Stressing About Your Health May Be Ruining Your Health

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My husband has high blood pressure. Most of the time, he is able to control it. At home, with medication and considerable effort, he averages 120’s – 130’s / 70’s – 80’s. EXCEPT when it is time to go to his doctor twice a year where they will…you’ve got it…check his blood pressure. By just THINKING about having to go to his doctors office, his blood pressure begins to rise in the days BEFORE his appointment. Then we see 150’s – 160’s / 80’s – 90’s. Then he gets more worried about it because now the doctor will see that, and think it is high all the time and want to give him more medications, which he doesn’t want. He becomes so focused on it, and it continues to rise. By the time of his doctors appointment, his blood pressure is through the roof. In the doctors office, it is not unusual to see his blood pressure in the 200’s / 100’s. They call this “white coat hypertension” or high blood pressure that is induced by being nervous in a doctors office (as doctors often wear a “white coat”). But I think it is more than that. It think it also has to do with the fact that he becomes overly fixated about it NOT going high, that the resulting stress CAUSES it to go high.

Can we possibly be stressing so much about our health that we could actually be ruining our health? I wholeheartedly think so. This blog is designed to encourage people in their pursuit of good health. When I post suggestions and optimal targets to strive for, it is not intended to be the absolute, concrete, set in stone, requirement for all people. And if you don’t reach such targets, it in no way means you are a failure or doing something wrong. For instance, I often recommend that we strive for a fasting blood glucose of mid 80’s and below. That is an excellent GOAL to STRIVE for, but it doesn’t mean that it is reachable for all people. I don’t even reach it every day. If I eat dinner late, or don’t get enough sleep, or I’m stressed out, my blood sugar goes up. So what? I just take it as a lesson and fix what I can fix. The reason I check my blood sugar AT ALL is to LEARN. To see where there are adjustments that I may need to make, NOT to obsess over the exact number. It is a guide to help me know if I’m on track.

Believe it or not, I get FREQUENT messages from folks who are so obsessively concerned about absolutely every detail of their health, every point on their BG meter and every ounce on their scale, that they fall apart if their fasting blood sugar is 87 instead of 83, or if they gained 2 ounces from yesterday. I’m NOT exaggerating. We’re not even going to go into the fact that the margin for error on your meter or scale can account for several points, or pounds. Folks, please stop. This kind of stress is not only unnecessary, but could actually be sabotaging your efforts.

Stress will damage your physical, mental and emotional health faster than anything else. Not to mention that it completely ruins your quality of life, affects your relationships with others, and prevents you from living life in the present. What do I mean by that? You are not living life in the present because you are always thinking about that “one day”, that one magical future day when you will see a 78 on your blood sugar meter, or that one magical day when you will fit into your high school jeans again. It’s like people feel that when they reach that day, all of their problems in life will magically disappear and they will be happier. Guess what? I’ve reached my goal weight before. Nothing happened. There was no parade.  I felt much better.  But essentially, my life was the same (except my clothes were smaller, lol!) My fasting blood sugar was 81 this morning. Nothing happened. Still no parade. My life is the same as yesterday.

Pursuing optimal health is an extremely worthwhile goal. Who doesn’t want to have energy and vitality, who doesn’t want to see their children and grand children grow up, who doesn’t want to live to a ripe old age, feeling good and have their minds intact? We ALL want that.

And to be honest, I understand where some of the obsession comes from. I have to work very hard at being balanced myself. I have one of those personalities where I create extremely high expectations for myself. The demands I place on myself at times are not reasonable. Why am I like that? I’m petrified of being the obese, sick person I once was. My quality of life was so bad. I’m terrified of being that person again. It takes everything in my power NOT to be that person. I literally could look at a picture of a cookie in a magazine and I will gain weight and my blood sugar will go up, lol! Maintaining the health I have achieved takes hard work. My body was a train wreck when I started my journey to good health. Many years of poor eating, yo-yo dieting and sometimes obsessive exercise turned my body into a metabolic mess. I never want to be there again. So I understand your fears. I really get it, I do.

Fortunately, I have very supportive and loving family and friends, as well as an amazingly supportive online community, who help me be more balanced. Over time, I have had to learn to be more kind to myself, more reasonable WITH myself, and more forgiving OF myself. I no longer feel the need to strive for perfection, but just striving to be the absolute best that I can be. I work really darn hard, really hard! But I no longer obsess about 5 points on my blood sugar meter or even 5 pounds on my scale. I do my best and let the numbers fall where they may.

Often I run into people that are so unrelentingly rigid with themselves, that when I read their comments, my first thought is “I wonder when is the last time they smiled?” Remember, stress makes you gain weight. Stress raises your blood sugar. Stress could be hampering all the efforts you are making.

Please stop. If this is what you are going through, please, put down your meter, step away from the scale and go spend time with your kids. Visit a sick friend. Cook a meal for your parents. Take a brisk walk. Stretch and deep breathe. Do volunteer work. Do SOMETHING. Make life about something bigger than ourselves.

There is a very fine line between working very hard on ourselves and being obsessed over ourselves. Step over to this side. Work hard, be your best. But please stop letting numbers on a meter or a scale rob you of joy in life. Be kind to yourself. Be well.