Stress: Conflict between biology and culture

Together Magazine #43 Nov 2013

Article by Tom Meyers

Together Magazine: November 2013

Stress, what is it? Why has stress become such a nuisance? What can I do about it These three questions are pertinent when you look at some recent health statistics:

  • In 2011 stress levels increased by 48% according to a global business survey
  • 70 to 95% of all illnesses are related to stress
  • 1.1 million Belgians use antidepressants
  • In 2011, 13,5 million boxes of sleeping pills were sold in Belgium
  • 1 in 4 Belgian employees is at risk of burn-out

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

What is stress?

An instinctive biological survival response Stress is an autonomic response to stressors, resulting in biological changes that have an impact on your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Stressors are a wide range of stimuli from thoughts to arguments, emails or phone calls to traffic, work or environmental pollution. Stressors activate the sympathetic nervous system, the section of your autonomic nervous system that makes you alert, that tells you to fight or flee in order to protect you from danger. While this system is activated, the parasympathetic nervous system – which is all about relaxation, recuperation and regeneration (in other words it’s the rest and healing module) – is inhibited.

Why has stress become a nuisance?

Stress is the conflict between biology and culture I invite you to have a look around you and notice the tools and gadgets you’re surrounded with in your office or at home. Why did we make all of these fabulous things? Wasn’t it so you had more time to relax, make life easier? However, what are you doing with the time given to you: work, check emails, sit on the sofa and watch TV, or rush around? What’s your pace of life and lifestyle? Do you work longer hours, move less often, worry more? Is there still time for you to unwind, to let your body recuperate and regenerate from the efforts it has been through and replenish its resources? A cheetah can run at 100 km per hour but only for 30 seconds. It can only pull off an effort like that twice a day and to be able to do that it needs to rest for the rest of the day to recover. How much time do you spent recovering? Or do you feel guilty as so many of us do when we’re doing or seem to be doing nothing? A client told me she could not take time out from working to practice a three-minute breathing exercise three times a day. She looked at me as if I was from another planet when I asked her why she didn’t go outside with the smokers when they went on their breaks? She said: “Oh, no I couldn’t do that, what would they think of me?” I was dumbfounded. Smokers are encouraged to go for a walk, to go outside and they take time-out, albeit breathing in polluted air. To go out and breathe fresh air for health reasons has become unacceptable behaviour!? How did things get this way? Why do we feel guilty when we’re doing nothing, even though it is an essential part of healthy behaviour? Stress has become a nuisance. Seen from a biological perspective there is no longer naturally occurring means of stimulating relaxation, regeneration and recuperation. We are always ‘switched on’, in a fight or in flight even when there is no immediate danger. This leads to a chronic increase in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate and muscle tensions – especially in neck, back and shoulders. It reduces blood flow to your stomach and digestive system, lowers immunity, makes you more on edge and anxious, lowers your concentration levels and creativity – to name but a few. Over time, chronic stress can lead to depression and burn-out. And all the while that sympathetic nervous system is active, your parasympathetic nervous system (your healing system) is defective.

Stress, what can you do about it?

Take a break and reaset to return to ease Here are some useful tips: 1: Breathe in for five seconds followed by five seconds of breathing out by letting go of the breath. Repeat this exercise for three minutes, three times a day. 2: Same breathing exercise but now while breathing slowly feel a sense of wellbeing within you. For example imagine the sun warms your body and feel the sensation within. 3: Same breathing exercise while holding (not rubbing) the temples 4: Take time to walk around after 90 minutes working behind the computer. 5: Tense your shoulder muscles by bringing your shoulders towards your ears while breathing in and let go while breathing out. 6: Whatever you do enjoy doing it. 7: Make a list of values and see how you can integrate them into your current lifestyle. 8: Remember that time doesn’t come to you, you need to take time. 9: Don’t feel guilty about taking a break and relaxing. 10: Get a professional massage or bodytreatment now and then FREE eBook: ‘Reaset the return of Ease’ and where you will also find more information about stress on www.tommeyers.be

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