Studies from the 1950s, 60s and 70s predicted that with advances in technology we would have a lot more leisure time by the year 2000. How wrong they were! Today we are expected to produce a lot more, of a higher quality, as fast as possible and all with less support than we had 30 years ago. In this information age we spend more time living inside our heads than in our bodies; we move less and think more and it is taking a major toll on our health. The effects of pressure have become so prevalent in our lives that they have even been given it a name: stress.
Stress is an internal phenomenon. You might say, My office is stressful or My shopping mall gives me stress or You try having four kids and not being stressed! But while these are contributors to the stress process they do not create stress. There is no such thing as external stress. Stress is in your thoughts, feelings and beliefs and how you choose to behave in response to an external pressure. If you feel that a situation is more demanding than you are capable of handling, then you will experience stress.
The three major causes of stress
Acute Pressure is pressure that only lasts for a short period of time. As an example, imagine you are a cat strolling through the backyard, minding your own business, when suddenly a rabid dog jumps over the fence and charges straight toward you. Your body would react immediately by activating a series of neurological, biochemical, hormonal and physiological actions, all designed to help you avoid the dog and survive. This automatic response is commonly referred to as the fight or flight response. The stress response in the case of our cat runs its course very quickly, eg the dog bolts over the fence and charges at the cat (the external pressure), which causes the cats brain and hormonal system to release a series of stress hormones (the stress response), which in turn puts the cat in a physiological state to either fight the dog or run away (the fight or flight response). After escaping the dog, the cats stress hormones return to normal and it is soon strolling through the backyard again. This is an example of acute pressure causing stress. The short-term effects of acute stress include an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, body temperature and adrenaline output as well as feelings of anxiety, nervousness and tension.
Unfortunately in todays world, we humans are not as fortunate as the cat. Every day we deal with situations that cause continuous stress. Alarm clocks, unexpected bills, mortgage repayments, traffic jams, work, family and partner commitments, all of which can be harder to escape than the rabid dog and unlike the rabid dog, they come back time and time again. This creates a situation where we are constantly stuck in the middle of the stress response, where our stress hormones are elevated for long periods of time. Although this is not immediately life-threatening (as is the acute pressure situation of the cat and the dog), over the long term it can lead to obesity, reduced sex drive, weakened immune system, loss of memory and poor feelings of well being. If we cannot remove or escape from acute stress, it soon becomes chronic stress.
Our subconscious minds cannot distinguish between a real and an imagined event. Therefore, even though some of our fears may be anticipated or imagined, rather than actual, they still activate the bodys stress responses. If these fears are not dealt with they will soon become a source of chronic stress.
A large proportion of the stress we experience is caused by either a fear of failure or fear of success. Fear of failure can be traced back to a fear of loss in some form. Loss of control, reputation, money, livelihood and even life. Fear of success on the other hand can be traced to a fear of your own greatness, which may actually also lead back to a fear of loss. Loss of freedom, loss of privacy, loss of leisure time, loss of having a life.
FEAR = False Expectations Appearing Real. It is thought that as much as 90 per cent of all fears never eventuate and that the other 10 per cent often dont turn out to be as bad as we expect. You need to be aware that fear is a negative thought and the more you focus on it, the more likely it will manifest itself in your life.
The best way to deal with your fears is to categorise them as things you can control and things you cannot control. It is pointless to worry about things that you cannot control. They are what they are and whatever will be will be. There is nothing you can do about them. Focus instead on the things you can control. Begin by putting them into perspective. Ask yourself, If this fear were to eventuate, how stressful would it be on a scale from 1-10?
Only 1-2 per cent of all fears are really worth worrying about. The others, which are more likely to really be inconveniences, should be confronted and dealt with before they create further dis-EASE in your life.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.Shakespeare
Outcomes of stress
The effects of stress can be either positive or negative, depending entirely on how you choose to view the external pressure.
Positive Outcomes of Stress include:
Increased physical, mental and emotional performance
Fun and enjoyment
The human body loves positive stress as it provides a stimulus for growth and improvement.
Im sure you know of people who just seem to be cruising through life, merely existing and not truly experiencing. These people do not have enough positive stress in their lives. Unfortunately, if we are not growing, we are dying, and these people are simply waiting to die. The key to living an amazing life is to fill it with positive stress so that you are continually growing and developing.
What is a source of positive stress for one person may be a source of negative stress for another. Your experience will depend on your stress threshold and the coping strategies you employ. To determine whether an event causes you positive or negative stress you need to be aware of its affect on your body.
Negative Outcomes of Stress include:
Illness and injury
Burnout and breakdown
Exposure to too much stress for too long will reduce the ability of your immune system and enhance your susceptibility to dis-EASE. The first sign of any dis-EASE in your life is a good indicator that you have surpassed your stress threshold. As with all forms of dis-EASE, before you can address your stress you must first confront the underlying issue(s) causing it. If these issues, thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours are not dealt with they can end up ruling our lives and creating self-destructive patterns, which will eventually lead to burnout or even breakdown.
Identify your optimal level of stress
To achieve an optimal balance of stress in your life you should look to involve yourself in situations which are neither too relaxing nor too stressful, but somewhere in between. If something is too easy you will not become sufficiently stimulated to produce a quality performance or growth, and if it is too difficult you will become over-stimulated which will also affect your ability to produce a quality performance and lead to dis-EASE. Becoming an expert in your own stress management is simply a matter of putting yourself into situations that provide you with enough stimulation to perform at your peak.
By listening to your body you will be able to implement positive solutions to reduce the effects of stress in your life.
Positive Coping Strategies:
Thinking positive and empowering thoughts
Resting, relaxing and rejuvenating
Negative Coping Strategies:
Too often people will deal with the effects of stress by using either stimulants to kick start the body or suppressants to slow it down. Unfortunately, most of these stimulants and suppressants are toxic. Continuously pumping your body with toxins is one of the fastest ways to inflict damage on yourself. Toxins can take the form of:
High fat or processed foods
Food addiction (overeating/under eating)
The problem with these coping strategies is they do not address the root cause of the stress. They simply mask the symptoms and thus become detrimental to your health.
Are you suffering from stress?