In my clinic I regularly work with people who are finding that their stress is getting the better of them. Not only does it make people feel crummy emotionally, the research is mounting that it’s terribly bad for us physically.
Stress is known to cause changes in the way our bodies function. Our immune system becomes less effective, and our internal repair systems work less well. Stress also has an effect on our digestion, our hormone levels and our sleep. All of these things combined make spending the majority of our working lives immersed in stress almost a ‘perfect storm’ when it comes to developing chronic illnesses.
New research has found that stress can cause illnesses we’d never expect.
Last year it was reported that prescriptions for diabetes are costing the NHS over £1 billion. The number of people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has doubled in the last 20 years. 4.6 million people are now living with the illness and over 100,000 of them were diagnosed in the last 12 months. Type 2 diabetes is now being labelled a ‘lifestyle disease’. There are several behaviours that are directly linked to the increased likelihood of being diagnosed with Type 2. We are told to be mindful of our sugar intake, to work to reduce our weight and to be more physically active. However, new research is being published which shows that the ‘eat less: move more’ mantra is incomplete.
A 22-year longitudinal study of women in France found that the people who actually most at risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes are those whose work is stressful or ‘mentally tiring’. More specifically, those who said that their job was “very” mentally taxing at the start of the study were 21% more likely to develop the condition than women with “little or not mentally tiring work” even after the study controlled for obesity or lack of exercise. That’s a significant difference by anyone’s terms. Of course it’s not just work that’s a source of stress in our lives and perhaps it’s the area we feel like we are least able to change. However, what we can change is how we deal with stress and how we let it affect us.
Everyone has different ways of handling stress; mostly they’re skills we learned in childhood and adolescence. Think about how your parents and immediate family handle stress and then how you do. Do you notice the similarities? The good news is that we can unlearn maladaptive ways of coping – overeating, drinking, shouting at the dog – and learn new, more helpful ones!
5 breaths to bust stress.
When we think about how to beat stress we probably think of techniques that take a lot of time, or that mean that we need to change our physical environment. While extended meditations or going for a long walk are definitely stress busters, they’re not always practical when you’re caught up in the chaos of life. Stress often happens when we get caught up in worrying about the future or ruminating over the past. If we can train ourselves to spend more time in the present moment generally everything is okay and we aren’t stressed. However, when we are mired right in the middle of something stressful we are less able to access our resources which will help us move through the state which is a double whammy of difficulty.
You’ve probably heard the old adage of ‘count to 10 before opening your mouth’ when you’re angry? Well to blow away stress, it’s even more simple. All you need to do is breathe 5 deep complete breaths. With each breath focus on one of your senses, what can you hear, see, feel, smell and taste? Use the entire of each breath, both in and out, to really focus in on one sense to the exclusion of all the others.
Look up and smile.
While we might feel that we are stressed because we have spent our day hunched over the computer keyboard, the converse is actually true. When we take the time to straighten out spine, stretch and look up we actually improve our mood.
A study published last year in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, found that patients with mild to moderate depression felt more alert and resourceful and less anxious after practising keeping their back and shoulders upright while sitting.
According to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, we can cause hormonal changes in our body by changing our posture. Adopting a ‘power pose’ where your body is open and you are looking upwards has been found to decrease the stress hormone cortisol.
Challenge your internal monologue.
When we are working and multitasking we have a constant cascade of thoughts that run through our heads. When you notice that you’re feeling stress mount it can be helpful to take a moment to tune into what those thoughts actually are.
You might be surprised when you start to tune in to what your thinking about the content of your thoughts. Take the time to examine them for truth. What evidence do you have to support them? Often we are simply running a habitual pattern.
All of the exercises mentioned above are brief and can be done anywhere. All you need to do is allow yourself a few moments to turn your attention inwards. After a few minutes you’ll notice that your stress levels are considerably diminished and you can feel great knowing that you’re helping to protect your health.
If you’d like to learn real, practical ways to handle your stress, get in touch for a free 20 minute phone consultation.