For most of us, stress is a normal part of life, we experience stress in varying degrees, almost every single day. However, when things start to feel overwhelming this usually means that stress has become long term and chronic and you will notice that it starts to affect your physical health.
When I was ill, my Doctor told me I was stressed … but she could not tell me what to do about the stress and apart from the fact that that was not helpful, I then felt even more stressed about my stress and that I thought there was nothing I could do about it – a vicious cycle and my health (both mental and physical) deteriorated and I became a “victim” of ill health and stress!
In a broad sense we have two types of stress :
Acute Stress – this is a reaction to a stressful event that passes very quickly, you fall off your bicycle, have an argument, get stuck in a traffic jam. Your body reacts, your “stress” hormones are released, the event passes and everything returns to normal
Chronic Stress is ongoing long term stress and this can be internal and external, psychological or environmental for example you hate your commute to work, you hate your job, you have money problems, relationship conflicts, long term health issue or you create your own stress. Creating your own stress may sound strange but let me explain: stress and anxiety are habits – they are patterns that we run in our minds. How often do you say to yourself “I am so busy, I am so stressed” or you read the symptoms of stress and go “oh that’s me” and now “I am stressed”. You are creating a stress habit/pattern.
It is important to note that stress does not affect everyone in the same way and in fact stress is a perceived state. As a living, breathing human being, you are bound to experience challenging times, the trick is remembering that while the feeling is real, the experience is only temporary and the more you learn to be resilient the easier it becomes to deal with the challenges and to overcome them.
Let me give you an example: two people are stuck in a traffic jam, the first person is shouting and cursing, banging the steering wheel and getting very worked up about the traffic jam and being late for work or an appointment or wherever their journey is taking them, and here you have what we call your classic fight/flight response – this person is spoiling for a fight. Meanwhile, the second person in exactly the same traffic jam is very grateful they are not in the accident or incident that caused the traffic jam, stay calm and thinks to themselves “oh well, just one of those things” and listens to some music or an audiobook and waits patiently and calmly for the traffic to clear. If it is safe to do so they may call in and explain they are in a traffic jam and will be late.
You can see that this is the exact same situation but two different perceptions and two very different outcomes.
The first person has their body flooded with cortisol, their heart rate has increased, their blood pressure has gone up, the whole purpose of our “fight/flight” response is to fight or flee and those actions then reduce the cortisol in our body as we need the cortisol to fight or flee. However for our very angry person number 1, their body will remain flooded with cortisol, their heart rate is elevated and blood pressure elevated for some time until they start to calm down and in the long term, this has adverse physical effects on the body. They are also re-wiring their brain for stress. In very simple terms your brain is a muscle and a computer and it does what we teach it – so it records “traffic jam” = “stress” and in future every time you get into a traffic jam the stress response kicks in hence the pattern of stress.
The second person has remained calm throughout and has none of the adverse physical reactions and they continue to re-wire their brain for a calm and to strengthen this pathway in the brain, in the same way, the first person is re-wiring their brain for stress.
Now the “stressful” event is not just a traffic jam, it can be an argument with a spouse, a disagreement at work, feeling annoyed at standing in a queue – repeated acute stressful events can lead to chronic stress and in the long term, this leads to difficulty sleeping, poor concentration and weight gain due to an imbalance in hormones and the effects on our gut health.
After one day you may bounce back as we are designed to handle stress and in fact, sometimes the stress response can be very helpful such as moving out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, in sports, the stress response can be helpful to get you to the end of the race, or to get you a personal best. When you get up to speak in front of an audience that quick spark of adrenaline (aka stress) reminds you to give a great performance.
After one week of stress because of elevated cortisol levels we become more prone to viral infections, our immune system becomes compromised, our sleep is affected and this results in poor memory, depression, fatigue and weight gain.
We can probably endure bouts of stress every now and again but this does make us prone to getting sick more often as stress weakens and lowers our immune system and makes us less resilient.
After a month of constantly feeling high levels of stress, you may notice what is referred to as “burnout” You feel a tightness in your body, you feel irritable, you have more anxious thoughts, your appetite might change, you feel exhausted and you might even start to feel detached. From a physical health perspective, you may start to notice gut issues as chronic stress affects the gut so we see symptoms of diarrhoea and constipation or both as well as abdominal bloating and pain.
If this stress continues for months and months and is not addressed you will probably start to have a hard time taking care of yourself, you become tired but wired (you are exhausted but cannot seem to get enough sleep and recharge), you may even start to self medicate with alcohol or drugs. You may start to feel a loss of enjoyment in activities you enjoyed before and you start to isolate yourself from others. Chronic stress can also raise blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke and heart attack
If you are chronically stressed and you believe your mental health is suffering, please do talk to a mental health professional.
Overwhelm, worry, stress and anxiety are emotions everyone is familiar with but if you address it, stop the anxiety/stress/worry habit and build resilience you can start to focus on solutions and put your time and energy on the right things for you. These emotions often only make you feel worse, stop you from doing the things you want to do and you are less able to achieve your goals.
Once I realised that my external circumstances didn’t have to dictate my internal world, I learned how to look after my mind, I started to understand that I got to choose my thoughts, how I spent my time, what I was watching and listening to. I learnt techniques to change how I felt, the things I said to myself and what I believed. I tended the garden of my mind and my physical health improved significantly. I reset and rebalanced my gut health, you could say I tended the garden of my gut (the flora that makes up our microbiome) and I tended the garden of my mind, I stopped being a victim of my health and circumstances and now live with true health and vitality
You can also learn to tend the garden of your mind and plant flowers instead of weeds and once you do, you will be surprised at how many challenges you can overcome, you are able to build long term resilience and tackle any challenges head-on.
One way to strengthen your internal world and influence how you experience your outer circumstances is to reprogram your subconscious mind as this is your computer, this runs the habits and remember you can choose to have the habit of stress and anxiety or you can choose to have the habit of peace and calm.
If you are ready to move from Stressed and Anxious to Peace and Calm: then download my free audio here.
If you are ready to take action to change the habits of stress/worry / anxiety then click here: to book a call with me to find out how you can simply and easily tend the garden of your mind and rewire your stress/anxiety/worry habit
#SimpleSelfCare Place your hands on your belly, simply notice the rise and the fall of your belly, notice the rhythm of your breathing, the natural rhythm of your breath, this is a lullaby for your nervous system.