I was recently asked to write a presentation about stress in business for my networking group. However what I discovered was so alarming that I felt I needed to share it with a wider audience. So here it is my Blog on Stress in the 21st Century and how our modern day lives are secretly killing us.
Now, you all will have heard to term “stress can be a killer”. This fact has more truth than we would like to believe. Putting ourselves through continuous stress can cause severe health problems. Such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, which in turn can cause heart attacks or strokes.
As human beings we were designed to be able to deal with stress on an irregular basis and not every day of our lives. As told to me this weekend on an aromatherapy course. Our stress response was formed when as humans we needed to fight a sabre tooth tiger. When they entered our dwellings which would occur maybe once a week and our reaction to this is known as the “fight or flight” response.
The fight or flight response is caused by the perception of imminent danger or threat to life. It is our physiological response to survive, and triggers our autonomic nervous system to react to this threat. The ANS controls our heart and respiratory rate and gives us a shot of the hormone adrenalin. This in turn increases our heart rate, blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system. So you can see how this response is useful in a time of being under threat to survive. But it is equally as damaging to our bodies if you are in a frequent state of stress.
So why do we constantly feel under threat when we live in a time where there is no imminent danger to life? So very simplistically we feel the same instinct to survive. Not from the threat of imminent danger to our lives but from the threat to our homeostasis. The threats we have in today’s world can come from many things for example;
- The fear caused in the media and by world affairs of war and terrorism.
- The worry of financial difficulties! Of being able to pay our bills and keep a roof over our head.
- Passing an exam or test to progress our education or career.
- Not meeting social or physical expectations.
- Why there is such an increase in the use of Botox and cosmetic surgery for both men and women.
- Or it could be something as simple as getting to that very important meeting on time. If I’m late, my job is under threat and therefore my family and livelihood.
Alongside these stress’ we have to keep up with our social status and run our home and family life. Any or all of these things and many others can cause the stress level required to induce a fight or flight response. We put ourselves under so much pressure that our body responds to many of these things as a threat to our survival.
How can we combat stress?
1. Take time to breathe
This is probably the easiest and most important combat to stress we can do on an hourly or daily basis. Taking time to breathe is about relaxing the muscles and clearing the mind. It’s a simple thing to do but we have to make a conscience effort to place this in our daily routines.
What you need to do is: Close your eyes take a deep breath in and count to 8 (if you can’t get to 8 then count to 5). Open your chest and fill your lungs as much as you can try to hold the breath for a count of 3. Then exhale slowly again over a count of 8 as you exhale drop your shoulders. Feel all your muscles around your head, neck, back and shoulders relax.
Repeat this 10 times and try to concentrate on your breath and clear your mind. Roll your shoulders a few times and stretch your neck muscles from side to side and forwards (do not roll your head back as this puts strain of the neck). This will help to release built up tension in those areas.
Set a reminder to do this every hour if you are working at a computer or in an office environment. Or place post it notes on the kettle, in the car and in other areas where you can take 5 minutes to just breathe. Doing this exercise will increase blood flow and oxygen into the body. Once practiced you will be able to use this breathing exercise at times of stress. Where it will help to control your emotions and fight or flight instinct.
2. Talk to your mind
When your mind is so full of worry and stress talk to it. Take control over your thoughts. We all have times in our lives when our thoughts get too much for us. We can’t seem to get anything done because our mind is so preoccupied by something. It could be a family situation, an illness or another specific worry. Or it could just be that we are worrying that we have too much to do and how will we get everything done.
A great mantra to have is “I am not going to give my time to these thoughts right now I will think about something else”. Even just repeating this mantra for a few minutes should help stop the continuous worry we have. Practice this every time the thoughts occur and set a specific time if needed to think about what is worrying you. So you could say. I’m not going to give my time to those thoughts right now. I will think about them at 2.30 this afternoon. It may sound silly but this can really help in stressful times.
3. Put your phone or laptop away
Being connected to the outside world continuously is a major factor of stress on both an emotional and physical basis. Being on your phone or laptop for hours can also cause poor posture. Having rounded shoulders and tight muscles in the chest and pecks restricts blood flow around the heart and oxygen into the lungs. It causes headaches and overstimulation to our eyes and brains.
Put your phone and laptop away at meal times. Do this as often as you can! I know we all eat lunch whilst working or keeping up with social media so make dinner time a gadget free time. Try to spend an hour over meal times without checking your phone or emails this will give you time to enjoy your food and digest what you’ve eaten.
Have at least one evening a week where you put your phone away. Do this as early in the evening as you can. You can get a phone cage where you can lock your phone away for a set amount of time to stop you from looking at your phone. Enjoy this time with family or friends or have time to yourself to just “be” without having to do a thing. Try to be in the moment. Enjoy what is happening right now rather than thinking and worrying about what needs to be done tomorrow – again use your mantra.
4. The world will not end if you don’t get that really important thing done
Take the pressure off I know this sounds easier in theory than in practice you will always have a million things on your to do list. By taking away the pressure of getting everything done this will help you to priorities what you can get done. So you will not worry about what you might not be able to get done. You will be surprised how much time you spend worrying rather than doing. So by taking away the pressure you will find you are more pro-active and productive.
I had to get this one in! But in reality we all need to take time out to relax and renew. This can be at a yoga class, through mediation, booking a spa or beauty treatment or just reading a book and taking time out to chill.
But as I am a massage therapist I would recommend having a relaxation massage at least once a month. This has an untold amount of physical and psychological benefits and will give your body and mind a chance to relax and refocus. The results making you more productive once you do get back to the busy world we live in.