“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ― Steve Maraboli

Anxiety has been a problem for me for a long time. But within the past year, I’ve been able to understand it more and minimize its effects.

However, when I was in the midst of the worst part of my anxiety, it was miserable. The anxiety led to stress, and that stress led to being exhausted and unhealthy.

Sometimes you may not know how much stress you are experiencing because it’s normal for many of us. We become used to it.

But for me, I could physically feel it because it was so bad. It manifested as a pain in my chest and for a long time, I did not understand what it was. Or maybe I didn’t want to know.

About eight years ago, I finally went to the doctor (which was always hard for me) to figure out what was wrong. I believed I was having heart problems, or it was early symptoms of a heart attack. I didn’t equate that pain in my chest with stress.

However, the doctor knew right away. They ran the normal tests to rule out any heart problems, but they weren’t necessary. Yet, once the doctor asked me about my life, he could tell the pain was from all the stress I was under.

While I’d like to say that day was the turning point, it wasn’t. It was because I did nothing to deal with the stress, and the chest pains would come and go until last year. And it only stopped because I decided to avoid things which I knew brought me stress.

So I wanted to learn more about the connection between my anxiety and the stress I experienced.

And it brought me to cortisol.

Cortisol is called the “stress hormone.” It is produced by your adrenal glands, the same glands which release adrenaline (the fight-or-flight hormone). Along with being the stress hormone, cortisol plays an important role in your body. It helps maintain blood pressure, regulate digestion, and helps control your sleep/wake cycle among other functions.

Cortisol (along with several other hormones) is also important in stress, hence the nickname. But too much of it can lead to many health problems including anxiety and depression, headaches, heart disease, and trouble sleeping.

When you are stressed, cortisol is released which makes energy available to you. This allows the stress to decrease (normally) and the amount of cortisol produced goes down. However, when you are chronically stressed, the cortisol is constantly being produced and can cause high levels of the hormone — which leads to the problems mentioned above.

This is an over-simplified explanation of cortisol and the process within the body. I’m not a doctor, health professional, or any type of expert in health.

But what I learned about this process was fascinating because this is exactly what I experienced. And when you are getting an overproduction of cortisol, it can lead to being tired all the time. That increased energy led to exhaustion.

My stress level was always high and a lot of it was because of my job. Yet, there were other factors too. That high stress led to my anxiety and my worrying about everything. And even though the hormone was producing energy all the time, it left me with no energy. I was exhausted, but could not rest because of the stress and anxiety.

It’s almost an oxymoron. Being exhausted and tired all the time but not being able to rest. Your body is telling you to sleep, but your mind is not letting it happen.

And when I look back now, I see my energy bank was full, but with the wrong things.

I filled it with doubt, worry, anger, and fear. I wasted my energy on things that didn’t matter. On money, material items, status, and people who didn’t deserve what little energy I had left. I let it get filled with things that stressed me and made me anxious and depressed.

But I made a withdrawal. I withdrew the negativity and the obstacles I let stand in my way. I took out the insecurity and self-hatred. And I realized there was never room for positive energy because all the negative stuff kept it full.

So now I fill my energy bank with things that excite and energize me. I deposit self-compassion, confidence, empathy, and love. I threw in some hobbies which make me feel alive and happy, and I got help for the stress and mental health issues.

Although my balance is not high yet, I can already see it increasing.

I save that precious energy for things that matter and for what I can control.

Because I don’t want to experience chest pains, stress, depression, and anxiety anymore.

And I don’t want you to experience any of it either. It’s not fun.

So make sure you are keeping your energy bank full of what you enjoy. Fill it with things that thrill you and make you feel alive. But be careful because there are people out there who will steal your energy if you allow it. So check your balance often.

And don’t forget you can fill up other people’s bank with kindness too. It adds to everyone’s balance.

What’s your bank full of?

Jeff Barton is a writer, ultra-runner, lover of books and zombies, a practitioner of positive thinking, and most importantly, a dad. Living and loving life one day at a time. You can find him at jeffthewriter.com and jefftherunner.com.


Image courtesy of Prateek Gautam.