Updated: Feb 5, 2019
When we think of stress we tend to think of it as something only high-flying execs must deal with. Well that’s certainly what I used to think but, boy, how wrong was I?!
Stress can affect all kinds of people, it isn’t just for those who have deadlines to meet and an angry boss breathing down their neck! Most people don’t take stress seriously because we simply adapt to it and accept it in our lives like it’s a normal way to live.
Stress can be simply defined as any pressure you have in your life either external or internal. Everyday stress is promoted by the fast pace of life and demands at work and at home. Anytime you feel pressure your stress level is too high. Watching the evening news can be a low-level stress trigger, because even though you are sitting on your comfy couch with a cup of tea, your brain is still responding negatively to the situations onscreen. Even if these issues don’t affect you directly.
Being continually exposed to low-grade stressors turns on your stress response. We all live with low level chronic stress and it’s almost undetectable until we start to notice things in the body and the mind.
When stress symptoms begin to appear, they are first mental and behavioural… Signs of impatience, anxiety and lower mood appear.
The next symptoms are physical; fatigue, loss of sleep, minor pains and discomfort. All these factors deplete our energy and impact on our health until we learn to take these symptoms in our stride. However, over time disease can begin to reveal itself, hypertension or heart disease being common examples.
A common reaction to stress is known as “Fight or Flight”.
Fight or Flight was a very useful response in the time of Early Man because quite literally humans had to be ready to fight an attacker or run from a predator on a regular basis. In these circumstances the body would undergo a series of physical responses:
· First the bowls and bladder would release so that you can run faster. Ever had to visit the bathroom right before a presentation? That’s Fight or Flight kicking in ;-)
· The blood thickens and coagulates so that if you’re bitten you won’t bleed to death
· The body’s adrenaline and Cortisol (The body’s natural steroid hormone) levels rise so that you can run away from the threat.
Your body does all of this to preserve you… it does all of this to keep you safe as this is your minds number one job, to keep you alive.
Fight or Flight is clearly useful if we find ourselves under attack, but it puts a great strain on the body. Unfortunately, our body reacts to all stressful situations the same way, even when there isn’t an immediate threat to life. This is because our lifestyles have evolved a lot more than our brains have. In the case of someone who is trying to get pregnant, stress can stop the flow of hormones required to conceive. Animals can actually postpone delivery of their young if they sense the presence of a predator. The human body behaves in a similar way.
If you have a lot going on at work and at home or you’re somebody who needs to be in control of every aspect of your life, your brain can interpret these stressors as a risk to you and behave appropriately.
You may be asking yourself, what can I do to manage and ultimately reduce the stresses in my life?
Obviously, we can’t give up our jobs or take time off from our families, but we can make a little more space in our lives, a little more ‘Me Time’ if you like!
Here is a short list of things you can do to help you reduce stress:
· Meditation is amazing for reducing your stress levels, it counteracts that Fight or Flight response because when you meditate your body and your mind both get deep rest. This is because the brain isn’t on guard the way it needs to be when you are asleep. You’re awake but you are lowering your brain waves to alpha or theta levels allowing the body time to heal and rest more deeply. (There are many other amazing benefits for meditation which I will go into another time).
· Take a bath, even for just 15 minutes. Allow yourself to have that crucial time and space for yourself.
· Commune in nature, take a walk along the beach or in a grassy park (Instinctively, humans aren’t built to be confined indoors.)
· Do some yoga. It may be a little painful at first but soon the muscles relax and become very supple.
· Get up a little early to just sit and enjoy a cuppa before the day starts
· When at work, take time to breath. What I mean is, before a meeting or a new client etc, close your eyes and take 10 slow deep breaths breathing fully so you can see the rise and fall of your tummy (just like babies do). Over time we forget how to breath properly, but your brain loves all that oxygen and it will change your energy state. If you’re a little self-conscious, slip away to the restroom or somewhere you know you won’t be disturbed.
· Check in with yourself and appraise your current posture. Is your jaw clenched? Is your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth? Are your shoulders tense? Relax all these body parts and repeat process regularly throughout the day.
It’s worth taking daily stock of all the pressures you deal with every day. Can you cut any out? Can your partner, a family member or a close friend carry some of the burden to make things a little easier for you? Sometimes having somebody you can talk things through with can help enormously. Remember the old adage; “A problem shared is a problem halved”.
I hope you enjoyed my blog this week and you find some of the techniques I describe above useful.
Much love until next time
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