I’ve been doing lots of research lately on the things that make us unhappy and stress and anxiety are high on the list. According to the U.K Health and Safety Executive, 11.7 million working days are lost every year because of stress and it accounts for 37% of all work-related ill health. So what is stress and can it ever be good? Read on to find out….
The Biology of Stress
Let’s start with your ‘relaxation state’ or ‘Homeostasis’ to give it its medical term. Homeostasis means “same” and “steady,” in Greek and refers to any process that all living things use to maintain the stable conditions necessary for their survival. Stress occurs when your homeostasis is threatened and a whole range of bodily responses are triggered. This threat is often referred to as your ‘flight or fight‘ response and activates your sympathetic nervous system in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Chemicals such as adrenaline and noradrenaline are then released into your bloodstream which raise your blood pressure and increase your heart rate. At the same time Cortisol releases fat and sugar into your system ready to help your body ‘fight’ or run away.
What are the physical and emotional signs of Stress?
We’ve all experienced the physical signs of stress when we feel nervous, anxious or threatened and they can include increased heart rate, sweaty palms, dry mouth, stomach ulcers, grinding teeth, chest pains, high blood pressure, constipation or diarrhoea, eating too much or too little and recurrent viral illnesses. Stress can also play havoc with your emotions leading to increased irritability, depression, anxiety, racing thoughts, a sense of dread, or being constantly worried about your health. It can affect your ability to concentrate and can lead to you to becoming disorganised and less creative.
Is there such a thing as ‘Good Stress?’
We tend to think all stress is bad but in short bursts, stress can be beneficial to you in that it can raise your performance at work and in life. A short burst of stress is called ‘Acute Stress’ and is your flight or fight response to an immediate threat. Once that threat has dissipated, your stress levels diminish and you go back to your relaxation state. One arena where acute stress can be visibly beneficial is in the sporting world where top athletes need to feel some level of stress to get the adrenaline pumping and to get to peak performance. The same situation could arise when you go for an interview or an audition and you need that extra oomph to give your best performance. In general in these scenarios, stress can be referred to as Good Stress.
What is Chronic Stress?
Stress becomes chronic when our bodies and minds don’t return to ‘relaxation’ mode after the perceived threat has gone or it’s followed by a continuous stream of perceived or actual threats. This is when stress becomes ‘episodic’ and problematic and it can lead to burnout, physical and mental exhaustion and to your immune system becoming compromised.
Your mind body connection
Because our minds and our bodies are so interlinked, how we feel psychologically has a huge bearing on our physical health. Medical experts refer to this as the ‘psychological-immune system link’. There have been many studies which make the psychological immune system link to a range of conditions including ageing, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and arthritis. If you understand and manage your thoughts and feelings around the situations you face in life you can start to build the skills to effectively manage the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.
What can you do to ease your stress and step into balance?
Stress is a huge topic and my blog is just a snapshot. There are lots of great free resources for individuals and employers¹ on how to get help but for now here are my some of my top tips on managing stress:
- Manage your time . Prioritise your goals and focus on one or two things. Put other tasks on the back burner to avoid overwhelm.
- Get Active. Build physical activity into your daily routine. Brisk walking is your starting point
- Connect with people. When we speak with other people we focus less on ourselves and engage with their lives. Make time to have lunch with a friend or call a family member
- Use technology for good. Call someone up on Skype rather than texting, seeing the joy on their face will take you out of yourself
- Get some serious sleep This can be hard as stress can lead you into a vicious cycle of not sleeping & feeling more stressed. Simple things like making sure where you sleep is dark and isn’t too hot can help. Don’t drink caffeinated drinks close to bedtime or eat too late in the evening. Try downloading yourself a sleep playlist from Sleep App CALM
- Spend as much time outdoors as possible. Breathing in fresh air and being around greenery reduces your stress levels and brings a sense of calm to your mind. Aim for 30 minutes near outside near greenery PER DAY
- Step into a more spiritual life. Much of the stress we encounter is related to the over-busyness of our lives. Instead of scrolling on your phone in the evening, start educating yourself about Spirituality. A good place to start is Sounds True or find out about my own Spirituality
- Plan something pleasant that gives you a physical boost.Do something simple like getting a haircut, getting your nails done or even getting a massage. It reduces stress because as humans we respond to the relaxing sensation of Touch.
- Ask your workplace to hold a virtual stress management seminar, or to start an online meditation room. Just because you’re not in the office physically doesn’t mean that you’re immune from stress.
- Work with a professional Wellness Practitioner or therapist such as myself. Learning the facts from an expert can have a hugely positive effect in helping you and your workforce manage your stress. For more information on my Stress Management Virtual Seminars click here
Stay Well – Natasha x
¹ For resources on how to deal with Stress as an Employer, the Health and Safety Executive is a good resource https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/