demeanor. It makes me closer to tears and easily irritated. I am impatient. All of this only exacerbates the situation. I know this intellectually, but my lizard brain just wants to survive. It wants to fight.

Reaching out is scary

The twin fears of losing all of the good things I have and gaining new problems, keep my mind overactive. I’ve learned ways to soothe myself and ways others can help in that process. Asking for help from others (in a calm, respectful manner) is one of the best remedies for this ruminating, but I’ve struggled to do that well and frankly, there have been times in the past when I asked for help and did not get it. So, I’m leary.

Stress still happens

Anxiety and sensitivity are a part of me. New accommodations and relationship dynamics trip my nervous system’s fight or flight response. It takes a while to settle the response, but it does settle. I’ve learned that.

I can’t stop my primitive brain from sounding the alarm, but I can employ my intellect to squelch the intensity of that alarm. I’ve done enough research and had enough experience to know some of the tricks to silencing the panic. By telling you of how I’ve struggled over the last year with stress, I hope you can see that even with awareness, personal development focus and all good intentions, stress still got the best of me.

There are a few essential tools to fight anxiety

What I can say helps, are the things I’ve written about over and over on brendaknowles.com. Essentially: Sleep, exercise, nutrition, mental health awareness, staying present and good nurturing relationships. If you don’t want to take my word for it, perhaps the surgeon general of California, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’ endorsement of the same list will make you feel better.

These six essential life elements do not prevent anxiety entirely but they serve as the best buffers between worries and us. Nurturing relationships being the most important buffer for our health and overall life satisfaction.

It has not been an easy year, but it’s still been a good one. I’m grateful for the chance to learn how to love even when I’m overwhelmed or sad. I’m grateful for the support and love I receive even when I’m impatient, angry or rigid.

I continue to work on myself. My goal for 2020 is to roll with things better. Let the little things go. Ease up on my perfect expectations.

All of the challenges in life, push me to be better and even though my guts ache and I agonize over decisions and relationship struggles, I am grateful for the chances to move forward.

What challenged you in 2019? In the end, did they help you in some way? What was hard but made you better? What struggles are you grateful for? 

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

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