The truth is, I didn’t know myself very well. All the signs were present; but as I am often tempted to do, I chose to only see what I wanted to see, not what was so obvious to everyone else.
I was asked numerous times last year, “Are you under stress?” My answer was the same: “Not any more than other moms of two young children.”
The fact was, I was violating my own personal code of conduct and didn’t want to admit it.
The quality I think I value highest in a person is authenticity. I can allow for mistakes and failures, if a person is authentic enough to own up to them. In fact, a person who owns up to their failures is highly esteemed in my eyes. Better to own up to your failures and admit you have them, than to hide behind a mask of perfection. I can’t trust a person who hides, because I can’t tell what they’re hiding.
And yet, I was not authentic – I was hiding.
I was hiding behind a mask that said, “Nothing to see here. Move along.”
It’s sad because when you hide from other people, you hide from yourself, too. And when you’re not authentic with yourself, you only enable yourself in your own self-destruction.
And that’s where I was.
I was self-destructing under a heavy burden of stress, personal expectations, perfectionism, and perceived expectations that I thought others had of me.
I could leave no room for failure.
I worked late into the night, work up early to finish what was left undone at night. I worked feverishly throughout the day – and it placed an enormous strain on my family. This strain only led to further stress because I felt torn between a family who needed me and my expectations that screamed failure if I didn’t give them the attention they demanded.
The quest for a perfect image and my family who only wanted a mom and wife who was present with them left me flailing wildly out of control between the two extremes. I desperately wanted to be both:
perfect and present.
But you can’t. It’s impossible. Perfect is hiding. Present is authentic. You can’t have both.
One day, in January, my husband came home from work and like a hurricane I blew out the door and left the kids with him. I was having a meltdown. Truth be told, it was only one in a long series of meltdowns I was having on a weekly basis.
My kids just didn’t understand how much work I had to do! Didn’t they get it?? Naptime was essential. Non-optional. Without them taking naps, work didn’t get done. When work didn’t get done, it meant even longer nights and even earlier mornings! Why were my kids working against me??
I climbed into the car, slammed the door, jammed the car into gear and spun out of the driveway.
Face red, heart racing teeth clenched, I drove down our street and turned onto the main road.
Halfway to the store I had an epiphany – I was doing too much.
Now, most people wouldn’t call that an epiphany. They’d call it common sense. But that’s the problem with common sense, it isn’t often very common.
I had been telling myself over and over that I just needed to be better organized. But God spoke to my heart and said, “There isn’t a way to better organize all your responsibilities. There simply are not enough hours in the day to do all you have to do. Something has to go.”
From that moment, I began to let responsibilities go.
You see, I learned a very important lesson that day.
You can do 100 things in a mediocre fashion, or you can do a few things well. But you can do nothing well when you are stressed out.
Not all stress is bad
Stress. It isn’t all bad. There are times when stress is needed to help you accomplish a short-term task in an extraordinary way. When your child is in mortal danger, you feel stress, run out into the road and rescue him from oncoming traffic. You perform an extraordinary feat that you would not otherwise do, in a way you physically would otherwise would be incapable of doing.
It gives you the strength to add daily hospital visits to your otherwise packed schedule to sit by the side of your spouse who is enduring a health battle: cancer, a heart attack, stroke….and somehow you carry on.
But they are not there to support our insecurities and pride that lead us to pile on unreasonable expectations that not only place us in a position of feeling constant pressure, but also place undue strain on our families who do not deserve a wife and mom who is constantly at the end of her rope.
When we live under constant pressure and daily stress, cortisol – the slow-burn hormone – meant to sustain our bodies under long-term stress is continually released into the blood stream until our adrenal glands are depleted and our bodies are spent.
This is irresponsible and unnecessary.
God never intended for us to live this way.
The first step to recovery from Adrenal Fatigue is to rid yourself of stress
1. Admit your imperfections and limitations – You cannot do steps 2 & 3 until you are willing to lay down your pride and recognize your limitations. Every person has their own load limit. Some can do more, some should do less. When we cease to compare our abilities with those around us, we are able to see clearly what we are capable to do. Reject the tendency to say, “But my friend Mary has 7 children and still manages to ______.” God didn’t give you the grace He gave Mary. He gave you the grace He gave you to do the tasks He intended for you to do. Not to place on your shoulders extra expectations!
2. Learn to recognize your stressors – What makes you feel panic, pressure, that sinking feeling, or dread? Take one month and pay attention to those feelings. Write down the triggers, and then ask yourself if those triggers are an essential part of your life or something you need to let go.
3. Relieve yourself of all unnecessary commitments – Take a notebook and begin listing every responsibility and commitment you have. Underneath every item, list every task and deadline associated with that item. Last, circle the ones that: a) put extra pressure on the family, b) do not help to support your husband’s job or call, c) takes unnecessary time away from the family, d) is not something you feel very passionate about. Once you’ve circled these items, begin to slowly extricate yourself from these commitments.
Repeat steps 1-3 until you have finally come to a place in your life where you daily live without pressure. If you’re having trouble, ask your close friends and family to help you with this process. What helps is to list your responsibilities and write down every detail and deadline into a calendar. If you sense that you are not able to adequately, and without stress and pressure, perform every task, something needs to go.
To overcome Adrenal Fatigue, 8-9 hours of sleep each night is necessary. It’s not that “it would be nice” or “it would be good”.
It is necessary. Essential. Required.
In order to get 8-9 hours of healthy sleep each night, follow these instructions:
1. Turn of all screens and devices 1 hour before bedtime. Yes, even your T.V. and iPhone.
2. Remove your T.V. from your bedroom and make your bedroom a sleeping room only
3. Choose a relaxing routine before bedtime: shower, hot camomile or lavender tea, a relaxing book (not a mystery or intellectual read)
4. Make your room as dark as possible to eliminate all possible distractions while sleeping
5. Wear earplugs if necessary
Studies show that we live in a sleep-deprived, stressed out culture. This is not God’s will for His people. While “burn out” has become a word to negatively describe Christians, the fact is that many are needlessly burned out because of personal, perceived or actual expectations that are too heavy for them to bear and adequately fulfill their primary call to a personal relationship with Jesus and their family.
Perhaps its time to lower our expectations, admit that we are flesh-and-blood, and realize that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost!
Update October 13, 2017: I’ve been reading this book and it has considerably altered my understanding of stress, adrenaline, and the way too much of both drastically affect our health. I highly recommend this book!