Stress: It Will Get You If You Let It

Stress: It Will Get You If You Let It


I rarely get sick. If I do, it’s usually just for a day or even a part of a day. A little extra Reiki and some extra sleep (maybe much of the day) usually sets me straight.

The last time I got a nasty stomach flu, one that had me down for three or four days, was the winter of 2001, a month or so after 9/11. Days before the attack, I had moved from Chicago to the country to care for a house and a small herd of horses. It was a beautiful move, but a huge change, and coupled with the assault on our nation, stressful.

The last time I got a nasty respiratory infection (flu, bronchitis, pneumonia) was over 20 years ago, when I was still smoking. As soon as I quit for good, the lung infections also quit for good. I haven’t had so much as a chest cold since.

So I was both surprised and disheartened when I felt a bug coming on a couple of weeks ago. I was making one of my twice-monthly treks to civilization so I could buy organically grown food for myself and my canine companion, Elika, and my eyes started to burn. Then the pain started behind them. By the time I got home, It felt like a hot knife had been driven through my right temple.

I went to bed early that night, the Tuesday before Christmas, but I did not wake up refreshed. By the next night, Wednesday, my chest was heavy, I had that awful taste in my throat that signals something nasty going on in the lungs (you know that taste), and the muscles of my legs ached so much that the pain woke me up in the middle of the night.

By the following day, Thursday, I was running a fever. My face was hot and flushed, and I alternated between feeling feverish and feeling chilled.

I could not believe this was happening to me.


Many people become ill around the holidays: too much alcohol, too much rich food, not enough sleep. And the biggest contributor, in my opinion, family stress: the critical in-laws or the mother who just won’t cut you a break even though you’ve been away from home for 30 years or the gossip about family members not in attendance. Some folks deal with the drama much better than others. I think it’s an art—one I never really learned.

And so, two years ago I decided to kindly, with no malice at all, decline to participate in family holiday celebrations. Of course, the folks who had done the most battering when I was present were the ones who decried my decision the loudest, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my holidays since making this change.

So my illness was not a result of family stress, and it was not the result of poor food choices or excesses. My illness, I believe, was the result of the stress caused by an ugly situation that I somehow allowed to take hold of me. As a healer, I work for myself, but I’m guessing that the situation I found myself in is similar to what many people experience in the workplace.


In mid-September, I moved my horses from a fabulous self-care arrangement to a commercial barn. The elderly couple whose property I had been sharing sold the place, and so my horses and I had to move along.

The commercial barn was by no means ideal, but it was close to home and had an indoor arena, and the people I’d met who kept their horses there seemed nice. Best of all, the manager, an older gentleman with lots of horse experience, was a real sweetie. I visited the barn twice, then made the decision to move my horses in. My plan was to stay for the winter, restart my horses in the indoor arena when other folks were on the property (I’d quit riding after a catastrophic accident two years earlier and hadn’t started up again because I was alone on the property), get them used to riding on the trails (a gorgeous wooded trail ringed the property), and then move on.

Two weeks after my horses moved in, the manager was fired. The way it happened was ugly and, in my opinion, grossly unfair. The manager had only been there for about six weeks. It seems to me that if he wasn’t doing some aspect of his job correctly, he should have been given a warning and coached. But, instead, he was told to get out.

That didn’t sit well with me, and so I started looking for another place for my horses. I know all of the commercial barns in the area, and none of them care for horses in a way that best suits the horse (instead, the routine is for the convenience of the human), so I was looking for another self-care situation. I’d been looking for a year, so I wasn’t too hopeful, but I was looking all the same.

When the day came for a meeting with the new managers, a couple, my heart sank. Everything in me told me I’d have to move along, and soon. I kept looking.

The new managers took over in October. Things started out OK, but the care  slowly deteriorated. By the end of November, I was getting a stomach ache every time I went to the barn (twice a day, to feed my horses who were in outdoor board). They were being fed large square bales of grass hay (about 200 pounds each) in a round feeder. I wasn’t crazy about this way of feeding, but it beat the heck out of the way the rest of the horses were being fed—small amounts of alfalfa-laden hay twice a day. Sometimes the horses were fed at five or six at night and then not fed again until 10 the next morning—a recipe for ulcers.

So, while mine were overeating, at least they had hay in front of them, except that when the bale ran out every three or four days, the managers wouldn’t set a new one out for 12 or 15 hours. They wanted the horses (my two and one other) to eat every single morsel of hay first, even if it was full of sticks or dirt or mold. And they didn’t move the feeder (which doesn’t have a bottom) to a new spot; they’d just dump a new bale on top of the packed down stuff at the bottom, which eventually grew to four or five inches of composting garbage. Mold, for all of you non-horsey people, can make a horse extremely ill. In some cases, it can even kill a horse.

Of course, I brought this problem to their attention, but they didn’t see it as a problem. So I bought my own hay and, with their permission, fed the horses myself in that interim period between the bale running out and their refilling the feeder. And I kept looking.

But then one of the managers started complaining about how I was putting the hay out—I was spreading it around the paddock; she wanted it all in one place against the fence (where my two would stand in it and the other horse couldn’t get to it). And she didn’t want me cleaning the shed (which they never cleaned), and so she hid the muck rake. And on and on.

By the Tuesday before Christmas, the stomach aches I suffered each time I went to the barn, and which had been getting steadily more painful, had developed into full-blown respiratory flu.

I should have known better. Since I was a little girl, my stomach has always thrown up a red flag when things need to change. While I wasn’t able to leave the situation (although I did finally leave the day after Christmas), and I wasn’t able to change the behavior of the managers, I should have found a way to protect myself.

Each morning, I spend 20 to 40 minutes in Reiki self-healing, which helps to keep the body, mind, and spirit in balance. The practice includes repeating and sometimes meditating on one or more of the Reiki precepts (Just for today I will not anger; just for today I will not worry; and so on). I am sure that this daily practice is what prevented the flu from becoming more serious. It did not develop into pneumonia or bronchitis, and the fever broke after a few days, although my chest is still heavy and my energy has not fully returned.

Once I’d left that place, I got to thinking about how I could have protected myself from the effects of that awful stress. I know that if my beloved animals had not been involved, this would have been much easier. But what could I have done to prevent the stress from getting inside my body and wreaking havoc on my health?


Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Reiki self-healing two or three times a day instead of once
  • Remembrance—the Sufi practice of quietly repeating the name of the Divine for several minutes so as to remember one’s complete connection to this loving, peaceful Source of life
  • Before driving to the barn, visualizing myself in a safe, peaceful bubble that the ugliness of the situation could not penetrate
  • Laughter—not in the faces of the people causing me pain, but throughout the rest of the day. Laughter has a cleansing, healing quality that it is easy to forget about when in the thick of very unfunny situations.


I am interested in learning other approaches from you. How do you protect yourself from the ravages of stress when in a situation that you cannot immediately change?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


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4 Replies to “Stress: It Will Get You If You Let It”

  1. Hi Pam,
    I totally understand your stress with your horses. That is why I ended up with my own farm. After only 2 years in a commercial barn situation, I had totally had enough of improper care and the basics couldn’t even be managed, like giving the horses water, I came home from the barn one afternoon and told my husband we were buying our own place. That was 11 years ago. Believe me if I could find someone to take care of my horses the way I do I would be there in a heart beat. The work here is endless. I own two and board 2 for others, they have been with me for 7 years.
    Recently I too have been a little off. I’ve had a cough for 2 months, that I can’t seem to get rid of. Before that 2 colds in 11 years. I’ve been blessed no flu or anything else.
    I’ve have had quite a bit of stress lately, but I think what keeps me healthy is my supplements and the organic foods I eat. Also since I am the care giver for the horses I know I have to stay healthy. Thank you for sharing your ideas and may we both have a healthy and happy 2012.

    1. Hi Lisa. You are fortunate to have been able to afford a place of your own. Although that is not currently an option for me, I have been fortunate to have been able to find self-care situations, for the most part.

      But when stressful situations happen and it’s not possible to remove oneself from it right away, it’s important to be able to manage the stress, which I wasn’t able to do this time–for the first time in a long time.

      And, yes, good nutrition is a crucial component of that. Absolutely.

  2. Pam, I am sorry that your own health was so affected by the stress, but what a wonderful gift you have given the rest of us, by telling about it. Sometimes just having something brought to awareness is a transformational thing, IMO. Thanks for your gifts of insight, wisdom and writing that you share so generously!

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