05/31/2013 10:19 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

The Moment I Knew

When we asked readers to tweet about the moment they knew they needed to de-stress, the responses were alarming. Breaking points were marked by health crises, family problems and other types of suffering. We decided to go deeper into some of these stories in the hope that others can recognize signs of extreme stress and start to figure out their own paths to de-stressing.

Four years ago, I found myself working a job I hated and dealing with an ex-boyfriend who was emotionally and physically abusive. I had no time to think about myself. I was too busy trying to keep the peace with my ex, dealing with his manipulative nonsense during the day and mentally preparing myself to go to a job I loathed every night. I was pretty miserable and since beginning to date this man, I had done a pretty good job of isolating myself from the world.

It was sometime in March of 2009 when I realized a startling truth: my hair was falling out. At first, I was anxious that I had some sort of medical condition. At some point in the evening after looking online at possible causes, I came to an alarming conclusion as to why my brittle hair was falling out: stress. It was at that moment that realized that four years of living a stressful, negative, unhappy and toxic lifestyle had taken its toll. I realized I would lose all my hair if I kept it up.

It took awhile for this fact to sink in, probably because I was in such a state of denial about the life I was living. I played the denial game a little longer. I changed my mind and decided that it couldn't be stress -- that it was merely my biracial hair and I was using bad products or that it was my diet -- but even those excuses eventually led me to the same conclusion. I was so stressed out and had become so used to being stressed and anxious that I was suffering from depression and anxiety. I stopped caring. After seeing a face that looked too tired and weary for that of a 25-year-old, I decided it was time to get myself out of the rut.

The changes were not immediate. The first change I made to de-stress myself and my life was to find people to hang out with. Fortunately, there was a girl I had worked with previously who I promised to hang out with but never did. I realized it was high time I did so. She and I became friends, and going over to her place was an excellent way to begin coping with stress. The next move I made was preparing to do what I promised myself I would do: go back to school. I didn't return until the fall but I was glad to work towards getting out of my dead-end cocktail serving job where I felt objectified on a regular basis.

In August of that year, I returned to my hometown and visited my dad for the first time in more than four years. Spending two weeks with him gave me the strength and courage to realize that I deserved to live a better life than the one I was living. Once I returned to Seattle, I felt more confident and relaxed than I had in years. I knew how imperative it was to take time for me and I began to take control of my life again.

The last part of de-stressing my life was cutting my ex out once and for all. It didn't take long because upon returning to school I met someone wonderful who brought me joy and happiness. I was not about to give that up for someone who refused to accept that our relationship was over and would not take no for an answer. While the process to legally remove him from my life did cause more stress and concern for quite a long time, it led me to become a much more positive person. I make it a point every day to laugh, have fun and just be all around groovy.

For a while after this, I felt I was done being stressed, but I have recently found that it is not true. I still find myself under stress, but I remember what I went through just a few short years ago to put in perspective how bad things can get. My friends and family can attest that I still become an anxious stress monster, especially when I don't take time for me, but I know that I am a lot better than I used to be.

I have accepted that stress is a part of life and it's not always a bad thing. The choices people make about how to handle it make all the difference. I keep trying to find more and more tools to help me deal with stress. In a few weeks, I will be learning transcendental meditation. I don't expect miracles, but the more natural tools I have in my stress-relieving toolbox, the better off I am. It's taken a very long time to realize I don't have to let stress be in the driver's seat. I have earned my place in that driver's seat and I deserve to be in control of my own life.

Is there a moment you hit a stress breaking point and knew you needed to change your life? If you'd like to share your story, please send personal essays under 1200 words to for consideration in this series.