This week we are talking about stress and self-care. We will explore the physiological implications of stress and how these can impact upon you personally. We will workshop your triggers, specifically who or what causes you the greatest feelings of stress or anxiety. We’ll look not just at the immediate affects but also the downstream implications, such as what it does to your self-esteem, concentration, productivity, motivation for work or exercise, your appetite and ability to exercise self-care. In week five we’ll look at the techniques and mechanisms you can use to manage stress and anxiety, to reduce the negative impact on your overall wellbeing.
Stress is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days. We use it so much that it has almost lost its meaning, but the reality is that the impact of stress is pretty serious.
In 2007 a study was published in the British Medical Journal which stated that “people who reported persistent stress due to high work demands, low job security or fewer career opportunities had the same level of risk for fatal heart attack as people who smoke and do not exercise.”
With statistics such as this, it’s simple to understand the importance of stress management not only for a healthy mind but a health body as well.
The physiological signs and responses to stress
To put it simply, we are cavewomen with mobile phones! In other words, our innate biology is exactly the same NOW as it was in prehistoric times.
Our prehistoric bodily reactions to, and expressions of stress, have not changed for millions of years. It’s important to note that these physical reactions are biochemical and hard-wired into our genetic physiology. They are completely normal and without them we would be in serious trouble, as they fuel our ‘fight or flight’ survival mechanism. However, as with anything, too much is not so good.
Chronic stress is when we experience prolonged stress reactions within the body. It’s caused by a long-term stressful situation or multiple stressful stimuli affecting us over a long period of time. Essentially there is no, or little ‘let up’, and this is where the body and mind can start to become unhealthy as a result.
Chronic stress is not something we were designed to cope with. We are hard wired to respond to acute stress very successfully, but when stress continues, health falls apart. The physiological changes that occur during stress drain our nutritional reserves, raise blood pressure and increase inflammation. All of which have a negative long-term effect on physical and mental health.
If we simply look at this natural, innate physiological stress response we can see how it works perfectly for short term stress that strikes every now and then. Think of a zebra in the wild:
The biggest stress a zebra will ever face in its life is being chased and eaten by a lion. The zebra has the exact stress response physiology as we (and all other animals) do - fight or flight. When a lion (the stress) comes along, the body reacts instantly – the zebra’s brain tells its body to increase the heart rate, raise blood pressure and release hormones and sugar to drive an adrenalin rush to either stand and fight or run away. Within moments, the stress is over - the zebra either escapes or is caught. If it’s lucky enough to escape, the zebra’s bodily reactions return to a healthy normal resting state.
Now obviously we are not zebras, we are human beings with complex brains. We have the capacity to worry, over analyse and re-live stress in our minds over, and over again. We also live in an environment where day-to-day stressors are more prevalent and relentless, and not just in the form of an occasional ‘lion’. We are intelligent beings, but one thing our bodies can’t do is differentiate between a real-life threat to survival and other stressors such as financial strain, a pressured work environment or a long-term emotional trauma. Each and every one of these stress examples elicits the same physiological response as seen in the zebra and lion example. The difference here is these are often long-lasting, exhausting and health destroying.
We have already seen the research showing links between long term stress and physical health issues, but we also know that stress can lead to depression and anxiety in the long-term. It can massively impact on overall wellbeing and quality of life, hence the importance we have placed on covering this topic in your Empower program. The first step to managing stress is to become aware of when and where it factors in to your life - how full is your stress bucket, and is it overflowing?
Self-care starts with being self-aware
When we start to increase our EQ, we become more aware of our emotions, our stressors and our feelings. When we are honest with ourselves about how stress is affecting us, we can take the right steps to manage and alleviate negative impacts.
So, with this in mind, the questions we’d like you to ponder this week are:
Are you being chased by a lion all day? What are your ‘lions’?
Have a think about the stressful drivers in your life and how often are they affecting you on a daily basis. How do they impact you, physically and mentally?
In times of stress, do you default towards self-care or self-sabotage?
We will discuss these questions in this week’s workshop, but for now, just reflect on the answers and start to gauge the stress impact in your life right now.
‘Own Time’ activities
Complete a Stress Index Questionnaire (DASS)
Refer to Your Empower Journal.