“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

Sunday Mail - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

“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

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