Several years ago the strangest thing happened to me… or so I thought at the time. I had just given my Form Six class (Grade 13) a multiple choice test to do when I started feeling unwell.
That was the best description of how I was feeling at the time. I could not identify any specific symptoms and I had never felt like that before.
I sat in the adjacent office where we had a sofa and I tried to be mindful of how I was feeling. As time passed a massive headache set in, I felt pain in my neck and my face felt as though it was swelling.
At the end of the time allotted for the test, I collected the papers from my students. There were twelve of them and only one was a boy. They gathered excitedly around me, asking about the answers.
I could not believe my ears. I was not understanding a single word they were saying. It all sounded like gibberish, unintelligible. I realised that the problem was me.
I made a quick exit to the office once again where I then asked the Laboratory Assistant to dismiss them as it was already lunch time. I felt claustrophobic , stifled,when they had crowded around me.
At that point I realised a doctor’s visit was essential.
It turns out that my pressure had sky-rocketed. I was given some medication and advised to get more rest.
Upon reflection, that time of my life had been like a point of convergence of several major personal upheavals.
I had previously gone through a divorce. Although it was mutual I had never taken the time to deal with that major life change.
My son had been preparing to write his first major examination at high school level, CSEC in our country.
I had moved out of our home and had been renting for a few years before acquiring my own home. In my own home I spent the weekends alone, with little or no security since I had not yet put up a fence.
There were several other issues and the accumulated stress had finally taken its toll, hence the elevated blood pressure.
That incident was quite scary. I came face to face with my mortality. The symptoms had so closely imitated those of a stroke. In particular the swelling in my face had been worrisome.
Someone else in my situation may have handled it differently; someone else may have experienced more or less severe symptoms.
I have come a long way in learning to deal with chronic as well as acute stress; enough to know that stress experience is personalized. Each of us has characteristic resilience levels, spirituality and physical reactions to manage stress.
What had happened to me was that there was an overload of demands which exceeded my personal resources. The result was that my body had been in a series of fight, flight or freeze cycles.
These cycles produce hormones and neurotransmitters such as cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and nor-epinephrine(noradrenaline) which cause elevated blood pressure, racing heart and those many symptoms we experience when threatened.
There is also the simultaneous shut down of other processes not considered to be vital to survival including digestion.
The trigger for each of us may be different but each of us experience stress in the same way biochemically. The cycles of hormone release and equilibrium occur under chronic stress.
The difference is that the effect of these biochemicals may be manifested by various permutations of physical, emotional, mental and behavioural symptoms.
Fortunately there has been a lot of work done within the last seventy five years in the field of stress and stress management.
Hans Selye the man who coined the use of the word stress in this context, had noted as a medical student, that persons suffering with different diseases, all just looked sick.
Stress manifested itself in the form of different diseases.
The positive aspect of this is that it means that to treat any stress would require some basic steps common to all of us.
Tell me please have you experienced chronic stress which has led to or may lead to some critical situation like in my case, the elevated blood pressure? I look forward to hearing from you.