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

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The Pursuit of Happiness

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Tom Meyers offers seven tips on the road to true contentment
Article published in Together Magazine 54 December 2014

The promotion of wellbeing is essential to the pursuit of happiness. Self-Realisation or honing and living your potential and the sense of fulfilment it brings you is one way to promote that wellbeing.

However, self-realisation, being in alignment with your life’s purpose, is a long-term process, a life-long mission, to be enjoyed every step of the way as there is no true end to self-realisation – it is more like a direction than a destination.

Just like a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, it’s not about arriving, it’s about the experiences, the teachings on the way, the stories, the landscapes, the smells, the tastes of the local delicacies, the culture and, of course, the victory over oneself, having walked the distance and fulfilled a dream.

When you arrive you do look back on your achievement, contemplating on how you did it and then look towards the future, ready for the next challenge on your path. Self-Realisation is being in perpetual discovery of oneself, of pealing off the layers, in order to come closer to the real you.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are also about short-term objectives. To have a vision and become who you were born to be is essential, but living is about here and now. Do not get caught up in the vision itself and forget to live in this moment. And that moment is very much in peril in today’s hectic, online, harder, better, faster and stressful environment, where time becomes as elusive as our health, wellbeing and happiness.

You can change the tide and become a master of your own happiness and live a life where you manage your stress. Stress is after all an essential survival response and part of being human. If you’re living a super-human life, stress does become a nuisance.

Research suggests that up to 40% of happiness depends on our habits and activities.

How to promote health, wellbeing and happiness in seven simple steps:

Step 1: Take time-out

If not you, who will do it for you? Taking breaks is essential and short breaks now and then help you to make up time afterwards. This might be counter-intuitive but it’s true. For example when you struggle writing, when you hit that wall, go for a walk, breathe in some fresh air. You’ll feel more focus afterwards.

Step 2: ‘Return to Ease’

Numerous scientific studies have proven that breathing exercises, where you become mindful of your breath and induce a sense of calm and joy, a meditation or a mindfulness exercise, help to reduce anxiety, treat depression, reverse the effects of stress and help you to be more focused. The more you practice the quicker you’ll get back into the zone after a stressful moment.

Step 3: Inner forgiveness

Can you forgive yourself? There is something very liberating in inner forgiveness, which changes your attitude towards a past experience. To be the observer of yourself, your thoughts, your feelings and to forgive yourself by accepting what was and to let go of the anger, fear, rage and other emotions that you feel when recalling an unpleasant memory, to detach from past experiences and to let bygones be bygones. In the process of self- observation and changing your attitude, you self-correct, heal wounds and ultimately alter the direction of your future.

Change your dream and your world changes.

Step 4: Gratefulness

What have you been grateful for recently? Practicing grateful living as inspired by the teachings of Br. David Steindl-Rast is a universal practice that fosters personal transformation, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, intergenerational respect, non-violent conflict resolution and ecological sustainability. Instead of seeing the worst in everything, start seeing the opportunities. Stop complaining, pointing the finger at others and take an observer‘s perspective. What has this situation taught you? Then be grateful for the lesson learned.

Step 5: Compassion and altruism

When is the last time you helped someone? Research suggests that meaningful social

interaction helps you to reduce stress and enjoy better mental and physical health.

Step 6: Hugs

Our society is deprived of touch, especially single people and the elderly, and it has a detrimental effect on their health. Hugs have healing power, even hugging yourself. Hugs trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin which is known to be important for trust and a sense of wellbeing by reducing fear. A hug a day keeps…

Step 7: Creativity

When was the last time you created something? Knitting, painting, cooking, ironing, doing the dishes or hands on, physical work are all activities with an end result, which help you gain resilience and prevent and treat depression.

In other words the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is in your hands.

For more health and wellness tips, tune in to the feature Health Matters on www.radiox.eu or visit www.tommeyers.be

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http://www.togethermag.eu/sites/default/pdf/TOGETHER54.pdf

Recognise and Change

Transcript of the Feature ‘Health Matters’ on Radio X  from 03 March 2014

I’m Tom Meyers, Stress Coach and welcome to another episode of Health Matters.

Last week I talked about how important it is to have down-time after working hours and that some big companies are taking action as the cost of sickness due to work-stress is getting out of proportion.

Not surprising as work-related stress is now being considered one of the biggest health challenges in Europe. In Belgium it is estimated that 2 out of 3 employees are affected by it.

The impact of stress on your health, wellbeing and the economy can’t be left ignored anymore with personal suffering, increased sick days and social and economic consequences being very real and present.

However and as I mentioned before it is amazing how little effort it really takes to make the difference. Increased stress level awareness followed by small adaptations to lower the stress response can make the difference between being ailed by stress or living and working with ease.

How to recognise that stress has got you in its grip is an important factor to changing the tide. So lets have a look.

Physical signs: Neck, shoulder or back pain, tension headaches, digestive problems,…

Emotional signs: Negative thoughts, loss of motivation and mood swings.

Mental signs: Confusion, difficulty to concentrate, memory loss

Behavioural changes: Seep disturbance, increased smoking, drinking or medication intake.

Specific work-related stress signs are deteriorating relationships among colleagues, increased staff turnover and numbers of employees being absent due to sickness.

Once you recognize that you’re stressed acknowledge it and respond ,don’t let it drag on.

Here are some tips to help yourself.

Seek professional help when you feel you’re not in control anymore.

Take care of your physical and emotional health by learning and implementing daily health promoting behavior. Don’t postpone taking care of your health till it gets calmer at work or at home. That day might never come when you haven’t got your stress levels under control in the first place.

Take regular breaks and don’t feel guilty about it. To perform well, regular pauses to clear your mind is not a waste of time as it will make you more and not less productive.

Don’t over-commit yourself.

When work or your workload gets out of hand talk it over with a colleague. Sharing or connecting with others has proven to be a great way to reduce the pressure.

Make sure you take enough time to unwind when the work day is over or at the weekend. Have a look at your diary is there still room for you?

With ever changing demands, more to do and less time to do it in…. reflection on how to stay healthy and health promoting behavior isn’t a luxury and must be seen as a personal and social priority.

On tommeyers.be you can download a free copy of ‘Reaset: The return of Ease’ with information, exercises and free audio to breathe your stress away and help you to drift into ease.

I’m Tom meyers, Osteopath DO, Stress Coach for Body and Mind, Public Speaker and contributor of thought to a healthier way of living and working.

Move it… but low impact.

Transcript of the Feature ‘Health Matters’ on Radio X  from 13 January 2013

I’m Tom Meyers, Stress Coach and welcome to a new season of Health Matters.  In Health Matters I take a closer look at the S word that has become one of the biggest challenges to our health and wellbeing Stress.

This week I’m going to get you moving.

That exercise relieves stress probably doesn’t come as  a surprise to you but did you know that the long-term effects of daily exercise can be a powerful antidepressant more effective than any antidepressant drugs on the market?

The question you will ask off-course is how much exercise and what type? Well that depends on you? Are you a sportive person or not? How long have you been inactive? Too much too quick and you’ll become discouraged because you can’t keep it up or get injuries. So set yourself a realistic goal.

As time goes, it is better 5 minutes now and then then a 1h work-out if stress relieve is what you seek. This can be a walk around the block, cycling to work or to the shop. It doesn’t have to be sport? It is about moving. Taking the time to stretch those legs and move those arms.

Gardening, walking the dog, playing with your children, taking an elderly person for a walk a couple of times a week can all be seen as exercise, even cleaning if it is done with a certain vigour and heart.

The mistake many people make is to sit all day in the office stressing out but then to compensate go for a good hard run in the evening? The purpose of exercise is to relax, to lower the sympathetic tone of your autonomic nervous system and increase the relaxation response.

Stress heightens your heart rate, blood pressure, breath rate with all the adverse effects that has and that I’ve talked about before on Health Matters. So imagine that when your heart rate and blood pressure has been high all day and you on top of that go and strain your body more with a good challenging run… you’re putting the pressure on even more… that can be a recipe for a heart attack or stroke… and unfortunately it is more common then you think.

Oh you don’t like exercise, you think it’s boring then the solution can be to make a mind shift and see it as transport from A to B and walk and cycle as much as you can to go to the shop, work or for any reason you need to get around. Leave that car behind if you have to get somewhere within a radius of say less then 5 km away. Get a decent backpack with waist strap that can hold some groceries and a few 1.5l bottles or something that you think you’ll need to make that exercise – shopping or trip to work practical and more enjoyable.

So in short regular 5 minutes of low intensity exercise decreases stress. Best is what scientist call green exercise meaning exercise that takes you outdoors.

  • Short sessions are better then 1 long one
  • Take the time as time doesn’t come to you.
  • Find something that gets you moving that you know you enjoy.

The benefits over time are improved heart rate variability, lower heart rate and blood pressure, increase in willpower and resilience. In general improved health and wellbeing.

I’m Tom Meyers, Stress coach for body & mind and contributor of thought more joyful and healthy way of living. For more information on Health Matters go to the website tommeyers.be

How to make those resolutions stick

Transcript of the Feature ‘Health Matters’ on Radio X  from 06 january 2014

I’m Tom Meyers, Stress Coach and welcome to another episode of Health Matters. In Health Matters I take a closer look at the S word that has become one of the biggest challenges to our health and wellbeing STRESS.

This week I like to talk about how to make those health resolutions you made over the last two weeks stick.

I sincerely hope that with the insights I shared with you last year that some of your resolutions include health and health promoting behavior.

In fact recommended for making your goal stick is to choose just one resolution. One challenge that you like to take on your journey and that you can focus on fully and what is more important then health?.

Resolutions are changes of things you’re not so happy about and always go hand and hand with conflict. On a bad day when you have too many conflicts with your resolutions on top of the daily challenges you are more prone to fall into the bad habits again and that needless to say creates negative emotions and stress.

So to avoid that choose 1 firm resolution.

Other steps to success are the following:

Be realistic: Choose a resolution that is challenging but don’t put your goals to high either.

Get support: Although they are personal talk to someone about it. Get a support partner or circle of people that can help you and on who you can count on to help you back on track. Talk to them about your journey and discuss how they can help you in the process.

Learn a Reaset breathing exercise or practice a meditation technique: Changes and challenges are stressful and thus the body is always involved. Reducing stress levels in your body therefore is essential as it will help you to focus, handle distractions and temptations better. They will also help you to master your fears and moments of anxiety that you surely will face in the course of your journey. In a nutshell it will help increase your willpower and you surely will need that.

Get a notebook: Write down your goal, why you want this change, what the benefits are in the long run and what the pitfalls are. To go deep into quest behind the question use the 5 why’s iterative question approach. Which is when you’ve written down your answer to the first question ‘Why you do this’… to ask ‘why’ again in response to the answer you’ve given and after that Why again and so on 5 times? This way you really determine the root motivation. After that you could also add what the benefit could be for others? Your family, friends, colleagues? Try to see the bigger picture.

Willpower workout. Like training to run a marathon, or learning how to play an instrument changing a habit, implementing health promoting behavior or increasing your willpower it is all about repetition and to keep on practicing and expecting that some days it will be difficult.

Good luck and let me know how you get on.

I’m Tom Meyers stress coach for body and mind and contributor of thought to a healthier and more joyful living.

Enjoying Health Matters then share the episodes with your family and friends by going to the radiox.eu website or visit my website tommeyers.be

The biological nature of stress (II)

Transcript of the Feature Health Matters on Radio X  from 07 October 2013 (4)


I’m Tom Meyers, Stress Coach and welcome to another episode of Health Matters here on Radio X. In Health Matters I take a closer look at the S word that has become one of the biggest challenges to our health and wellbeing STRESS.

I hope you’ve been listening to the previous episodes of Health Matters. If you haven’t you can always go to the Health Matters section of the radio’s website radiox.eu

Today I like to take you once again to the biological nature of stress and more specifically into the world of neurons and hormones.

Stress is a response to stressors, a response when triggered for a short time leaves NO negative influence on our health. However when demands outweighs resources problems start and those problems have to do with the disrupted balance of our autonomic nervous system and hormonal levels.

When your stress response is in action mode the sympathetic nervous system is being activated. This nervous system is all about defense and getting yourself to safety with an action also referred to as the fight and flight response.

As soon as it’s activated it will stimulate the release of the hormone adrenaline that in turn will narrow blood vessels your skin, digestive system and in parts that are not immediately contributing to protecting you from danger. It will also contribute to the tensing up of muscles in neck, back and shoulders.

At the same time that this nervous system is being activated other parts of our brain are also being triggered like the amygdala, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland. Those parts are of the brain are responsible for sending a hormonal messenger to the adrenal gland to make even more adrenaline and cortisol.

Cortisol will release stored energy, help break it down to glucose and send it to where it is needed. It will also prevent that energy is being stored by preventing insulin to do its work… hence why stress can lead to diabetes.

In the meanwhile the other part of your autonomic nervous system the parasympathetic part which is responsible for relaxation, regeneration and recuperation and the release of serotonin and dopamine – hormones  that play part in mood regulation and feeling of joy and happiness will be put on hold…

Do you see the picture that is emerging chronic stress leads to overstimulation of one part of our nervous systems that prevents you from relaxing and recuperating, your muscles stay tense, heart rate and blood pressure high, blood flow to stomach and digestive system impaired and you stay on alert all the time which in time creates ware and tare and you get muscle aches and pains, become anxious, short-tempered, sleep deprived, your immunity becomes weaker and your concentration falters …

So what can you do? You need to help your body to reset itself and find balance again. How? By taking a break several times a day and practicing some relaxation exercises like the reaset breathing exercise I shared with you before. You have no time? Well, why not start applying this breathing technique when you have to wait in line at the checkout of the supermarket, for the bus or when stuck in a traffic, wait patiently and use that time to reset.

A few minutes here and there will really make the difference. Your body needs you, It needs attention in this time and age where the demands of our culture outweighs the bodies coping abilities.

I’m Tom Meyers and this was another episode of Health Matters. In the next episode l’ll talk a bit more about cortisol and the influence it has on our memory. I’m sure you’ll like that one.

In the meanwhile I wish you a great week and if you like more information on this feature then visit the radiox.eu website or go to tommeyers.be where you’ll also find information on the upcoming conference Understanding and Managing stress at Cook and Book in Woluwe.

Your body needs you

The effect(s) of stress (muscular tension, digestive problems, low immunity, depression,…) is the result of the body’s exposure to the stress response (fight, flight, freeze) which in term is triggered following the brains interpretation of a stressor(s) (trauma, worrying, work overload,…).

The effect(s) of stress is in correlation to i.a. the length of exposure, one’s personal coping mechanism and the state of stress at the moment.

The stress response is a series of involuntary neuro-hormonal (adrenaline, cortisol, vagal tone,…) changes that have an impact on the heart, bronchi, vascular system, organs, muscles, immunity system, cognition and behaviour to help us to survive.

When the stressor has ceased the body needs time to reset itself to its allostatic balance – a state where it can react according to the need. The recovery – unlike what we might think – is a long, slow process as it is part of our biology adapted to what life was like thousands of years ago and which hasn’t gone to any major changes since Pleistocene times.

“The rate of cultural change since the evolution of the Homo Sapiens is astonishing, but in the face of that rate of change, there has been no sufficient time for many new and successful genetic adaptations to occur.”

“Every day we play out behaviours that have been part of the human experience for a very long time. Yet these behaviours are played out in an arena that is far from removed from that in which they evolved…. creating conflict between our evolved psychological predispositions and the dictates of modern culture.”

When culture and biology collide by E.O. Smith

Reaset: The return of Ease” is a self-healing modality that facilitates and acts as a catalyst (speeds-up) the recovery of the neuro-hormonal system to an allostatic balance. By practicing this on a regular basis you’re helping your biology to reset itself more efficiently and thus thus reduce the effects of stress.

Reaset Body-Coaching” as a therapy goes one step further, it offers a helping hand to the neuro-hormonal, musculo-skeletal, organ and biofield systems to return to ease (allostatic balance). Reaset Body-Coaching also offers information how you can further help yourself.

Author: Tom Meyers

Your body needs you.

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