Modern society seems much more aware of ‘stress’ as a health concern today than ever before. We all know about stress, we know it’s bad and can cause untold mental and physical damage. What we don’t know a lot of the time is whether we are suffering with stress in our own lives; not until it manifests into physical ailments and we are forced to acknowledge it.
So what causes stress?
Ha! What doesn’t cause stress might be a more apt question. Let’s think about an average start to the day: We get in our cars and sit in a traffic jam, we deal with inconsiderate drivers, horns honking and the usual bad drivers etiquette that can try the patience of a saint. Being in a traffic jam however affords us time to ponder the day ahead…office politics, annoying bosses, incompetent staff, awkward clients, timewasters and let’s not forget the enormous egos lurking around every corner. Your work day has not yet begun but already your blood pressure is going up, your tolerance level is rock bottom and your nerves are teetering on edge.
If that sounds familiar you are certainly not alone. Being stressed has become the norm; so-much-so that people don’t even recognize it.
What’s wrong with being stressed?
A lot as it happens! According to the Benson-Henry Institute, stress accounts for between sixty to ninety percent of all GP visits in the U.S.! A study performed in Sweden also discovered that staff with chronic work stress had less gray matter in several brain regions than those with less stressful jobs. It is believed additional stress damages and kills neurons!
Recognizing stress mentally, before it affects you physically
Stress is the master of disguise. We often don’t acknowledge it and are later surprised when we develop crippling back pain as a result from over-tensing it for years. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress affects our bodies, emotions and our behavior:
Common ‘body’ symptoms include:
Common ‘emotional’ symptoms include:
Common ‘behavioral’ symptoms include:
How to manage stress, become calmer and happier
Breathe as though your life depends on it. Something as simple as observing your breath can have an enormous calming affect your entire system. You don’t have to breathe any differently, just consciously shift your attention to your regular breath and away from everything else.
John Denning, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, is leading a 5 year stress study looking at the ancient practices and their affects on genes and brain activity in the chronically stressed. The study showed that just one session of relaxation was sufficient to enhance the expression of genes responsible for energy metabolism and insulin secretion as well as reduce expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress. Even novices, practicing for the first time saw a positive effect on their internal system.
If you think you may be suffering with stress, be it mild or chronic, one of the best things you can do is to take your mind off the topic and relax. Easier said than done I hear you say! That’s where meditation, relaxation and mindfulness techniques come in handy. Even if you have no experience, anyone can do it and it’s never too late to start.