“Stress almost killed me”
The consequences of chronic stress can be dire. For Penelope Theodorelos, 40, it led to a heart attack that made her re-evaluate her approach to life. She talks to Beverley Hadgraft
“By the age of 35, I was a phone consultant at a bank, and due to my experience, I was made a team leader, in charge of 24 people. I was excited and enthusiastic about developing my team and making them the best they could be, so I worked long hours, often leaving the house at midday and not returning until after midnight.
Very soon, our team rose through the ranks and were meeting all targets. Despite this, however, I found the job very stressful. I consider myself a people person, I value relationships and dislike confrontation, so dealing with behavioural issues or pushing people to meet their targets when I knew they were going through tough times was difficult for me.
I kept telling myself it was good to take on challenges but I’d lie awake until 3am most nights, my anxieties racing through my mind. The stress was so acute some days, it felt as if my body was actually in pain.
My main relaxation was to play tennis on a Wii game console and after one session I noticed a pain in my arm. Doctors and a physio
I originally thought I’d return to work but I realised that although I was still loyal to my employer and loved developing people, I didn’t want to manage them. I also realised I was replaceable and I’d put myself through more than was necessary, so I started thinking about what I truly wanted.
I ended up taking on a new part-time role as a customer service consultant and focused on going to the gym, eating healthily and learning to zone out and not rock up to every battle I was invited to.
I also took enjoyment in simple pleasures like gardening, walking my dog by the river and laughing with close friends. I appreciated the comfort and peace these activities brought to my life.
And I keep that positive frame of mind by reading lots of affirmations. My favourite is, ‘Stronger than yesterday’. I even wear it on a T-shirt because I believe it’s true.” July 24 is Lifeline’s Stress Down Day, during which people are invited to consider ways of reducing and managing their stress. For more info, visit lifeline.org.au