Stress is a simple term for when we are ill at ease or dis-eased, but its causes can be complex and multifaceted. Oftentimes external causes also trigger internal stresses that we have kept out of awareness.
There are many stress triggers that show themselves in both our personal and professional lives, from family quibbles and tensions in relationships to the hustle and bustle of earning a living, and the many quarterly or monthly bills that can seem never ending. Children, pupils, students and professionals alike all experience stress, and for a variety of reasons. We all need to be aware of how stress can build up to become a stress disorder.
Stress engages the sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight response, which we need in circumstances of serious threat. It disengages the parasympathetic nervous system which is our relaxation response. We need both in a balanced way. But when we become overwhelmed with the demands of living in the modern world and do not take steps to calm the nervous system, we cannot realise that the ongoing pressure many of us feel is now coming from energy that has become bound up and trapped in the nervous system. Our lack of awareness of this is disempowering because without knowing where the stress is coming from we cannot take steps to take care of it. Furthermore, bound up energy in the nervous system gives rise to more intense feelings of frustration, resentment and anger, which then gets projected onto external situations as the cause of the further stress. We then feel a more pressing need to shut it out (fight/flight), creating a cycle of stress, and thus a stress disorder is both created and maintained. If this goes on for some time, it can turn into an anxiety disorder, and even a depressive state as an attempt to shut down overwhelming feelings, but without dealing with them.
Of course, when there is a genuine threat we need our stress hormones to engage in flight or flight. But we do not need them when rushing to work, sitting at our desk, trying to please the boss, or rushing to get back home to cook dinner, feed the children, and so on. Even though we all know that sitting on a train, stressing about being late, does not make the train go any faster, we still do it. So many people are producing stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol during these activities when there is no need. This has its impact on the body and over time can result in adrenal fatigue or other physical symptoms.
The result is that we now live in an age where periods of insomnia, high anxiety and depression seem to be the norm with the potential to become chronic. The use of sleeping pills, antidepressants and anti anxiety drugs are rife in today’s world, and yet there is more stress, anxiety, and depression than ever before. The “quick fix” culture we live in has for the most part not worked. Clearly, something is not being addressed.
Every individual has thoughts and feelings about all kinds of things, and in an over busy life rarely do our feelings get a space to be expressed, seen and heard. The relief we sometimes feel after a good cry is not just because of the emotional release, but also because tears help to release stress hormones. Stress hormones build up over a period of time when we have feelings about things that are difficult to address, such as past hurts and traumas. Subsequently, another source of stress is repressing our feelings and continuing a mode of distraction from them. This makes us vulnerable to be triggered by external events or situations. In some cases people may find themselves experiencing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and not know why.
Distraction takes many forms such as drugs, alcohol, comfort eating, too much sex (without intimacy) and excessive screen time. These distractions render us numb to our feelings and can lead to addictive behaviour, which only serves to suppress and oppress our very own life force. This further fuels stress and anxiety but with no sabre tooth tiger to run from. When we do not address our authentic feelings, we stifle the energy that holds our meaning for existence. We thus become driven, seemingly without choice, and may perceive ourselves as victims to the world. In our mid-life this often becomes an existential crisis, which can be an acutely stressful time. When we finally come to sit with our very own self for some much needed quiet time, we find it more than just stressful. We are shocked at the level of stress our mind and body is holding. In the quest to find some meaning to this we will struggle to understand how we let ourselves get into such a state. However, meaning is revealed when we succumb to our great need for self care. When we have mastered self care and feel a sense of well being in our own skin, we will feel the fulfilment of being alive.
How to De-Stress
Whilst it is true that city life has become busier and at a faster pace than ever before, it cannot run without us and our colleagues. There needs to be a collective coming together to bring awareness to these issues and what can be done about them. There are companies beginning to address stress levels in the workplace as there is more awareness that less stress means better well being and motivation which can bring a higher quantity or quality of productivity. Mindfulness or other stress reduction programs are being taught in prisons, in parliament, some mainstream schools and other workplace organisations. In my view, some form of de-stress tool kit is needed in all organisations of any kind. Its my hope that this is only a matter of time for this to come to fruition.
Some people have a sense of spirituality. Spiritual teachings tell us that there is an aspect of ourselves that is always at peace, which we are mostly unaware of, and we only have to take time to nurture it. Whether we are spiritually inclined or not, we can all find healthy ways to de-stress.
Spend time with nature, try yoga, learn mindfulness or self-hypnosis relaxation techniques, take gentle exercise, a healthier diet if needed. Allow the breath to go into the belly, followed by a long slow out breath to re-engage the relaxation response. Soak in a warm bath. Have quiet time – which in my view is essential. If we cannot be with ourselves, who can we be with? Connect with others you find to be good company, they make it easier for you to give permission to be yourself. Consider a massage or visit a float tank. If you’re struggling with difficult feelings consider seeing a therapist – authentic communication reveals our vitality. Think about what you find resourceful. What do you love? Appreciation goes a long way towards well being. Do you have a balance of work, rest and play? This balance seems alien to a lot of people. If you’re constantly searching the net for answers to a problem, take a break; it may be distracting you from much needed quality time with yourself to calm your nervous system. So if you need time out, take it. There is no judgment for being human. Accepting our humanity with all its facets helps us to let go and de-stress.
If you have symptoms of stress, the underlying issue may not be so clear. For help and support call 020 8780 9449 or use the contact form.
- World Mental Health Day | A Quiet Mind and an Open Heart
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