Digital Transformation without Stress

Digital Transformation without Stress: Part 2

Tom Meyers 2In part 1 of “Digital Transformation without Stress,” I addressed that technology has the potential to become a strong ally in our evolution. It will do this by becoming, just like the bodies autonomous nervous system, a part of our life that will perform a lot of tasks to help us to adapt with more ease to the changes in our environment without the need of our attention. Over time an algorithm will even be able to anticipate our needs.

What was once science fiction becomes science fact, and yes I’m looking forward and am excited about some of the developments. I’m for example excited about space travel, self-driving cars and an AI that can help me with my basic administrative tasks.

At the same time as an osteopath and body-centred stress coach, I see that not all these changes are without its challenges. Some are downright detrimental for our health, well-being and happiness.

For example change, positive or negative is always stressful and when stress is not managed, it will lead to illness. Not only physical problems like musculoskeletal pain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental problems like concentration problems, anxiety and depression but also behavioural problems like short-temperedness, aggression and even radicalisation.

Another example is the less we start using our brain because more and more is automated and taken out of our hands, the less neuronal connections our brain makes. So, in other words, the brain becomes smaller, less resilient and the consequences detrimental. Already the brain has been getting smaller since the Stone Age

“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.” (John Hawks)

In his latest book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens and Homo Deus) also refers to stress and mental resilience as challenges to our future that we need to find solutions for before it’s too late.

Mr Harari argues that on the one hand, the future of work is one that will need constant retraining, as a profession for life becomes something of the past. As regards to this observation he questions if human beings have the emotional stamina for a life of such continuous upheaval? On the other hand, he speculates that by 2050 a ‘useless’ class might emerge, not because of the lack of jobs but because of insufficient mental stamina.

His arguments are entirely in line with what I’ve been addressing in my presentation and workshops over the past couple of years.

In other words, emerging technologies like AI, IoT, robotics and automation will make life easier, but as human beings, we will need to find ways to compensate the lack of stimuli and physical, mental and spiritual challenges. Body-centred stress management will become even more important than it already is. Why body-centred because stress is foremost a physical adaptation response with at its basis neurological and hormonal changes that influence: blood flow, muscles, digestion, immunity but also psychological and social behaviour.

But stress management only will not suffice, and I will address my thoughts on this in  “Digital Transformation without Stress: Part 3

To be continued…

 


cropped-tom_meyers_p2Tom Meyers is a Belgian osteopath (BSc, D.O. OSD), Body-centred stress coach (M.ISMA) and founder of the Reaset Approach. As a speaker Tom’s talks centre around the topic of stress, viewed from a perspective of the future. A future in which technology has changed the world with a speed never seen before and has seen more changes in 20 years than over the last 300 years. In his first book “Futurize Yourself – Design your life on purpose” Tom recounts his personal how three questions saved his life, gave him a sense of purpose and why having a sense of purpose matters in a digital transformed and more automated future.


 

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Digital Transformation without Stress

Digital Transformation without Stress: Part 1

099New technologies are changing the way we live and work with a speed and scope unlike anything humanity has experienced before.

For example:

  • Soon you will not be driving to work but being driven as cars will increase being automated, less pollutive as they are electric and traffic jams something of the past.
  • Advances in speech technology will have us talk more and more to our digital devices and replace typing commands. Your personal AI will become your best friend, your therapist, your personal secretary and personal shopper and style consultant.
  • With the Internet of Things (IoT) that will connect everything and anything, lights will switch on automatically wherever you go and off when you leave. You won’t need an employee ID card anymore to walk into your office, and at every moment of the day your location and activity, that of your partner and kids and anything connected can be monitored in real time.

So in many ways, we’re experiencing an amazing time in human history. A time where emerging technologies will provide us with new means to make life easier and contribute to making the way we work and produce anything more sustainable and cost-effective.

Like the bodies autonomous nervous system – our control system that acts mostly unconsciously and regulates essential bodily functions – technology has the potential, when it continues to become more performant, to be our control system that will help us to adapt (1) with more ease to our environment and over time even anticipate our needs (2).

With adaptability being a key component of evolution we can thus take in consideration that technology might be just part of a natural process. An evolutionary process comparable to when single-celled organisms started to collaborate and evolved into multi-cellular life forms because cells who were working together benefited more from doing so than they did from living alone (3).

On the other hand, while technology is and will continue to contribute to our adaptability and evolution, there are however some adverse effects that need to be taken into account and acted upon. Here are three that are at the forefront of my mind and which will cause additional stress when not addressed during the digital transformation:

The adverse effect on jobs:

When work processes and production of goods are increasingly being optimised and become more efficient, fewer people are needed to perform the same task. So some people will lose their job and require to learn new skills which in itself isn’t without its challenges.

Stressors are the loss of your job, financial insecurity, having to learn new skills, losing colleagues, more responsibility, increase in demands with less resources…

The effect on security:

There are many ethical aspects to be considered regarding what is done with the data that is collected as it can be used for other purposes than for our benefit.

Stressors are the misuse of your data, being manipulated, over-consumption…

The effect on health and well-being:

When more and more parts of our life are automated, we may not forget to keep stimulating the brain. The brain is just like a muscle – use it or lose it – and losing brain mass means it becomes less resilient, it has an effect on memory, creativity, productivity and behavior.

Stressors are increased stress, being more prone for illnesses or accidents, depression, burnout, losing your job because of under-performance or chronic illness…

>>> continue reading part 2


cropped-tom_meyers_p2Tom Meyers is a Belgian osteopath (BSc, D.O. OSD), Body-centred stress coach (M.ISMA) and founder of the Reaset Approach. As a speaker Tom’s talks centre around the topic of stress, viewed from a perspective of the future. A future in which technology has changed the world with a speed never seen before and has seen more changes in 20 years than over the last 300 years. In his first book “Futurize Yourself – Design your life on purpose” Tom recounts his personal how three questions saved his life, gave him a sense of purpose and why having a sense of purpose matters in a digital transformed and more automated future.


References:

1) Humanification by Christian Kromme: http://www.christiankromme.com

2) Thinking Like a Human: What It Means to Give AI a Theory of Mind: https://goo.gl/EapcNg

3) How did multicellular life evolve: https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/news/how-did-multicellular-life-evolve/

Stress-Less

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.