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.
Most people will tell you that sobbing in your boss's office is not a great career move, but really, it depends on what your next career move is. For me, it was a catalyst to the change I needed.
For the last decade, I had worked fulltime managing projects in the financial services industry. We have always had one speed in our department, full throttle, and I had excelled at that pace. Due to the economy the last few years, the corporate message had become "do more with less," which roughly translates to: we'll need more from you, and you'll have less people to help with it. This all equated to extra hours, the endless buzzing of a Blackberry, and a personal compulsion to address everything at work with the urgency of a forest fire, because in playing offense I found a sense of control.
At the same time, my family dynamic was evolving. My husband was travelling more for his job and my elementary school child and aging parents needed me in ways they hadn't before. It quickly was beginning to feel like there were never enough hours in the day and everything was out of control.
The physical manifestations of the stress crept in. I would wake in the middle of the night with a sense of panic and be unable to fall back to sleep for hours. I was exhausted and irritable. The expression "if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" exists for a reason. I was becoming worn down and everyone around me was experiencing the effects. When someone would say to me, "I don't know how you do it," I would smile, but inside I would think, "I honestly don't know how I'm doing it either." This went on for about a year.
And so I found myself sobbing to my boss. I was fortunate enough during this decade to work for a woman who recognized that being caring and a boss do not have to be mutually exclusive. She too had a family and on occasion we had discussed her own challenges in balancing it all. We both had always found ways to laugh through stressful times in the past, but this was different. The stress was really taking a toll on me and I was emotionally drained. She could tell as soon as I walked in.
She shut the door and simply asked me, "What's going on?" That simple question opened the flood gates. "I am exhausted," I said. There, I had admitted it. The world didn't end, but I did start to cry. We talked about all the things going on inside and out of work and it all came down to one simple thing in the end: figuring out what was important to me at this point in my life. I had to to step back and acknowledge what I needed and then attack it with the same "make it happen" approach I would use on a work project.
I thought about it. What do I really need and what do I want? Who am I now?
I realized I am no longer the same woman I was in my 20s and early 30s. While I still liked my job overall, I no longer had the same type of career aspirations I once had. The time with my family was where I was finding my greatest fulfillment. A run through of our finances made it clear that I needed to keep working, but did I really need to work the hours that I had been, and did I need to be physically present in the office as much? When am I happiest at the most basic level? I knew I wanted to be more present in my family life. I was used to rushing in the door at 7 p.m. after sitting in traffic for two hours, prepping dinner while trying to catch up with my child and spouse, and sorting through a backpack to find what was needed for the next day at school. At that point nobody really wants to tell you (nor do you have the energy to truly hear) how their day was.
It was simple. I wanted things to slow down and I wanted to be more present in the lives of those I loved most.
At work, our business model was changing and there was an opportunity for me to reassess my role and participate in a work from home initiative. Within a month, I had drafted a proposal that would entail a part-time work from home and shortened hours schedule, allowing me to pick up my daughter after school, end my work day earlier and still bring in enough income for our family needs. I still give my job 100 percent when I am on the clock but I don't check my Blackberry the way I did before. When I talk with my family now, it's not after a long commute at the end of an even longer work day, and I feel like I can give them my full attention. I haven't woken up in the middle of the night in a panic in quite some time. I recognize I am very fortunate that my situation at my present company was able to work out the way it has and that our financial situation afforded me the flexibility I needed. While everyone's situation is different, what this experience has taught me is the importance of listening to your body. When everything inside of us is screaming that we need to make a change, the best thing we can do is listen and then do everything we can to make it happen.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in this series.