A bold statement, I know. But it is true. Stress management is probably the biggest challenge facing us in the Western world today, but it is so underestimated.
Twenty years ago, when I did a Stress Management Councellors course, all I heard where jokes from people.
“You better go and sort my misses out then, she’s stressed as f#*K. Hahaha”.
“There’s nothing you can do about my stress! Hahaha.”
“I thrive on my stress. Ha ha ha.”
“I wouldn’t know what to do without my stress. Hahaha.”
Becoming stress-free is so simple and easy to do. Yet after all these years so many people still think it is something they can’t change. But all that stuff out there we have to deal with is not what causes our stress.
What causes our stress is how we deal with that stuff out there. Or not deal with it, as the case may be. Most stressed out people still think that when, “you take all that shit away that I have to deal with I’ll be fucking calm again!”
Let’s go back in time to about thirty years ago. I was running my own garden maintenance business. I would work about fourteen hours a day, running my arse off, charging way less than I was worth.
I would get pushed over the edge of sanity so many times a day it became my default persona. I had always had a temper and simply didn’t know any different. The slightest thing that got in my way or slowed me down would make me so mad. I was a maniac driver and a complete arsehole to work for.
I thought I was so efficient. I was drinking about ten cups of coffee a day and was so proud that I could charge through every task at the speed of light.
I never took breaks, would eat lunch on the go, seldom rested or played, and never had any fun. I would even tidy the front of my van while I was still driving it – much to the sheer terror of those sitting next to me and the drivers of any car that happened to get too close.
I upset good friends who were helping me and more than one of them just walked off and left me to it. I probably frightened the wits out of many a poor young lad that worked for me too (My deepest and most heartfelt apologies to you all).
I remember the day I realised enough was enough. I can’t remember what happened to cause my sudden awakening, but when I was in bed that night I got a felt tip pen and scrawled on the wall beside my bed:
It was a very long journey though. With an emotional wall the thickness of a castle surrounding me and a complete fear of letting anyone get close to me, asking for help never happened.
After the Councellors course I went on to become a hypnotherapist and later, a coach. Over the years stress has always been a fascination to me, partly through getting to grips with my own but also because of the many clients I have helped too.
But what exactly is stress?
Stress is simply the Flight or Fight Response. Read about it in my post here. It’s nature’s way of protecting us from danger. The only thing you really need to know is that your imagination can set off this massive biological reaction.
That means you don’t need a sabre-toothed-tiger to set it off. All you have to do is think about one!
That means worry, guilt, anger, fear and everything between can make you stressed. But, and here’s the crunch, the Flight or Fight Response was nature’s way of keeping us safe from danger. We exerted ourselves, dissipated the chemicals in our body….and then we relaxed again; went back to gnawing on an animal bone, grunting at our mates and waiting for somebody to discover fire.
Nature left us with a bit of a glitch though and in the modern world we spend so much time in negative emotions that our bodies don’t get the chance to reset themselves to a calm and relaxed state. We are triggering the Flight or Fight so often we never give ourselves the benefit of sitting down and gnawing at the bone.
We move from one stressful event to the next. Bouncing through life like a pin ball, continually getting flicked back into it by some unseen force of apparent spitefulness.
On the rare occasion we do relax, it isn’t enough to effectively balance the stress we are under. When we are stressed and we read a book, watch a movie, have a bath, etc, we are simply not doing enough to dissipate the stress chemicals from our body.
This is where it starts to get interesting.
The first thing we lose when we get stressed is our perspective. We get tunnel vision. Literally, we become more focused so we can deal with the sabre-tooth more effectively. In the modern world this means all our mole hills become mountains! We just can’t access the bigger picture. We get cut off from our creativity and insight.
Our mind and body are constantly on full alert ready to fight or run away. But nothing we have to cope with is anywhere close to being as serious as a sabre-tooth, so the chemicals never dissipate. Instead, we go at our normal, everyday tasks like a bull dozer.
So busy doing that we don’t have time to think, or feel, our way to the best way.
Physically it’s just as bad. The stress chemicals surging through our body keep our heart pumping, our muscles tense, and our important systems shut down. This is not how the body is supposed to operate long-term. The Flight or Fight is supposed to kick in and kick right back out again. Not hang around for half a life time keeping us in a state of tension.
Stress has now been proven to be a contributing factor in most illnesses. It’s obvious, isn’t it? How can the body function properly if it’s that tense? To be well we need to be relaxed and at ease.
The body will always present its bill!!!
What’s more, stress is subjective. What stresses me out (my stressors) might not affect you in the least. What stresses you out (your stressors) are often misunderstood by those close to you because they can’t understand why you would be so bothered by those things when they aren’t fussed at all by them.
And here’s the really important thing to know about stress – Every sign of stress is a stressor in itself.
There is a term in carpet trade called “The TV Shuffle”, it refers to whether or not a carpet is strong enough to cope with our feet twitching and moving about while we watch TV. The question to ask ourselves is this. How much do we actually need to move our feet while we watch TV? The answer is simple. We don’t! Therefore the shuffling can be used as a measure of our stress (along with SO many other things, you wouldn’t believe). The more you shuffle, when you don’t need to, the more stressed you are.
But because we allow our feet to shuffle when we don’t need them too, it creates more stress because it isn’t allowing the Flight or Fight Response to dissipate. This is the same for every sign of stress we have. They all create more stress!
This makes stress insidious. It creeps. It starts from nothing and slowly becomes a part of us. It is even addictive. We don’t even realise we are stressed.
For decades people used to tell me I was stressed and I always replied, “I’m not stressed, I’m efficient!!”
Efficient my arse! I was so stressed I used to run around like a headless chicken. Always busy but, in reality, achieving nothing.
Nowadays I am calmer than I have ever been. It’s still a work in progress and I’m sure it will be a life-long journey. I have done many things to reduce the stress in my life, not least of all moving to the Mediterranean. Eventually I spent a year working a 25 hour week. I even managed a two month holiday where I managed to read ten books and do not much else. Very calm. Very relaxed. Very peaceful.
After so many years getting my own stress levels down I am now, more than ever, certain that eradicating stress is the single most important thing we can do for ourselves and our loved ones.
Furthermore, it has to be the FIRST thing we do. After all what’s the point of achieving our goals if we destroy ourselves on the way? Or if we miss the glorious journey to our dream life because of the stress? Believe me I know, I wasted half of my life that way.
Not only was my journey painfully slow, it was painfully unaccomplished – compared to the amount of work I put into it. So much time wasted getting stressed, chasing success.
Nowadays I measure success differently and time is my most valuable currency. Time to think, to rest, to play, to meditate, to create, to choose. Time to be me!
The absence of stress has opened me up to joy, playfulness, peace, contentment, self-confidence, better health, improved relationships…
The list is endless!
Here’s a nice long list of things that are stress related and can be reduced or eliminated when we actively balance our stress levels…
- Inability to concentrate.
- Difficulty in decision making.
- Undue tiredness.
- Loss of confidence.
- Memory lapses.
- Muddled thinking.
- Difficulty in making rational judgements.
- Feelings of being under time pressure.
- Tendency to loose perspective.
- Angry outbursts.
- Panic attacks.
- Irrational fears.
- Feelings of hopelessness.
- Feelings of hostility.
- Feelings of guilt.
- Feelings of resentment or jealousy.
- Increased cynicism.
- Feeling depressed.
- Feelings of insecurity.
- Mood swings.
- Excessive crying or weeping.
- Fear of criticism.
- Tense muscles.
- Erratic breathing.
- Sweaty palms.
- Dry mouth.
- Dizzy spells.
- Chest palpitations.
- Squeaky voice.
- Knots in the stomach.
- Frequency of urination.
- Stiff jaw.
- Restlessness; i.e. pacing the floor.
- Shaking hands.
- Increased smoking.
- Increased alcohol consumption.
- Increased/decreased eating.
- Increased/decreased sleep.
- Nail biting.
- Hair pulling.
- Social withdrawal.
- Neglecting personal hygiene.
- Neglecting appearance.
- Reckless driving.
- Finger tapping.
- Teeth grinding.
- Itching, scratching.
- Other fidgeting.
- Chattering endlessly.
- Obsessive compulsive behaviours; i.e. checking locks, cleaning, washing, shopping, stealing, etc.
Like I said – ALL your problems are stress related!!!
If this post has resonated with you, by all means comment or get in touch.