How I Eliminated Chronic Stress from My Life
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James
I wasn’t always filled with chronic stress, although some might say (as my psychotherapist informed me) that my childhood was particularly stressful, if not quite approaching toxic stress. What I’ve learned in the years since undergoing therapy is that my mother likely suffered from depression as she carried me in her womb, thus, potentially setting the stage for what later became my own depression, heightened fear and anxiety, hypersensitivity and feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, even despair. The death of my grandmother, aunt and then my father when I was a young girl only added to the inordinate amount of stress I tried to bury.
How did I overcome chronic stress?
In short, I strongly believe it was nothing short of a miracle. Yet, rationally, it’s more likely a combination of psychotherapy, mindfulness meditation, finding strong and supportive mentors, adopting a positive attitude and developing resilience.
None of this was easy. In fact, therapy was often quite painful, albeit eye-opening and offering a pathway to emotional wellness.
How Psychotherapy Helped Me
I first sought psychotherapy after a prolonged period of sadness going back to my early teens. I had just turned 13 when my father died suddenly from a massive coronary occlusion, otherwise known as a fatal heart attack. Not only was he my rock and anchor, I believed he was my source of happiness. Although my mother later told me he could be somewhat distant or aloof to her and my older brother, I never saw that and he was never that way with me. Thus, when he died at work on the Ford assembly line, a hurt so all-encompassing and a sadness so profound enveloped me that I was never quite the same again.
Every bit of shocking news filled me with terror. If my mother got sick, I feared she’d die and leave me alone. When my brother was involved in an early morning car crash while on leave from the Air Force Base where he was stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi and nearly died, I went into a full-blown panic. I couldn’t eat or sleep and cried incessantly. My mother, desperately attempting to cope with her own fears so soon after her husband’s death, couldn’t offer much help.
I fell into what now is termed clinical depression. At the time, no one in our socioeconomic class (we weren’t at the poverty level, but I’d estimate our family fell in the basement of the middle class), mentioned mental illness, let alone sought help for it. I was on my own to deal with my ever-present sadness, stress, nightmares, feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy.
As I entered my late teens and early adulthood, I unconsciously sought someone to replace my father in my heart, though I didn’t know this at the time. I just thought I was looking for someone to love me, a quest that proved elusive and seemingly impossible.