They call it stress. I call it burnout. Some people call it Adrenal Fatigue. Your body falls apart because of it and you’re (generally) terrible at recognizing it. But what the hell is it, really?

In the past 20 years or so, we’ve gotten adept at recognizing emotional overload when it happens and allowing space for the idea that it causes some internal havoc that can lead to all sorts of physical disorders. By the time I see people in my office or online, they’ve usually had at least one diagnosis that is stress related.

  • Stomach ulcer? Stress induced.
  • Migraines? All signs point to stress.
  • Chronic Fatigue? Labs are a little off, but not enough for meds. Stress.
  • Getting colds and flus all the time? Stress.

My whole body feels stiff, like there’s a layer of sheet metal under my skin that prevents me from moving freely.

And then you tell me this: “But I don’t FEEEL stressed”

And it is time to break it down for you.

Sitting and staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day is a stressor that your body isn’t happy with. Stress.

Overeating, eating too much of any one food, not getting nutrients. Stress.

Sitting in traffic on the daily. Stress.

You might feel emotionally okay about all of these things but your body still has to do extra work to maintain homeostasis (balance). And, your body used to be really great at that, but the amount of input we’ve added in the age of the internet is not something that our bodies have adapted to quite yet.

All that facebook scrolling? Stress. Your body has to take in ALL THAT INFORMATION and transform it, decide where to put it in your brain, decide what’s important and what’s not… and it should be probably busy doing something else important, like digesting your food.

So, instead of asking yourself where you are stressed in your life or what activities are causing your body stress, ask yourself:

When are my body and brain allowed to truly rest?

You don’t need to ‘feel’ stressed in order to be experiencing it. In fact, my suggestion is that you stop saying “I’m stressed” altogether. Stress is not an emotion, it’s a state of being. Wrangling it into submission requires that you know what it’s doing to you. That means clearly identifying the emotions that you associate with stress (Is it overwhelm? Anger? Irritation? Resentment? Sadness?) and the physical ailments that crop up when you’re in the thick of it.

Currently, we are prepping for an international move, which means job changes, bank changes, buying cars, refiguring out how all sorts of different insurances work, thinking about our dog being in a crate in the cargo hold of an airplane, saying goodbye to patients I’ve known for 5 years. And that’s just what I came up with off the top of my head.

But here’s the thing. I ‘feel’ fine. Emotionally, I’m a little quicker to frustration – my fuse just isn’t as long but aside from that, I don’t feel any overwhelming emotions at all.

Physically, on the other hand, stress is causing a ruckus.

My whole body feels stiff, like there’s a layer of sheet metal under my skin that prevents me from moving freely. My neck hurts. I’m having a shit time falling asleep. If I have even one glass of wine, my cheeks are flushing and burning so hot that I can’t even stand myself. After a shower, my Liver channel looks like it’s covered in big red hives (the Liver, in Chinese Medicine, is responsible for processing all emotions). I am easily startled when walking down the street or on the tram. My spidey senses are haywire.

So, I could ask for help and say: I’m stressed. BUT. How much easier is it for me to find help when I can say: there’s a lot going on in my life right now and this is how my emotional and physical bodies are responding?

So much easier.

The next time you’re in a stressful period, don’t say “I’m stressed”.  Instead, go inward, find out what your body is doing. Make a list of ailments, no matter how small and start to tackle them.

Because I know I am holding tension, I know it’s a good idea to get a relaxing massage.

Because I know I am not sleeping, I am doing yoga nidra meditations throughout the day to give my body time to rest and regenerate.
Because I know my Liver is overloaded and reacting badly to alcohol, I’m avoiding it.

My body is still in a state of stress, but I’m not afraid of it. I know how to take care of myself because I’ve taken the time to break it down into understandable, actionable chunks.

Do you know what your first sign of stress is on a physical level? (Mine is neck pain) Let me know in the comments!