There are lots of things that compromise our health but probably the worst of them is stress because stress underlies most modern diseases.
According to Hans Selye, scientist and author of the classic text ‘The Stress of Life’ stress is unavoidable. It is the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made on it. Sometimes stress can be a great stimulus to achievement and at other times it can cause disease, suffering and death.
When the body experiences stress, or more accurately stressors, it changes and adapts in response. This, in itself, is not a problem – without this adaptability we couldn’t survive. The body adapts to these stressors by changing its internal chemistry and re-allocating its use of energy. This means that particular hormones flood the body to give us a turbo boost of energy. In addition energy is pulled away from functions like digestion, sexual function, immunity and repair and channeled into functions such as muscle engagement, red blood cell production, the senses, and increased heart and breathing rates. These are the common signs we experience in the flight/fight reaction.
These changes are fine in the short term but were never meant to be long term solutions. When the stress has passed the body is supposed to return to a normal, more relaxed mode of functioning. However in today’s modern world stressors have become constant and unrelenting and we become so habituated to the stress response that we can barely feel its effects. That’s when health problems begin because the stress response hormones wreak havoc on our minds and bodies.
The first step to regaining good health involves a stress reduction protocol, and while reducing stress may sound easy enough in many cases it is the most seemingly simple parts of the protocol that we struggle with.
Stop and Pause
This first step of ‘stop and pause’ is often the most difficult because many of us simply don’t know how. We can collapse at the end of the day or sit in front of the TV in a stupor, but the act of deliberately stopping and pausing for a moment of stillness and quietness is beyond us.
Within the moments of pause is an opportunity to ‘feel’. Oftentimes we are so busy that we don’t know what we feel and we certainly can’t pick up subtle feelings or sensations. The art of re-claiming sensation and becoming aware means we can recognise the difference of feeling stressed and feeling relaxed and the difference between resting constructively and simply collapsing.
Understand your Stressors
We often think of stress as a ‘psychological issue’ of having too much to do and not enough time or resources. We need to broaden our understanding of stressors being ‘anything’ – a chronic lack of sleep, poor dietary choices, a messy house, your daily commute, raising kids, being in a relationship etc. Think about whether these are simple stressors that we can turn off easily or whether they are chronic stressors which are having a negative impact on health because they never let up.
Most people are aware of the debilitating nature of stress – education on the dangers of stress is not the biggest problem, it is an inability to make different choices. When we can once again feel the sensations of stress and relaxation we can deliberately and intelligently choose which path we would like to take. What things can we let go of, how can we make things easier and less complicated, what help can we employ, how can we enjoy life more?
It’s not everyone else’s fault – take responsibility. If you can’t manage the world around you (which you can’t), then manage your own actions, reactions, choices and decisions.
Once you have these first few steps mastered you may find that improved health is a natural consequence.