Coping With Extreme Stress When Life Throws You A Curve Ball
Looking back at his life, Clint Malarchuk knows now that he was under stress for most of it and facing bouts of emotional illness even as he was forging a career as a National Hockey League Goaltender.
After suffering a life-threatening injury during a game in 1989 in which a skate blade sliced his neck wide open, Malarchuk would sink into deeper bouts of depression, which led him to attempt suicide on two occasions.
“The injury changed my life forever,” he says. “I was lying on the ice and told one trainer to call my mom because I thought I was going to die. And I told the other trainer to hold my hand because I didn’t want to die alone.”
The cut would take 300 stitches to close but Malarchuk was back at work in 11 days.
Today, Malarchuk, a well sought-after motivational speaker and an outspoken mental health advocate. His memoir, “The Crazy Game: How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond,” was published in 2014.
“I know now what my purpose in life is and that’s to talk about my struggles with the hope that it helps other people,” says Malarchuk who was a guest speaker in November 2019 at the Stigma Enigma fundraiser for Maryvale Adolescent Mental Health Centre.
Stigma Enigma’s mission is to increase awareness and the need for community involvement across the Windsor Essex community about mental health issues, particularly among adolescents.
Malarchuk believes stress can manifest itself in many ways and that it can be caused by many different factors in a person’s life, including a loss of a loved one, divorce, illness, struggling to support a family, taking care of an elderly family member or keeping a business afloat in difficult times.
For many others facing stressful situations in either their professional or private lives, recognizing the problem is the first step towards dealing with it.
In order to try and help people recognize stress and deal with the consequences, Biz X magazine has spoken with a number of people who have faced stressful situations, as well as some professionals who have provided tips and tools on how to mitigate stress when it inevitably threatens to take over our lives.
We begin with Nancy Campana, who channelled the grief she felt at losing her son Rocky, who took his own life in 2012 after struggling to gain acceptance as a gay male, into supporting others who face similar issues in their lives.
She established an annual “Run for Rocky” event and created the Rocky Memorial Scholarship program, which awards $1,000 scholarships to high school students who show leadership in helping to ensure that Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs in their high schools were visible and created safe spaces.
Campana runs Nouveau Event Planning (1280 Woodmont Crescent, LaSalle) and says that no matter what else is going on in your life, business has to go on, especially an event-planning company because it’s not something you can put off for another day, week or month.
But, it wasn’t easy for Campana and husband Rob and their other children Connor and Kirsten.
“By the time, we got off the plane after it happened, Rob and I had decided we would not let it (losing Rocky) tear our marriage apart as often happens,” says Campana, whose son was living in Toronto at the time. “We had two other children to be concerned about and we were steadfast in our support for them at a terrible time.”
But, Campana freely admits that if it hadn’t been for her family and the business, “I might have stayed in bed for weeks.”
“We also had a lot of close friends who tried to keep us busy and included,” Campana recalls. “There were nights when we didn’t want to go out, but we did anyway.”
In addition to supporting the couple’s children and operating her business, Campana also started going to yoga with a very good friend and still goes regularly to this day.
“Yoga and regular meditation is what saved me,” she says candidly. “There are still days when I cry and cry, but I learned a valuable lesson through it all.”
She continues by stating, “I am more patient and I have come to realize that what doesn’t get done today will get done tomorrow. And if it doesn’t get done tomorrow, it will still get done.”
Campana also reveals that her son’s loss taught her to value what she has, on a daily basis.
“It’s been seven years and, as a family, we have made it through this in a pretty amazing way by supporting each other along every step,” she expresses. “Sure, I’m hyper-sensitive about Connor and Kirsten, but they are happy and doing what they love.”
Stress, meanwhile, can manifest itself in many ways in the workplace where job losses, job changes, promotions and doing more with less can bring about high levels of anxiety, which many workers ignore to their detriment.
Liz Bennett, who holds down a high-pressure ever-changing middle management position at Pelee Island Winery (455 Seacliff Drive, Kingsville) and also works as a certified holistic health coach, says it can be a combination of all of the above.
Bennett’s mother passed away three years ago and now she’s the primary caregiver for her father who is battling cancer. She has two brothers and while her father lives with one of them, Bennett has taken on much of the responsibilities for looking after him.
“As a female, I take on much of the care-giving activity,” adds Bennett who is married and the mother of an active six year old child. “There is always a lot going on and I can’t eliminate the stresses, so I have developed a toolbox of techniques that help me deal with it.”
They include regular exercise, going for nature walks, yoga, guided meditation, high intensity training and writing in a daily gratitude journal in which she tries to list all the positive elements in her life including family, health and career.
“I also make a point of taking time for myself even if it’s only a hot bath with some essential oils so I can decompress — and I don’t let vacation days go to waste as much as I used to,” she adds. “I’m still a work in progress, but I’m feeling less guilty about taking that time for myself. Like a lot of people, mostly women I believe, I tended to put myself last and while caring for my mom before she passed, I became burnt out and quite sick.”
However, Bennett, whose family has been very supportive, now believes she has a handle on her situation and more readily recognizes the signs and takes great pains to deal with them as quickly as possible.
“Sometimes, it’s as simple as finding a quiet space and spending five minutes with a hot cup of tea,” she indicates.
Bennett has also established some boundaries, which include not answering the phone during family dinners and not responding to emails outside business hours.