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For those who know me, I’m a man with a mission to “Speak Up and Speak Out about Stress,” and this is also the topic of this years’ International Stress Awareness Day that takes place on November 1..

Stress has become one of the most important health problems in our society with a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing, quality of life and longevity.

Together with my dear colleague Danielle, I’ve set up a FREE Online Stress Summit with international experts that speak authentically how they got interested in the topic of stress and share their unique view and ideas how to deal with it and to which we want you to SIGN-UP and share to help us spread a very important message.

Did you know that the cost of stress in EU alone adds up to 600.000.000.000€ that is a lot of people, adults and children alike that are affected by it.

Signing up shows your support in our cause to help the world to be a better place for all one share and like at the time.

Our international experts like Prof. Stephen Palmer here in this video below, have given us a moment of their time to share their authentic story for which I hope you take the time to listen.

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Your INSAD 2017 host

Tom

Osteopath, Stress Coach and International Speaker

tommeyers.eu

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Stress: the health epidemic of the 21st century

Article Published in Executive Secretary Magazine: 25 May 2017

Tomorrow belongs to those that hear it coming – David Bowie 

In 2012, a pan-European poll on occupational safety and health asked the question: “Do you think that the number of people suffering from job stress (in your country) will increase, decrease or stay the same over the next 5 years?” The result was that 77% (8 out of 10 respondents) said it would increase and 47% answered that it would increase a lot.

We are now in 2017, 5 years on and the number of people suffering from job-related stress did indeed increase. It is estimated that the cost to European businesses and social security systems adds up to €600 billion a year. With this figure in mind, it should come as no surprise that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has dubbed stress the health epidemic of the 21st century.

In my article “Stress: A conflict between biology and culture” (published in the January edition of Executive Secretary Magazine), I offered an evolutionary perspective on why stress has become such a nuisance to our health and wellbeing.

In brief, I explained that since we’ve been able to manipulate fire we’ve started to change our environment, to make life easier. The agricultural, industrial and technological revolutions followed on from each other with increasing speed, radically changing within an extremely short time every aspect of how we live and work.

Yes, modernisation and the rise in technological and economic progress has made life easier and has increased life expectancy. However, the unexpected drawback of this progress, especially over the last 10-15 years, is its detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing. Technological and economic progress has encouraged the rise of unhealthy lifestyles and increased stress levels, which in turn have contributed to the spread of chronic degenerative diseases and mental disorders: coronary heart disease, cancer, strokes, type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, stress, depression, dementia, burnout…

Another unexpected drawback is the impact on the size of our brains. Contrary to what you might have heard, our brain has shrunk over the past 20,000 years. John Hawks, professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, explains:

“Over the past 20,000 years, the average volume of the human male brain has decreased from 1,500 cubic centimetres to 1,350 cc, losing a chunk the size of a tennis ball. The female brain has shrunk by about the same proportion. “I’d call that major downsizing in an evolutionary eye-blink,” he says. “This happened in China, Europe, Africa—everywhere we look.” If our brain keeps dwindling at that rate over the next 20,000 years, it will start to approach the size of that found in Homo Erectus, a relative that lived half a million years ago and had a brain volume of only 1,100 cc.” (Discover Magazine)

On top of the gradual effects of modernisation on our brain size, chronic stress and anxiety will, if not attended to, shrink your brain further and far more rapidly than you might imagine, with huge ramifications: increased anxiety and memory loss, to name but a few. (Ensell, et al. 2012).

But what about tomorrow? To quote David Bowie: “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it” So what will tomorrow bring? Will the number of people suffering from work stress increase, decrease or stay the same? Statistics for this aren’t available yet but what do you think? I think it will increase and I’m very concerned about this. I’m concerned because I’m starting to see the effects of this fourth industrial revolution, as it is called, in some of my patients already.

The way we live and work has changed exponentially over the last 10 years, but this is nothing compared to what is to come, when ever more tasks, and even whole jobs are outsourced to robots and intelligent appliances. What was once science fiction will become science fact and less and less will be impossible.

Did you know that according to an Oxford study, around 50% of all jobs could be replaced by robots in the next 20 years?  According to that study, there is an 86% likelihood that administrative professionals, including assistants, will be replaced by robots or AI. That said, even if not replaced, the work of assistants surely will change significantly over the next 5-10 years, as more and more tasks are automated. Indeed, everything that is routine in a job will be automated, according to futurist Gerd Leonhard.

From an economic and evolutionary perspective, this increased automation is very logical, but it also offers a solution to one of the biggest work-related health problems: stress. Work-related stress is experienced when the demand on an employee is greater than their resources. At first sight, then, the reasoning that automating more will reduce those demands seems sound.

However, will it actually reduce stress levels? I don’t think so. Rather, I envisage the appearance of a new form of stress: spiritual stress, referred to in medical terms as existential anxiety. It’s already here if the new questions and health problems my patients come to my practice with are any indicator (body-mind disconnection, feelings of hopelessness and numbness).

While until recently our modern lifestyle affected people essentially on a physical and mental level, the fourth industrial revolution, with the rise of artificially intelligent devices, will cause problems of a more existential nature as the very foundations of life and its meaning are called into question. Personal fulfilment and meaning are essential human drives, and for the moment the main contributor of meaning for many people lies in their job. When work falls away or becomes menial, what then?

Not only is there the question of meaning and fulfilment, but that more comfortable lifestyle will have an adverse effect on our health, wellbeing… and brain size! There is thus a very real risk that automation will only increase our current problems.

Automation cannot be stopped; robots and artificial intelligence are here to stay and that is the way it is. However, we must to start thinking and finding ways to stay healthy in body, mind and spirit in this more automated world.

In the article ‘Will robots replace assistants?’ (published in the January edition of Executive Secretary Magazine) Craig Allen proposed that it is important for assistants to invest in training and acquire new skills to assure their future in a changing world.  In the article “Will life be worth living in a world without work? Technological unemployment and the meaning of Life”, Dr. John Danaher argues that adopting an integrative approach to our relationship with technology is a possible option. This is the option where technology is directly integrated into biological systems and we become cyborgs.

This view is in complete opposition to the thoughts of futurist Gerd Leonhard, who explains in his book “Technology vs. Humanity” that we need to focus on what cannot be automated, going beyond technology and data. For him, the new way to work is to embrace technology but not to become it.

So, how do you prepare for what is emerging? Stay informed about the changes in your workplace, start the dialogue with your colleagues and prepare. Prepare yourself by finding out what the non-routine parts are or what cannot be digitalised in your job. Those parts will become the most valuable in the future. Also start doing things you find meaningful, that give you energy and fulfilment outside your work. Start with these today and you’ll be ahead of the game, becoming more resilient in changing times.

References:

Tom Meyers is an osteopath D.O., stress coach and visionary in the field of health and wellbeing. He runs a private health practice in Brussels and gives regular inspiring presentations in Belgium and abroad on the topic of ‘Understanding & Managing Stress’. Tom also runs workshops on the ‘Reaset Approach’ a novel manual body-mind and educational health approach he developed. In 2017 he will publish his first book ‘Futurize Yourself’ in which he interlaces soul-purpose, personal development, health and healing into a compelling guide to thrive. If you want to know more about Tom, or invite him to your own event, take a look at his website: www.tommeyers.be

Benefits of body-treatment in stress management


On 16/6/2017 I took part in the morning panel of the International Stress Management Association’s (ISMA) annual conference. The question Jeremy Nicholas, the MC for the day, asked me was: As an osteopath, can you give us the benefit of body-treatment in stress management? My succinct answer (or at least trying to) was…

It was at first my patients who pointed this out to me.

Patients mainly go to an osteopath for neck, shoulder or back pain and that wasn’t any different for me 10 years ago when I started my practice.

However, the feedback I received on a second visit weeks or sometimes months later astounded me. Not only did they experience the expected pain relief but also reported to be able to concentrate better, saw things clearer when decision had to be made, some said that they had the same amount of stress but that they were able to handle it much better, like stress didn’t bother them anymore. Some even reported to have more time.

When more and more patients started to report behavioural and mental benefits after a single treatment I started to be intrigued and went searching for an explanation.

We all know that from a biological perspective the stress-response is regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis.

A gentle touch like in certain massages is proven to increase vagal tone and thus can influence indirectly adrenaline, noradrenalin levels and decrease heart rate, blood pressure and muscular tension.

Certain forms of osteopathy that include craniosacral therapy and fascia therapy have proven to improve ANS balance greatly and influence HPA-axis.

I eventually created the Reaset Approach a novel body-mind and educational stress-management approach and did some research where I used Heart Rate variability measurements, State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) on top of a pain questionnaire I was able to prove that it has an significant influence on all of these.

Question is still, how? As I said before touch plays an important role but also specific body centres like the occiput, frontal bone, and neck are structurally related to the ANS and the temples with the amygdala and pituitary gland.

In stress management and psychotherapy I think osteopathy that includes ANS balancing can make a real sustaining  difference.

 


Patient feedback after a single Osteopathy with Reaset Approach consultation:

Where to begin… First of all I’m feeling much better today than some months ago. I experienced a very difficult period after a death of a loved one. I completely isolated myself from the outside world (family, friends & colleagues…). I went through constant cerebration, throat tightness, anxiety, depressed, black thoughts and loneliness. Those feelings didn’t go away even while close people tried to help me much as they could.

A friend of me advised me to follow a session at an osteopath and got me an appointment.

The first intake was very stressful for me as I didn’t knew what to expect. Tom asked me some questions about my complaints (physically & mental). When Tom started the session I didn’t feel physically & mentally relaxed but when it was finished I really felt a BIG difference. I felt physically relaxed and free in my mind (constant cerebration stopped) and this was the first time I got this feeling after months 

Tom is very a GOOD Osteopath, friendly and knows what he is doing and takes the time for it. I’m definitely going back 

Once again Tom a BIG THANK YOU for the help during this difficult process I went through, which got my life be back on track 

Kindly regards

SH

 

For more info visit my website www.tommeyers.be

 

The architect of Life

Audio of the presentation I gave on 31/5/2017 for the Fear & Fail conference in Brussels

I’m an osteopath, Stress-Coach and keynote speaker who has been running my own health practice in Brussels for more than 10 years. I have spent many years abroad working as a waiter in various hotels in England and as sommelier on board the cruise ship Queen Elisabeth II, and backpacking around the world. I only became interested in health matters at the age of 30. This was as my first business – a deli (gourmet food store), failed. My story is a genuine process of reinventing myself, allowing failures and fears to surface and understanding what it takes to diversify a career and start climbing to the next level in my professional life.

Info:
Tom: http://www.tommeyers.be
F&F: http://tumblr.fearandfail.com
GWN: http://generationwn.org

How stress and terrorism affect election behaviour

The original article that I contributed to was published online in the APA Science section, the  Austrian magazine Profil and in the Tiroler Tageszeiting under the title: Wie sich Stress und Terrorängste auf das Wahlverhalten auswirken. (From APA: 22. 4. 2017)

Several studies provide evidence of benefits for right-wing populists.

The final round of the French presidential election campaign is being overshadowed by a terrorist attack. Scientific research over the last few years provides several indications that right-wing populists and politicians who rely on anxiety gaps can benefit from such a climate.

“It is obvious that psychological stress plays an important role in political decision-making” 

US psychologists found from a study during the Al-Aqsa intifada in Israel that individuals who are personally exposed to political violence react with fear and also adjust their political views accordingly. The results of their research provide “solid indications” for the assumption that “terrorism leads to non-democratic attitudes that threaten minority rights.” According to the study by Daphna Canetti-Nisim (1) and her colleagues it is obvious that psychological stress plays an important role in political decision-making

However, Anna Getmansky (2) from the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University and Thomas Zeitzoff from the Department of Politics at New York University suggest that the mere threat of terrorism has already an impact on election behaviour. They investigated the impact of Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on four Israeli elections from 2001 to 2009. “Our results show that the right-wing share of votes were two to six percentage points higher in those areas within the range of missiles.”

“We have found that greater liberalism is associated with increased volume of grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex“

It seems that anxiety tends to benefit right-wing conservative and authoritarian political forces. In 2011, a researcher from the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience found out that the political attitude also manifests itself in our brain structures: “We have found that greater liberalism is associated with increased grey matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, while conservatism with a increased volume of the right amygdala “, writes study author Ryota Kanai (3).

The researchers also assume that political orientation also expresses how people deal with anxiety and insecurity. Persons with a larger amygdala are considered to be more sensitive to fear and therefore would rather integrate conservative views into their belief system. On the other hand, the increased importance of the anterior cingulate cortex could be associated with greater tolerance against uncertainty and conflict. Although their data could not determine a causal link, they do reveal a link between brain structures and psychological mechanisms that are expressed in political attitudes.

A connection between conspiracy theories and stress has also been scientifically researched. Psychologists (4) from the University of Cambridge found out in 2016: The more people are under psychological pressure, the more vulnerable they are to conspiracy theories. Authoritarian attitudes are also associated with perceived social threats: those who feel latently threatened are more willing to limit the basic freedoms of others.

At the same time, stressed voters seem to be the ones who are most likely to stay away from the elections – a finding that is particularly relevant to the US and its low electoral participation. A researcher of psychologists and political scientists around Jeffrey A. French (5) from the University of Nebraska-Omaha discovered in 2011 that people who had the highest level of stress hormone cortisol most likely did not vote.

“Populists talk with the people on the level of fear, with their words, their gestures, with everything they have” 

The Brussels Osteopath and anti-stress expert Tom Meyers has looked at all these research results. Tom got interested in the reasons for this rise in right-wing populism, especially after the election of the right-wing populist and republican Donald Trump to US president and seeing the rise of populist parties in his own home country Belgium, in the Netherlands, but also in Austria.

”Populists talk to people on the level of fear, with their words, their gestures, with everything they have,” says Meyers. Stress is always limiting people. “In stress one thinks only of oneself. Everything outside becomes dangerous.” This is a normal protective function of the body (instinct) that is out to survive: Because for example if a car is approaching and you’re in the middle of the road (stress), one should not think too long about others.

Stress is an adaptive response to protect the body (no body no mind). People believe that they always act rationally. In fact, biological processes such as stress changes the way you think and behave: “We underestimate how strongly the body, neuro-hormonal systems affect our behaviour and our way of thinking,” (matter over mind) says Meyers.

contributor

References

(1) D. Canetti-Nisim, et al. (2009). A New Stress-Based Model of Political Extremism: Personal Exposure to Terrorism, Psychological Distress, and Exclusionist Political Attitudes. J Conflict Resolut. 2009 Jun; 53(2): 363–389. doi:  10.1177/0022002709333296

(2) A. Getmansky and T. Zeitzoff (2014). Terrorism and Voting: The Effect of Exposure to Rockets on Voting in Israeli Elections. American Political Science Association 108(03):588-604. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055414000288

(3) R. Kanai, et al. (2011). Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults. Current  Biology. 2011 Apr 26; 21(8): 677–680. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.017

(4) V. Swami, et al. (2016). Putting the stress on conspiracy theories: Examining associations between psychological stress, anxiety, and belief in conspiracy theories. Personality and Individual Differences vol. 99 , Pages 72–76. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.084

(5) J. A. French, et al. (2014). Cortisol and politics: Variance in voting behaviour is predicted by baseline cortisol levels. Physiology & Behaviour vol 133, 61–67 DOI: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.05.004

The original German article:

https://science.apa.at/rubrik/politik_und_wirtschaft/Wie_sich_Stress_und_Terroraengste_auf_das_Wahlverhalten_auswirken/SCI_20170421_SCI40111351035624716

https://www.profil.at/shortlist/wissenschaft/stress-terror-aengste-wahlverhalten-studie-8090749

http://www.tt.com/home/12887585-91/wie-sich-stress-und-terrorängste-auf-das-wahlverhalten-auswirken.csp

A more comfortable lifestyle = a health adverse lifestyle

Human vs. Transhuman

In 2012 a pan-European poll on occupational safety and health asked the question: “Do you think that the number of people suffering from job-stress (in your country) will increase, decrease or stay the same over the next 5 years?” The result was that 77% (8 out of 10) said it would increase and 47% of respondents answered that it would increase a lot.

We are now 2017, 5 years later and people suffering from job-stress did increase. It is estimated that the cost to European businesses and social security systems adds up to €600 billion a year. With this number in mind it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has dubbed stress has the Health epidemic of the 21 century.

In my article “Stress: A conflict between biology and culture” which was published in Executive Secretary magazine earlier this year, I depicted an evolutionary perspective of why stress has become such a nuisance to our health and wellbeing.

In brief I wrote that since we’ve been able to manipulate fire we’ve started to make changes into our environment, to make life easier. The agricultural, industrial and technological revolution followed each other up with increasing speed, radically changing within an extremely short time the fundamental ways we life and work.

While society was focused on modernisation – to make life easier – to get more leisure time by creating ever more sophisticated tools so that things could get done quicker, the contrary has happened. Modernisation has enslaved us, we work harder and longer, the boundaries between work and play have become increasingly blurred, and it has made individualism the dominant mode of thinking. All leading to more stress.

In other words a ‘more comfortable lifestyle’ has created a ‘health adverse lifestyle’ that is making us sicker by the day. Here are a few examples of these comfortable – adverse lifestyle changes:

  • Access to a car reduced physical activity and most people have jobs where they sit all day  and watch tv in the evening reducing physical activity for some to nearly nil.
  • While physical active has significantly decreased we eat more, especially more fatty and processed food.
  • Modernisation also came with the idea that for example smoking was good for you… and although everyone knows now that it isn’t, that 80% of all lung cancers are related to it is still promoted.

The rise in technological and economic progress has made life easier but what we didn’t see coming were the adverse effects on our health and wellbeing. While ‘modernisation’ was supposed to increase our quality of life it is instead reducing it. The number of chronic degenerative diseases and mental disorders, especially, coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes, accidents, musculoskeletal disorders, stress, depression and dementia will keep rising if we continue like this.

Another alarming aspect of modernisation is that on the size of our brain. John Hawks a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin explains:

“Over the past 20,000 years, the average volume of the human male brain has decreased from 1,500 cubic centimetres to 1,350 cc, losing a chunk the size of a tennis ball. The female brain has shrunk by about the same proportion. “I’d call that major downsizing in an evolutionary eye-blink,” he says. “This happened in China, Europe, Africa—everywhere we look.” If our brain keeps dwindling at that rate over the next 20,000 years, it will start to approach the size of that found in Homo Erectus, a relative that lived half a million years ago and had a brain volume of only 1,100 cc.”

http://discovermagazine.com/2010/sep/25-modern-humans-smart-why-brain-shrinking

… and chronic stress and anxiety – if not attended too – will increase that shrinking rate as stress shrinks your brain…  (Ensell, et al. 2012)

As an osteopath and stress-coach, I’m very concerned about the detrimental effect of stress on our health and wellbeing, and the influence of the fundamental ways our life and work has changed.

I’ve also started to notice that a new and even more dramatic health problem is arising. While until recently diseases of affluence were effecting people essentially on a physical and mental level, the information revolution and the rise of artificial intelligent devises is causing a rise in problems of a more existential and spiritual nature.

When more and more elements of life are taken over by tools, the very foundations of life, its meaning, purpose and our values are being questioned. I hear and see it every day in my practice that people are struggling with this. Struggling with the pace of life, with just being a number, a link in a chain in which they don’t see or know the end product. There is a deep longing for purpose and meaningfulness in a world were exactly that is taken away and outsourced to technology. It outs itself in a body-mind disconnection, feelings of hopelessness and numbness.

I refer to this as spiritual stress, a stress that arises from a disconnection within oneself as a result of the increase in automation. Spiritual stress and its effects on our health and wellbeing is here and together with the physical and mental health problems it will only rise further if we don’t start to learn from our past mistakes.

It frightens me to think that the current trend for solving the stress epidemic is based on the idea that “if work-related stress is due to the demands on employees being greater then their resources” we need to “increase automation so that the demands on the employees becomes less.”

On first glance this is a very logical solution to the current problem but we’ve just seen that a more comfortable lifestyle has an adverse effect on our health… and brain size!? This will only increase the current problems. We need to start to think differently…

Automation can not be stopped, robots and artificial intelligence is here and are here to stay and that is the way it is. However we have to start to think and find solutions to how to stay healthy in body, mind and spirit in this a more automated world.

Question like: How do we stimulate human evolution? What does my body, mind and spirit need to evolve? What do I really need to be happy and thrive?

If we don’t ask these questions the human race as we know it will go extinct, it will be replaced by transhumans and cyborgs…. is this what we want? Really?????

When I talk to patients about this or raise the question during or after my keynote presentations none have said they are ok with this… all choose the return of a ‘HUMAN’ solution and evolution.

What are your thoughts?

Do you choose humanity, with life as the centre of our Universe or technology?


Tom Meyers is an osteopath, stress coach and visionary in the field of health and wellbeing. He runs a private health practice in Brussels. He’s an inspiring international keynote speaker the topic of ‘Understanding & Managing Stress’. Tom also runs workshops on the ‘Reaset Approach’ a novel manual body-mind and educational health approach he developed. In 2017 he will publish his first self-help and help-others book in which he interlaces soul-purpose, personal development, health and healing into a compelling guide to thrive.

Want to book Tom as a keynote speaker for your upcoming event then fill in the contact form below or get in touch with him through his website reaset.me

References:

Here is a short film by Futurist Speaker Gerd Leonhard, produced in association with Accenture on digital transformation that is worth watching.

Let’s talk about stress

Stress: A conflict between biology and culture

Article Published in Executive Secretary Magazine: 25 January 2017

Tom Meyers explains why stress has become a nuisance and what we can do about it

Over the last few years many words have been spoken and written about stress and numerous actions undertaken to do something about it. However, stress is still on the rise. It is estimated that  % to 90%  of all visits to primary care physicians are now directly or indirectly related to stress. And stress after musculoskeletal pain has become the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in the EU. These are alarming facts and figures.

But what is stress:  why has it become a nuisance and what, if anything, can  we do about it?

As an osteopath and stress-coach I’ve been contemplating these three questions for many years and have started to share through presentations and workshops, my insights and professional experience.

Stress as you might have realised by now is  something very elusive. Hans Selye, the “father of stress” once  said, “Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows.” With this statement, he meant that stress has a different meaning for different people under different conditions. For example,  when someone says, “I have a lot of stress” they can mean that they have a lot to do or express a feeling of nervousness or being jittery. Which makes talking  about stress very complicated.

Even scientists can’t seem to make up their mind about what stress is. There are ten or more definitions depending on the viewpoint of the scienti fic field: biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, …

Consequently, I like to clarify some words first.  When I speak of a ‘stressor’ I mean the elements that cause the stress response to be activated. When I use the word ‘stress’ I use it to refer to  the biological response of the body to any demand (stressor) mediated by physiological adaptations and bringing  about the physical, psychological and social/behavioural (biopsychosocial) changes.

So, what is stress? 

Stress, together with ease, are part  of the human bimodal adaptation response. Stress or the fight-flight response is that part of our adaptation response that is activated when an action is needed or danger is perceived. Physiologically this means that when the brain perceives a stressor it immediately activates  the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which stimulates adrenaline and noradrenaline to be released . These hormones in turn increase  heart rate, blood pressure, redirect blood from the skin and intestinal tract to skeletal muscles and release glucose from the liver into the blood stream. After this initial reaction, the brain sends  a message to the adrenal gland to produce cortisol which prevents  insulin to store energy, it also shunts  blood and glucose distribution away from the neocortex to the more primitive parts of the brain. In addition, cortisol  inhibits the immune system and decreases libido.

Just imagine this: you’re crossing a street and a car is coming your way at high speed (stressor). What  do you expect your body to do and what not? Exactly, you must flee, get out of the way instantaneously and not think what to do first, nor contemplate, your intelligence, creativity or charisma, or have thoughts about sex. No, everything is directed towards getting  your body, the vehicle of your soul out of danger.

When the stressor is over, in the example given meaning you’re safe on the pavement again, ease or also referred to as the relaxation-recuperation-regeneration response sets  in. Physiologically this means activation of the parasympathetic branch of the ANS to stimulate the release of serotonin and muscle relaxation, which reduce s heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Furthermore, vasodilation in the skin and intestinal tract is promoted which stimulate s digestion. As cortisol levels drop, the  inhibitory effect on immunity and healing is lifted and normal blood and glucose distribution is  re-established in the brain. However, the drop of cortisol only starts to be effective 20 minutes or so after the stressor is over.

In other words, the stress-ease response is an operating system where you have the stress response which is all about survival and protection at one end of the spectrum … and which uses energy, causes wear and tear and on the other end you find ease, a response where you unwind, store energy, recuperate and regenerate… to be ready for the next challenge.

All of this is being regulated by the brain and is a very individual process.

So why has stress become a nuisance?

The explanation takes us back in time as stress per se is not really the problem. Stress is part of the adaptation response that evolved to protect ourselves from acute physical stressors but which hasn’t had an update since prehistoric times. Biological evolution is notoriously slow and requires certain stimuli to effectuate genetic adaptation covering several generations.

And here lies the crunch. Some researcher say that genetic evolution in humans is actually no longer relevant. Why? Because  as a species we now depend on technology and culture for our survival rather than random mechanisms of variation and selection.

What that means is that when humankind first walked this earth it adapted itself to the environment until it saw the light and started to adapt its environment to its needs.

However, in recent years technology has allowed us to modify our environment so effectively that our environment and culture has changed at a higher rate than  we can cope with biologically. Technology has removed our species from nature and from ourselves. This conflict between biology and culture or in other words the unhealthy relationship between human adaptation an d the environment is why stress has become a nuisance.

While technological progress and the many tools that have been developed (computer, smart phone…) were supposed to give us more leisure time they’ve created an environment that makes us work harder and longer, and where the boundaries between work and play have become increasingly blurred. Thus, increasing our time in the fight-flight  response (see above). On top of that the same fight-flight  response which is ideal for jumping away from that car is also being triggered for stressors like psychosocial risk: information-overload, job insecurity, non-ethical management decisions, etc.

As a result, the body gets less and less time to recuperate and regenerate. On a physiological level, we’re depleting our energy reserves, and becom ing more prone to infections, cancer and other life threatening diseases  as our bodies ’ immune response among other systems is being inhibited chronically. That being said  the structure and function of our brain is changing too. Yes, chronic stress reduces the size of parts of your brain including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex which are related with memory and cognition. While on the other hand  stress it increases the volume of the amygdala, a part of the brain that is related to fear. In the brain,  size does matter and thus with the amygdala making more neural connections fear and anxiety increase  while neurons in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex atrophy and with it rational thinking, creativity, etc. are becom ing more and more of a challenge. All of this is due to the effect of cortisol on vascularisation and glucose distribution in the brain.

So the more we rely and lead our life to the rhythm of technology the less resilient we become. Recent ly published health statistics on burnout and long term sickness (in Belgium) corroborate this. Neuropsychiatrist Theo Compernolle MD., Phd. Explained that young people between 25 and 35 have become the most important group experiencing burnout. According to him, people in this are continuously connected, while connected multitask and thus increasing the time spent in the stress response . More time they spend  ‘in stress’ the more inefficient they become and end up in a downward spiral where burnout is just the inevitable outcome.

With all of that in mind, is there anything we can do to manage stress more effectively? Yes, but it asks for your personal contribution and investment. Technology is still progressing, and with virtual reality and robotics becoming more integrated in our lives it will continue to change our environment, culture and society.

They key to effective stress management is to understand that stress becomes a nuisance when the demands on you as an individual outweigh s your resources. With the increase in stressors eliciting  the stress response it is thus an imperative that you return to ease or the word I created for it : “reaset” on a regular basis in counterbalance.  Spend enough time to physically and psychologically recuperate and regenerate your resources. This “reaset” time is essential to increase your resilience (measure for health).

The essence of a reaset is an activity you choose to do that stimulates parasympathetic activity, lowers your heart rate, breath rate, blood pressure, relaxes muscles, reduces adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, and increase s serotonin levels. I do say activity and not sitting in the sofa. I noticed in a clinical study I conducted in 2015 that some people (whose  adaptation response is incapable of returning to ease) actually were more stressed doing nothing. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that subconsciously a stressed person is always on the lookout for danger. When that sabre toothed tiger is upon you, when your survival is at stake would you sit down and relax?

For your information, running is also a no go when you’re in the grip of stress. For those whose adaptation response is not functioning properly going for a run  will lead to more stress. More stress that will more likely than  not get them into an early grave from a cardiac aneurysm or stroke. This is more common than  you think and it usually happens at an untimely moment like in a park or the woods where no doctor can come to a timely.

To sum up, stress is a part of our biological adaptation response. However,  stress has become a nuisance due to a rising conflict between biology and culture. While biology is notoriously slow to evolve our environment and culture, due to influence of technology, has changed with a faster pace than that our biology can cope with.

The only way you can curb the trend is to become mindful of your body’s  needs and by including enough time to “reaset” in your day. Your biology is genetically primed for danger and as our society is ruled by bigger, better, faster, stress has become the rule rather than the exception.

You must start to take time to consciously stimulate the ease response. This can be done through breathing exercises, mediation, mindfulness, relaxing walks… by whatever that gives you energy instead of taking it away. Choose activities that will counterbalance the impact of stress and that will give your body recuperation and regeneration  it needs. Of course, you can  wait for society to change but then you’re only waiting for yourself as you are the society. It’s up to you. Your body is your responsibility. Reconnect with your body, with your nature, your values…

In your spare time,  do less and enjoy more. Disconnect from technology on  time. Discover who you are, spent time doing a meaningful activity.

While at work and even when your job is demanding take regular “reaset” breaks. Time invested you will recuperate through being more efficient afterwards. Become aware of your stress response being activated and reduce it consciously with a practiced regulating breathing exercise. Remember stress is a friend not a foe, a friend with special needs and only you can provide those.

Open the discussion at work with managers and staff alike. Evaluate psychosocial risks, designs plan to reduce it, implement and evaluate in time. But most importantly it is you who must be good to yourself and manage your stress as no one can do that for you.

References

Eurofound and EU-OSHA (2014), Psychosocial risks in Europe: Prevalence and strategies for prevention, (PDF) Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at work: Milczarek, M., Schneider, E., Gonzalez, E.R., (2009). OSH in figures: stress at work – fact and figures. (PDF) Luxembourg office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Fink (2016). Stress: concepts, cognition, emotions, and behaviour. handbook of stress, volume 1. Elsevier.

Meyers (2015). The effect of the Reaset Approach on the autonomic nervous system, state trait anxiety and musculoskeletal pain in patients with world related stress: A pragmatic randomised trial.

J.T. Stock (2008). Are humans still evolving? European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) vol. 9.


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Tom Meyers is an osteopath, stress coach and visionary in the field of health and wellbeing. He runs a private health practice in Brussels. He gives regular inspiring presentations in Belgium and abroad on the topic of ‘Understanding & Managing Stress’. Tom also runs workshops on the ‘Reaset Approach’ a novel manual body-mind and educational health approach he developed. In 2017 he will publish his first self-help and help-others book in which he interlaces soul-purpose, personal development, health and healing into a compelling guide to thrive. In January Tom, will deliver an interactive presentation to the members of EUMA (soon to be IMA) Belgium zooming in on ethical conflicts and the impact on work-related stress and burnout. For more information , visit be.euma.org. If you want to know more about Tom, or invite him to your own event, take a look at his: reaset.me.

TomTom the Health Navigator: Reflections part I

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The ability of our body to adapt dynamically and instantaneously to changes in the internal and external environment is an essential part of human nature and essential for our health. To survive in face of adversity, overcome challenges, to achieve our goals and thrive, our organism needs to adapt itself continuously. In other words our organism needs to be able to alternate its internal milieu between, the stress response when an action is required and the relaxation response where the organism is at ease and restores its resources, recuperate and regenerates for the next action to come.

However, the body is having difficulties maintaining this dynamic balance. The reason for this is multiplex, but can be summarised as the experience of a conflict between biology and culture.

How so…?

While our biology hasn’t really changed since prehistoric times, our environment has. In turn the changes in our environment i.a. culture and society has changed the way we think, feel, act, etc. However, the way our body reacts to change with a stress response hasn’t and is alas still based on the prehistoric fight-and-flight program even though the challenge is psychosocial in nature.

One view is that our organism just hasn’t had the time to update itself to the new challenges. Changes used to be gradual over many generations spanning hundreds  or thousands of years. Now, we experience multiple major lifestyle changes within a generation. This has a lot to do with the evolution towards a more computerised environment, the ensuing changes in the way we live and work, the way life and work is organised and the speed with which these changes are happening.

In other words we’ve changed the world around us to such an extent and in such a short time that it has surpassed our own development. That discordance is making us sick and worse…

So far evolution was something we never really had to think about, until now. We better start thinking about it as maybe just maybe by giving human nature a helping hand we will again thrive instead of survive.

To be continued… (soon)

TedX Brussels Interview

I was kindly asked for an interview by TEDx Brussels to give my ideas about the Deeper Future and this to complement their full speaker program to which I hope to be invited to one day 😉

“This is no Joke”: Stress in the Deeper Future

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Photo by Bibbi Abruzzini

“Did you know that stress shrinks your brain? This is no joke,” says Tom Meyers, an Osteopath and Stress Coach who works with patients suffering from work-related stress. TEDxBrussels interviews Meyers to understand how to cope with our high-pressure world and the unnecessary stress we experience multiple times per day.

1. Why has stress become such a problem for our health, relationships and economy? 

First, lets look at what stress is. Stress is an autonomic biological survival response resulting from a near-instantaneous sequence of neurological, hormonal and physical changes to protect the body from danger.

The changes involved in a stress response, often referred to as the ‘fight and flight response’, are various. They might cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and the hormones adrenalin and cortisol. At the same time the immune response is inhibited, digestion slowed down, libido suppressed, and heart rate variability decreases.

Unfortunately this response hasn’t had an update since prehistoric times. The stress response was a great bio-defense mechanism for when we were facing physical threats. However, it is not so apt to the psychosocial challenges that our society faces today – excessive workloads, deadlines, poor management, information overload and so on. Our biology hasn’t been able to update itself to face the new environmental stressors and here lies our first challenge.

The second challenge is that these new stressors are more chronic in nature. The kind and duration of stressors we face have changed but not the stress response itself. The consequence is that the body finds itself having less and less time to relax, recuperate and regenerate.  In the RRR-mode our immune response is boosted, digestion and libido is turned up, and heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension are reduced, and hormone levels rebalanced and heart rate variability increases.

Did you know that stress shrinks your brain? This is no joke. Increased levels of cortisol changes the vascular flow and glucose distribution in certain parts of your brain like the hippocampus which is related to memory, and the prefrontal cortex which is implicated with consciousness, personality, decision making and social behaviour. No wonder there is an increase in depression and burnout.

A third challenge is that it seems that we’ve forgotten that we’re humans. Being human comes with a body and that body has different needs than our mind. We’re mind-driven and never think if our body can handle the objectives set by our mind. I call this the “copy-pasting” phenomenon. For example some people are always active and go as far as feeling a sort of guilt when they‘re not doing something. Yet the body’s biological design is one where action needs to makes way for relaxation in order to recuperate and regenerate. On top of that when we do take time to relax we tend to make the wrong choices. The example that I give in presentations is of someone saying “I’m going to relax this evening and watch a horror movie”… What!?

We are living in a culture where health promoting behaviour has become – unbelievable but true – inappropriate. An example: no one questions a smoker taking a cigarette break but when a non-smoker takes a break for some fresh air he or she feels often guilty, stigmatised. Do you recognize this?

To sum this up in one simple phrase: we’re facing a conflict between biology and culture and it makes us sick, costing society billions and more it is killing us.

But now comes the question, is biology to blame?

2. How do you help people around the world to reduce the pain of stress? 

My health practice, presentations and workshops are based on three pillars: To help you – to help you help yourself – to help you, help yourself and others.

As an Osteopath and Stress Coach for Body & Mind I help people by allowing the body to “reset” and return to ease. My patients initially came to me to treat physical aliments, gradually experiencing great improvements in terms of how they dealt with stress, clarity of mind and decision making. Overall they felt lighter, as if a weight had been lifted from their body and mind. Now 10 years and 2 clinical trials later I’ve been able to demonstrate that the approach I have developed has indeed an effect on both body and mind. It results in a reduction of perceived musculoskeletal pain, anxiety, stress and an increase in heart rate variability.

Research, combined to personal experience, has given me plenty of insights. With the rise of the information age we’ve become disconnected and less socially conscious. We have forgotten that we are simultaneously a whole and a part of a larger society. It is time to go back to the future, retrace our steps and come to terms again with what it means to be human.  With such understanding we can lay new foundations to grow and thrive instead of merely survive. And believe me when I say that thriving is easier than you think if you don’t let yourself stand in the way.

3. Why is managing stress important in the context of the Deeper Future? 

Our society will face extra challenges ranging from global warming to terrorism; as a result, stressors will increase whether we like it or not.

We are already suffering. To put that suffering in figures: here in Belgium alone 1.1 million or 10% of the population takes antidepressants, 13.5 million boxes of sleeping pills are sold a year, 1 in 4 employees and 1 in 5 doctors are at risk of burn-out and the cost of sick workers exceeds that of the cost of unemployment.

If we don’t start to do something today, individuals will become more self-centred, anxious, depressed, burned-out, tense – and less creative, less intelligent, less social, less tolerant. The risk is that over time we will wipe ourselves out.

To thrive again in the face of change…

a good start is understanding and managing stress.

This improvement is accessible to all and has been proven to yield good results in a very short spam of time. One step at a time, we can make the changes needed to transform the world. Every individual must become a change agent instead of getting stuck in the ‘Que Sera, Sera’ mindset . A deeper, more meaningful and mindful future is in our hands. It is a choice that must be translated into action.

4. What is your vision of the Deeper Future? 

Despite the challenges we are going to face, I’m still very optimistic about the future. However, more and more people are asking questions, driven by the feeling that we can’t go on living like this. As a response, we are witnessing an increase in co-creation living and work spaces, complimentary therapies as well as documentaries shedding light on the obscure hunting our world.

I experience this every day in my work as a health practitioner and public speaker. People are seeking to live a more meaningful life and are realising that health is essential to realizing their dreams. More and more people are willing to spend time and money to re-take health in their own hands. We are calibrating our minds, getting ready for a higher level of being where less is more. The Deeper Future is… bright! However, how bright it will be depends on our health and how “light” we’ll become.

TomTom Health Navigator

Interview published on the TedX Brussels Blog: TedXBrussels.eu

2016 is yours to create

Do you, like me sense that we have arrived at a critical moment in time? At one side there is the noticeable change in climate, the increase in terror and although we have more means to be healthy there are more sick people now then ever before.

Where are we going from here? What will the future hold for us?

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Well, you can sit by and wait for the future to happen and live by the outlook “que sera sera…” and with that also be contented with what you get. Or, you can say “I have a Dream…” and create your view of tomorrow. Whatever choice of view you decide today belief and behaviour is what will shape the future. Do you trust the belief and behaviour of others and wait for them to create the change, or like me envision and be to change you want to see in the world? Part of being human is that you have free will and thus a choice to undergo, level-to or rise up to the challenge.

So what do you want from 2016?

Whatever path you choose, be good to you, always.

TomTom Health Navigator

For info on consultations, upcoming workshops or presentations visit Reaset.me

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