Updated: Jan 3, 2019
Stress is a word we here a lot these days but what causes is it and how much does it really affect us?
According to stress.org it is estimated that 75-90% of people visiting GP's do so due to stress causing their symptoms. Whilst this is an American site I wonder what the estimate would be for the UK?
Stress is an internal response to a changing situation or a perceived situation resulting in physical, mental and emotional signs and symptoms. How we respond to stimuli depends on the outcome.
Its not always negative. In fact there are now words for negative and positive stress. Eu-stress relates to positive stress which tends to energise us. Short to medium term bursts of challenge and demand with appropriate levels of capabilities and support serve to stretch us, make this kind of stress energising for us. Di-stress relates to negative stress which if endured for recurring short to long periods of term is toxic on us. Isolated pockets of negative stress is fine but when it becomes medium to long term it become very wearing and our inner buckets become too full. As the saying goes 'I've got a lot on my mind right now' typically meaning that one has got too much going on to be able to give time and thoughts to something else.
Stress isn't always just about whats going on in the foreground of ones life and working day. Its also about whats going on in the background of our mind that affects the way we respond to the stimuli. Many of us are unaware of this background stressor until we have moments of acute stress opening pandora's box. This box is full of a life time of suppressed emotions. Suppressed when we over ate and drank alcohol to cope with excessive stress.
Life is full of loss, change and uncertainty and when we've endured these, particularly when we were not ready for them, we experienced trauma, an emotional wound. Or when someone over stepped or violated our personal boundaries. Or when we endured poor or conflictual relationship for too long it can have a detrimental impact on our emotions and thoughts, our internal environment, and our behaviour.
Recently researchers have reported why they believe depression and ageing to be linked to increased disease risk.
According to lead researcher, Dr Anthony Zannas (Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich):
“We found that both aging and depression seem to lead to changes in how DNA is processed, and that this can control the expression of genes that regulate how we respond to stress. These changes are associated with increased inflammation, and we believe that this may lead to the increased risk for several aging-related diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and neuropsychiatric disorders, that has been observed in chronically stressed and depressed individuals."(1)
Other studies have found why trauma can make people age faster. Laura Han goes onto to conclude from her research into the causal link between trauma and ageing:
"What we see is, in fact, an 'epigenetic clock,' where the patterns of modification of the body's DNA is an indicator of biological age. And this clock seems to run faster in those who are currently depressed or have been stressed."(2)
What we're not very good at is seeing and responding to are our bodily warning signs. Our body and mind give us signs when something is wrong or there is dis-ease within the body but we have a societal habit of ignore or covering up the signs; viewing them as an inconvenience to address so we can keep soldiering on. We tend to believe that by taking medication we're doing something about the problem. In reality most medication is not a means to a cure. At best there are short term gains and alleviation of symptoms. Pharmaceutical medications have their place for short term usage but they're often being used on an ongoing basis. The effect of using medication is that it hide the symptoms rendering us out of touch with our bodily signs. Meanwhile we're enduring a multitude of side effects from the medication which can have long term consequences for a gut microbiome.
Furthermore chronic stress itself can negatively effect your microbiome. Researchers have found that chronic stress discombobulates our microbiome (3). Meaning that the micro organisms designed to support out wellbeing and function at our best go into a state of disarray and alarm.
Fight flight becomes the brain/body modus operandi. A state which was originally designed so that we could activate hormones like adrenalin for short periods of time to quickly respond to danger. However chronic stress being the new danger tends to go on because it is linked to the workplace and busy modern lives.
By reading our brain waves we can find out whether our brain/body is habitually in fight flight. My concern is that it may have become our norm without even realising it, or partially noticing something. Getting into a frequent habit of rest and digest and improving our internal environment should be our objective. Our body and brain is our first home after all. Regularly decluttering all unnecessary emotions and toxins from our body should be one of our central objectives. How do we do this?
Let-go: Practice a psycho-sensory tool - Havening is a simple and effective tool to help people let-go of unwanted and unresolved emotions stemming from trauma; bringing peace to your inner world.
Empower: know your brain wave status so that you can train your brain and body to be in the habit of homeostasis (find out more about this in another blog) as a preventative measure.
Action: detach from your current habits for a while and trial new behaviours for defined periods of time to see how they fit and journal the experience. E.g. Letting-go of consumptions habits that bring toxins into your body.
Flourish: assess yourself as to whether the 8 pillars of human needs are being met in balance within your life and work and adjust accordingly.