Some years ago I was at a park catch up with some families from my son’s school and got to chatting with a friend who happened to have a psychology practice in conjunction with her psychiatrist husband. Why is everyone so stressed, all the time? was the question we were deliberating. My friend rightly said that there was much more for people to be stressed about years ago – running from wild animals, procuring food to feed the family and shelter to protect families from the extreme weather. Now, the vast majority of people living in the western world have plenty of food to eat, regular shelter, access to education for their children and community organisations to belong to.
Road rage, trolley trauma (when the product they are looking for is not available or, from choosing the slowest checkout line), the panic when a deadline is suddenly revised forward at work, or when the children tell you as they’re walking out the door that their calculator is broken and they have a math test today. This is often the order of the day – catastrophising small events and ensuring that stress hormone cortisol is kept on FULL DISCHARGE.
That’s not a happy life, not how most of us would like to look back on in our twilight years and reminisce over. The countless nights that we lost sleep thinking about something that had happened during the day, the distress that so and so have caused by doing such and such…
When our cortisol is on FULL DISCHARGE constantly, we drain our reserves and our body needs to draw down on other hormones to compensate – because cortisol takes precedence over other system hormones (it is the life and death, fight or flight hormone). This causes adrenal fatigue, imbalance in other systems of the body, encourages systemic, silent inflammation and leaves us prone to disease, and well, it’s exhausting, and just not how we were designed to, or how most of us want to, live our lives.
So, what can you do to help yourself, or someone you love?
- Awareness is key. If you can acknowledge that you are being pessimistic, overreacting, or excessively worrying over something you cannot change, this is the first step in changing your thoughts. Begin to ask yourself (or your loved one) is there another way to look at this? How can I approach this situation in the best way possible? There is a silver lining to every cloud – it’s true. Catch yourself, and, ‘What can I take away from this?’
- Eat well. A diet full of fresh, clean fruit and veg, good quality protein and healthy fats along with clean, fresh water will be best to optimise the performance of your body and mind, and in particular, eliminate of toxins and produce the neurotransmitters used to regulate hormones – including cortisol.
- Sleep well. Getting enough quality sleep is critical to refreshing and repair of the body. Consider meditation, journaling, and warm baths with salt blends and essential oils can be incredibly relaxing to both body and mind. A relaxing cup of tea or reading a good book before bed is also a lovely routine to have. While it can sometimes be helpful to chat through your stressors with someone, it’s important to take a reality check with yourself – is it reasonable for me to be upset about this? What do I need to do to let it go?
- Exercise, every day. Exercise moves your blood and lymph throughout your body, and produces happy hormones. Do things you enjoy, that make you happy. It’s very easy to get caught up in the pressures of what needs to be done, multitasking and fitting everything in. – Do yourself a favour, buck the trend and take time out to play – whatever you enjoy and that gives you pleasure. Active pursuits or let the creative juices flow… Take time out for yourself and learn to just be. And, enjoy spending time in community.
- Exercise your spirit by recalling what you are most thankful for. Having an appreciation for both the positive things in your life, and the lessons learned from the challenges that you face is invaluable. Often best considered first thing in the morning, or last thing at night – and of course, any time during the day. A good way to do this is by keeping a journal, and keep it a priority by making the commitment to enter every day.
- You can chart your progress by giving yourself a score out of 10 for stress level, along with a few words to describe how you feel. After implementing each of the strategies over a few weeks, check in with yourself – give yourself a current stress level rating and a few words to describe how you feel – how has it changed? Are there certain strategies that are more beneficial for you?
Of course, if you or your loved one needs extra support with stress management, we encourage you to seek out your physician or health provider who will be able to help. Persistent, chronic stress that is not managed by the strategies outlined above indicate changes in lifestyle need to be considered.
Making the commitment to living a happier life is an empowering and liberating experience – and may prove to be contagious. After you’ve put your stress-busting regime in place, let us know how you go. 🙂