The stress response is an automatic one; it developed in our ancestors to protect them from predators. Faced with danger, stress hormones flooded the body, boosting energy, and readying it to fight or flee the problem. At one time, the threat we faced was being attacked by predators. Things have changed now, but people still face multiple challenges every day, associated with work, family and finances. An angry boss, money worries, relationship problems plus the world is a very busy place these days. We have more choices than ever before but this has brought added pressure.
Irrespective of where the stress comes from, the body reacts in much the same way.
You might feel:
- Irritable, aggressive, impatient or wound up
- Overwhelmed or with a sense of dread
- Anxious, nervous or afraid
- Like your thoughts are racing and you can’t switch them off
- Unable to relax or enjoy yourself
- Downhearted or depressed
- Uninterested in life
- Like you’ve lost your spark and/or sense of humour.
When you’re stressed you might:
- Find it hard to concentrate and/or make decisions
- Want to avoid certain situations that make you feel bad
- Snap at people
- Be restless like you can’t sit still
- Be tearful or cry more than usual
- Eat too much or lose your appetite completely
- Smoke more and drink more alcohol
- Bite your nails or pick at your skin
- Be tired all the time
- Grind your teeth or clench your jaw
- Have headaches
- Have an ulcer
- Have chest pains
- Have high blood pressure
- Have indigestion or heartburn
- Have constipation or diarrhea
- Feel sick, dizzy or faint
- Have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep
- Hyperventilate or have a panic attack
- Have sexual problems or lose interest in sex
- Have boils, eczema or psoriasis
Short term stress although it doesn’t feel pleasant won’t do too march harm but when stress interferes with daily life for an extended period of time, it gradually takes a greater and greater toll on the mind and body.
Chronic stress can cause numerous diseases, either because of changes in the body or because of the overeating, smoking, and other high-risk behaviours we use to cope with the stress. It can damage almost every organ in the body. Job pressure is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Depression and low levels of social support increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. When illness does occur, stress can make it harder to recover. Being stressed does not make us feel good.
So what can we do about it?
There are many natural things we can do to combat stress. I start with the 5 Ms.
Meditation, Mindfulness, Massage, Music and Mother Nature.
Meditation – has become one of the most popular ways to relieve stress among people of all walks of life. By learning to calm your body and mind, your physical and emotional stress can melt away. This leaves you feeling better, refreshed, and ready to face the challenges of your day with a healthier attitude. With regular practice over weeks or months, you can experience even greater benefits. I meditate regularly.
Mindfulness – is all about reconnecting with our bodies and being in the moment. We spend so much time rushing through life we are often unaware of what’s going on in our bodies. We can also spend too much time living in our heads. Mindfulness works with the senses, so touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing are utilised to slow everything down. It’s possible to just focus on the breath moving in and out of the body. Anything that brings our attention back to the present moment calms us and stops us stressing.
Massage – feels so good and without doubt can reduce stress levels. After a massage/Indian head massage people generally feel happier, healthier and more relaxed. Studies have shown that touch therapy can decrease blood pressure and many other stress related conditions. Using a qualified and experienced massage therapist and having regular sessions is highly recommended.
Music – listening to music or learning to play a musical instrument is also a great antidote to stress. Especially if you’re an auditory person. Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. This type of music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones. As music can absorb our attention, it acts as a distraction at the same time. We can’t be stressed if we’re absorbed in learning a new instrument.
Mother Nature – being out in nature helps on many levels. It’s very grounding but liberating at the same time. Researchers are discovering that surrounding yourself with nature can be one of the most powerful stress-relievers of all. Go for a walk in the fresh air, spend time near greenery – gardens, parks or the countryside. Enjoy the sunshine and birdsong and if possible be near water. Exercising outdoors is especially beneficial.
If the 5 Ms aren’t enough to bring your stress levels down then consider seeking the help of a professional.
Hypnotherapy is amazing for de-stressing – not only is it the most relaxed you will ever be whilst still awake but it allows you to envision yourself coping better in the future. It can build emotional resilience so that you cope with stress better. It always help to talk about things and to look at our lives from a different perspective.
Many of my clients stress symptoms clear up completely when they’ve been for a few sessions. Headaches disappear, psoriasis clears up and they report feeling so much happier and lighter.
In our modern, fast paced world it looks as if stress is here to stay so what are you going to do about your stress levels?