Yes, we are talking to you!
Even if your don’t think you’re stressed, we know that you probably are. When we talk about being stressed, we are so far out of balance that it’s hard to come back to normal. So we want to encourage you to tackle the imbalance early, and make it easier for yourself to stay healthy and happy.
What we’re designed for
You see, biologically, we are still functioning as if we were hunter-gatherers. When we find something stressful, we release a mass of adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream. These hormones direct all the energy in our bodies into our arms and legs – for fight or flight – and to the instinctual part of our brains – for survival. Now this is really useful if you are facing a life or death situation – think of the stories of someone lifting a car off their child who’s been run over – but for most of us, the stresses are not about survival, they are more emotional and mental. So we have an excess of preparation for fight or flight that is not dissipated by using it for that purpose.
Causes of stress
And what causes that stress that we do have? Well, as I said, we are designed to be hunter-gatherers. That means we would have highly physical times, and then some downtime to recover. We would also live to the seasons, in touch with nature, awake in daylight hours, sleeping when it’s dark. We would eat natural unprocessed food, with a high proportion of fruit vegetables and grain. Instead we have become far more sedentary, we completely ignore seasonal changes, and we eat processed food a lot of the time. On top of that, we have a 24/7 culture, shopping after dark, online till the wee hours, responding instantly to communications. None of this is what we are biologically designed for, so puts stress on our system, before we even start to call things stressful.
Symptoms of stress
If you don’t think this applies to you, just consider whether you have any of these symptoms of stress in your system:
Do you know of someone who is suffering from difficulty in getting to sleep? Waking up in the middle of the night? Waking up with butterflies in their stomach? Suffering from low-level anxiety as they wake up or drive to work, for no obvious reason? Making snap/bad decisions? Not able to get over a cold? Getting ill easily and then being ill for a long time before recovering? Not being able to stop themselves saying something before they’ve said it? Feeling out of control? Wired? Uptight? Bad neck/back/shoulders? Stomach issues? Gut/digestion problems? Struggling to eat? Eating comfort food? Smoking/drinking too much? Jiggling their legs or fingers? Dropping things? These all can be signs of stress.
Effect of stress
Now you might say, ‘Oh well, that’s just the way it is’, but the effect on your physical and mental health of constantly having stress hormones in your body is significant. Those hormones take all the energy away from maintaining and repairing your vital organs, from using the evolved parts of your brain where you think things through, are creative and maintain perspective, and from your immune system which keeps you healthy. The other scary piece is that when stress hormones are in your body your cells do not regenerate. They just die off one by one and are not replaced.
The good news is, we can do something about it, by finding ways to re-balance our system, when we notice the signs of stress. As hunter-gatherers, we would have dissipated those stress hormones by our physical activity, and a successful hunt would lead us to release the health-giving hormones – dopamine and serotonin – which biologically re-balance the system, and re-direct our energy back to maintenance and repair of our bodies, and the more generally useful parts of our brain.
It’s important to emphasise here that actually stress is not our natural state, happiness, joy and fun is. You don’t see 3-4 year old kids stressed! You won’t find a 4-year-old sitting all depressed and moaning about everything, suffering from lack of sleep and suffering from anxiety! The vast majority of young children know how to look after themselves and actually our brains are wired not to make us feel bad, but to make us feel good. We are wired for happiness but we learn how to look for what’s wrong rather than what’s right. So it’s important to have our own strategies for getting ourselves de-stressed and back to our factory default setting of happiness!
Relieving stress/getting back to normal
Sometimes it’s not easy to just go back to default setting so it’s useful to have a number of strategies for de-stressing and getting back to normal.
We need to find our equivalents and consciously do something to correct the balance and help our bodies find their preferred state.
Anything physical helps, because it dissipates the effect of these stress hormones: have a run around the block to get rid of the excess adrenaline coursing through your body. Maybe you need to do some yoga to release the energy. Gardening helps, or just a walk in the park. Swimming, or the gym if that’s your thing. Even some energetic housework, if that doesn’t add to your stress! Just get your body moving.
It also works if we do anything which has a calming effect on us – it allows our body to find its natural balance: it may be a case of just sitting down for 5 minutes. Or take a break and have a cup of coffee. Maybe you could listen to a calming piece of music or phone a friend. Or just sit and relax and just breathe deeply to relieve the symptoms of stress.
Finally we can pro-actively use ways to release the dopamine and serotonin in our bodies, which counteract the negative effects of stress and quickly rebalance us. So do anything which makes you feel good, such as a favourite piece of music, reading a chapter of a good book, watching something that makes you laugh, or eating something that tastes good and is a natural food – anything which helps to shift your mood.
Whatever things work for you, it’s important to have a number of different ways to relieve stress for you, before it gets too unbalanced to deal with easily. This is not an indulgence, it is a necessary and vital rebalancing, if we want to function effectively and stay healthy. For the sake of our long-term heath, do pay attention to those symptoms of stress, and relieve them as quickly as possible. Your body, mind and spirit will all be grateful!!