Wednesday 17 March 2021

Nobody Is Immune from Stress, You Know

In my recent article 11 Things I Am Grateful for This Week I revealed “I’ve been experiencing a good deal of stress lately one way or another.” I thought it would be useful for me — and hopefully interesting for others — to explore what was going on for me at that time and how I handled things.

Why Was I So Stressed?

I sometimes get stressed about work or relationships, but this time the trigger was discovering the hot water tank (immersion heater) at home had stopped working. Looking back, I can see there were several strands to my stress and anxiety. The first was the immediate, practical issue of not having any hot running water and having to find someone to deal with it. I have a poor track record finding reliable tradespeople. I felt under pressure to engage someone who would do a good job for a reasonable price.

There were several other plumbing jobs which needed doing about the house, including drippping taps in the bathroom and kitchen, and a kitchen waste outlet that blocked easily despite my attempts to clear it out. I realised I could probably get these long-standing issues fixed at the same time as the water tank, but I could feel myself getting anxious about other household maintenance I’d put off and spent a long time trying to ignore. I was also scared in case bigger repairs came to light.

Most of all, I felt out of my depth. I couldn’t fix the issue itself and felt unequal to the task of finding people who could and would fix it.

What Actually Happened?

It started on Thursday February 18 when I discovered there was no hot water. I immediately went online ( and looked for an electrician to see if it could be repaired. One came out on the Saturday. He said the element had burnt out but the tank was so old it needed replacing. To his credit, he wouldn’t take any money for the callout.

I wasn’t surprised. The tank was about thirty years old. It started leaking last year but I couldn’t find anyone willing to replace it. The leak stopped on its own and I pushed it to the back of my mind. I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I went back onling and put in a new job to replace the tank. Two plumbers responded. One seemed particularly keen. I send photos and we discussed what was needed. It was looking good but nothing much happened for a week, despite chasing plumber #1 for a quote. The tank began leaking again, causing damage to the ceiling over the stairs and massively increasing my stress. I isolated and drained the tank.

I tried plumber #2 again. He agreed to call round and quoted for the work within a couple of days. It was more expensive than I’d anticipated but it needed doing. He came on Saturday March 6, replaced the ancient tank with a new hot water cylinder, and also replaced the taps and kitchen waste outlet. From start to end, it had taken sixteen days.

How Did I Feel?

My main symptoms were discomfort and pain in my gut, elevated heart rate, and headaches. They became more persistent and problematic as time went on, and were most severe in the final days before the work was done. This was different from how stress usually affects me; I tend to feel a tightness in my chest and gut but not to this extent. I was very aware my heart was racing much of the time. I checked my heart rate and stress level on my phone and found them much higher than usual. It was disturbing but in a funny way it helped that there was something tangible that validated what I was feeling. It was real. I wasn’t imagining it.

How Did I Handle It?

I took practical steps to mitigate the disruption until things could be fixed. This included buying a water heater to heat water for baths/washing. I also researched as much as I could, which helped me engage with the tradespeople and understand what they suggested.

For the stress itself, I mostly followed the strategies in my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). I shared what I was going through with Fran, other close friends, and colleagues including fellow Mental Health First Aiders at work. I also went out for walks (walking is one of my key wellbeing strategies) but the discomfort I was feeling got in the way of walking as much as I might have done.

Watching Grey’s Anatomy with Fran on Netflix helped a lot as a distraction, especially in the evening before I went to bed. Blogging and working on the reprint of our book No One Is Too Far Away also helped, as did exploring my thoughts and feelings in my daily journal. I reminded myself that no one had been hurt and any damage was pretty minimal. (As one of my friends puts it, no one died and no one caught fire.) I focused on things I had to be grateful for, which led to the blog post I mentioned earlier.

I reduced my coffee intake, and turned to peppermint tea when the abdominal discomfort was especially bad. I also cut down on bread to ease the bloating I was experiencing.

How Did Others Respond?

Without exception, the people I confided in listened to my grumbles without judging me or making me feel my issues were less important, serious, or immediate than theirs (although in many cases they were). With some I discussed the practical aspects of the work; what might be up with the water tank, what replacements might be appropriate, and what the work might cost.

Fran, Jen and others were supportive. (Fran had water leaks in her apartment at the time so could empathise on that level too.) Aimee asked if I needed to see a doctor. She didn’t nag me, though, and respected my wish to see if the symptoms eased once the work was done. She also sent me a hot water bottle to ease the pain, which was much appreciated! A conversation with Vikki the day after the work was complete reminded me that stress and anxiety can affect anyone, and ultimately inspired this article.

“I feel a lot less stressy now the work is done. It caught me off guard, how much it affected me, if I’m honest.”

“Nobody is immune from stress, you know.”

“That’s so true, Vikki. I’ve rarely known it affect me so much, though. It’s something for me to watch out for in future. I think it was different this time because it wasn’t something I could deal with directly myself. Also my not feeling confident about finding someone to do the work. (These plumbers were good, though, I would definitely use them again.) I’m looking forward to my walk later!”

I’m grateful to everyone I opened up to. You really helped.

How Do I Feel Now?

It was amazing how quickly the symptoms disappeared. Writing in my journal the day after the work was done I noted that the headaches had gone and I was generally feeling much calmer. As measured on my phone, my stress level and heart rate had returned to their usual levels. It took a day or two for my gut to settle but even in the first 24 hours it was much better than it had been. A week later, none of these symptoms have returned.


Looking back, I can see I did some things right. I didn’t ignore the issue, pretend it wasn’t happening, or delay in addressing it. I researched options, engaged with the electrician and plumbers, and was clear and concise describing what I needed them to do. I was open with friends and colleagues which helped a great deal. I didn’t keep it all inside, or pretend things were fine when they weren’t.

Inevitably, there are things I might have done differently. I could have chased the first plumber more when he failed to get back to me. The temptation to let it slide so I didn’t have to deal with things there and then led to several day’s delay overall, and left me feeling less in control than I might have been.

On the whole, I believe I will be better prepared if something like this happens in the future. I can plan for future work and home improvements rather than waiting until things break or need replacing. I already have a list of possible improvements and changes to work with in the coming months. I also intend to review my WRAP plan and update it to include the kind of symptoms I experienced.

Do you suffer from stress and anxiety? Do you know how to minimise its effects on you and move through it as cleanly as possible? Do you have any tips or strategies you would like to share? We would love to hear from you.


Photo by zhenhappy on Unsplash


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