Take a moment to just stop and be aware of your physical sensations in this moment. Think about your jaw – are you gritting your teeth as you read this, are your shoulders hunched up and tense?
Have you had any unexplained aches and pains recently, that seem to have no reason behind them?
Do you find that you’re catching any cold going, or are prone to infections?
Are you quick to anger, feel a bit jittery, antsy?
Have you completely lost your sense of humour.
Are you struggling to get a satisfactory night’s sleep, self medicating with one glass of wine too many, then waking in the early hours, your mind and body buzzing?
Is your stomach constantly churning?
Chances are you are overly stressed at the moment.
The last official YouGov survey about stress took place in 2018 (pre-Covid, so goodness knows what the results will be today). The findings then indicated that 74% people were feeling so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Now, I am someone who has always been able to manage stress, but as 2022 unrolls even I’m not as chilled and laid back as I normally am. As we emerge out of the pandemic, and lurch into the unknown territory of a post-Covid society I am deeply concerned for the mental and physical health of our population.
There is very little any of us can do about the mad political and economic climate that screams at us from the main stream media and social platforms. Unfortunately that stress and panic feels contagious as it seeps through the seams of society into every corner of our lives. From passing crowds of masked school kids waiting at bus stops, to feeling the pinch at the supermarket checkout, to feeling hemmed in by walls of plastic screens – it is impossible to completely insulate yourself from reality.
One thing we can guarantee – the politicians and scientists will continue to do what they feel necessary despite what we have to say, and we will need to continue to earn a living and carry on facing the everyday challenges of every day life.
But you CAN put yourself in a better position where you can REFRAME that stress, take on a different mindset, learn to think about it differently, deal with it differently.
Suspend for a moment what you believe you know about stress.
Cortisol is the most well known of stress hormones. But a second stress hormone is Oxytocin – also known as the ‘cuddle’ hormone because it urges you to connect with others.
During stress, oxytocin is released from the pituitary gland to motivate social connection. It encourages you to ‘reach out’ to other people, seek support, help and protect others.
This is one of the building blocks of human beings as a community.
Oxytocin is also brilliant for heart health, which defies the common narrative that stress causes heart attacks.
Your heart has special receptors, absorbing the oxytocin, a natural anti-inflammatory, which in turn helps regenerate and repair any damage sustained during the period of stress. This inbuilt mechanism for resilience ensures that any stress response automatically rebalances the damage as a natural course of stress.
A MIND-BLOWING STUDY INTO STRESS
We have always traditionally considered stress to be damaging to our health, but a study carried out over the course of eight years in the States in 1998 will completely turn what you have thought all these years on its head.
30,000 people were asked in 1998 if they have experienced high levels of stress. They also asked if they believed that stress was harmful to your health.
Eight years later they tracked those of the 30,000 who had died.
Results showed that those who had reported high levels of stress were 43% more likely to die. But that increased risk ONLY applied to those who had stated that they believed that stress was harmful to their health. Those who did not view stress as harmful to their health had the lowest risk of death of anyone on the study.
What these findings indicate, is that stress itself was not the biggest killer, it was the stress COMBINED with the belief that they thought it was harmful that increased their risk of death.
The conclusion you can take from this, is that by changing your mindset around stress – not seeing it as something harmful, but as something that can be beneficial and used to your advantage, you are actively helping yourself to build better overall health, with the potential of living longer.
[Study highlighted: Keller, Abiola, Kristen Litzelman, Lauren E. Wisk et al (2011). “Does perception that stress affects health matter? The Association with Health & Mortality.”]
Every day stressful hassles are a fact of life. You cannot exist in this world without having to deal with banks, bureaucracy, relationships, paying bills, other people, work.
However, aligning your daily hassles with your overall values in life is a powerful way of developing this ‘stress is good’ mindset.
It allows you to calibrate the emotions you generate as you go about your daily business, because you always have the bigger picture in mind.
For many, these values get lost in the mists of time. The family values that you strived for when you first get married and welcomes those cute bundles into the world, may have been forgotten as the reality of bitter divorces and moody teenagers has taken its toll.
Re-evaluating and re-establishing new values will be a powerful reminder of those areas of your life which are important and meaningful.