5 January 2017
Today, chronic stress is the main indirect killer. Stress is responsible for anxiety, depression and most cancers. Do a Google search for the statistics on stress and you’ll find that around 12 million working days were lost in the U.K. in 2017.
Stress is initially the natural process to get us motivated and moving. This kind of stress is called eustress and it is short-lived. Eustress motivates us to face a challenge like a test or a sporting competition. Chronic stress is the negative form of stress. It is called distress. This kind of stress is the cumulation of stress over the long term and gradually causes anxiety.
If chronic stress is not dealt with, depression and serious illnesses might follow. It might be like a spiral dragging you down and down. The purpose here is to help you break the thick fog of stress that may overwhelm you. Note that you should seek medical help if you suffer from severe anxiety and depression.
The Fight or Flight Response
We need stress to keep us moving. It is a basic matter of survival. Inside the primary brain or reptilian brain, the amygdala gland controls the release of adrenaline, the hormone that gets us moving. This part of the brain hasn’t evolved since our earlier ancestors had to escape from the claws of predators.
The trouble is that this brain doesn’t make the difference between genuine and perceived danger. Today, an angry spouse or a demanding boss may also be perceived as threatening and you’re stressed. Acute stress (fight or flight) response is normal and healthy. Chronic stress (fight or flight mechanism remains on) isn’t! It only weakens the immune system and the overproduction of the hormone cortisol creates anxiety.
A Matter of Perception
Feedback from the environment is received through your senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. The brain processes the information received through the feelings and emotions or stressors. Inside the brain, the hypothalamus/pituitary gland is activated and cortisol and adrenaline are produced. These are boosters to move the body into action.
People react differently to the same situation. How does it happen? Emotions produce a rise in stress hormones that in turn stimulate the amygdala. As a primary safety device, the amygdala is responsible for tagging any life-threatening event and turning it into an intense memory. Each person has their own memories of experiences. Therefore, what is perceived threatening and stressful to one person, might appears harmless to another. In short, past experiences and the resulting beliefs affect your perception.
A Matter of Interpretation
Can you control what’s happening? In most cases, the answer is no. But you can learn to manage the way you feel about it. The catch is that when you’re under stress, it becomes difficult to make the difference between what you can and can’t control. When you lose perspective, you worry about the things you can’t change or that aren’t important.
The unruly mind constantly navigates between past and future. Each situation is compared to previous experiences and this process reinforces existing beliefs or shapes new beliefs through the repetition of similar experiences.
You have regrets about the past or you worry about the future. Will it be as good as now? Change is perceived as a threat and you’re stressed. When your head is in the future or in the past, you aren’t really here to prepare yourself to face new situations. Most of us live in our heads and miss out on life!
When you face a situation unprepared, you’re reacting. When you’re reacting, you only defend yourself, which brings the negative form of stress or distress. When you’re mindful, you’re acting; you plan the response to a situation. In doing so, you can influence your environment. It’s liberating and powerful! This attitude brings the positive form of stress with the release of happy chemicals in your body such as serotonin and dopamine.
You’re here and you can influence. Accept things that you can’t change and you free yourself from struggle and pain. This is Mindfulness.
Identify and Control Your Stress Triggers
When you’re mindful, you’re focusing on the present moment. The awareness of your situation helps you identify what triggers your stress. You might find useful to write down what happens each time you feel stressed. After a couple of weeks, you should be able to see exactly what creates your stress. Change, money, heavy workload, relationships at work or at home or boredom and loneliness are sources of stress.
When you’re stressed out, then your body sends strong messages. You feel tired, with tight muscles, headaches and possibly not enough sleep. You feel touchy and tiny things can upset you and trigger more stress. Stress makes you feel vulnerable, impairs your decision-making and your ability to communicate with other people.
Do you feel worthy? This is an important question because it’s linked to your belief system. Whatever you think, the truth is that you need to take care of yourself and indeed you deserve it! You’re the only one who knows what’s best for you.
Get in Control of Your Stress
The more you can connect with your body and be aware of your thoughts, the less stressed you’ll feel. Stress is still there but you can surf the wave and bring things under control. The practice of mindfulness is a good start. Every morning, spend 10 to 15 minutes scanning your body. Still upright on a chair, undisturbed for 10 to 15 min. Observe first your breathing. Breathe normally and just focus on your breathing without any judgement. Notice that when you focus, the flow of thoughts crossing your mind is cut off. Your attention is directed to your breathing and then to your body. Watch out the sensations inside your body as you scan from your tiptoes to your head. Is there any tingling, any tense muscle? Paying attention to what’s going on is mindfulness. It’s about paying attention every day to what’s going on now in your body and around it.
We’ve seen that stress is about how you perceive and interpret a situation. The fight or flight natural defence is pushed on when a threat is perceived. What you see, hear, smell, taste or touch is matched to your previous experiences and the amygdala gland is responsible for printing strong memories of life-threatening experiences. The trouble is that there is no distinction between life-threatening and potential threats. As a result, you’re stressed about things that are often not life-threatening. When you’re stressed out, you lose your perspective that makes things worse. The practice of mindfulness can help slow down your mind and get grounded in the present moment. You may also consider seeking help from a mindfulness practitioner and stress management coach.
#stress #stressmanagement #stressrelief #mindfulness #anxiety
(Photo: iStockPhotos/Rüstem GÜRLER 2012)