The statistics of stress make for scary reading:
- The World Health Organisation has labeled stress as “The Global Epidemic of the 21st Century”.
- The American Medical Association (AMA) have estimated that 60% of all human illness and disease is caused by stress.
- Stress related ailments cost the US $300 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity, which is $100 billion more than what obesity costs the US. (American Institute of Stress)
- Men in senior executive levels, were 38 percent more likely to have a stroke than men with little or no stress on the job and 10% of strokes are caused by stress at work. (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine)
- It is estimated that in the US, stress and the related illness, absenteeism and presenteeism, costs organizations as much as US$300 billion a year.
So, why is today’s stress different and what can we do about it?
In an ideal world, we live and work in a stress-free environment.
But this is the real world – not an ideal one.
There are industries, environments and roles, where we can’t escape stressful situations – they are part of the job – we want to minimize these stressors, but they are always there.
Stress management and building resilience in a high-pressure, high-performance workplace is different.
Because of the unique nature of the high-pressure business environment, “traditional” methods of stress management, such as the more thought and behaviourally focussed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), often struggle for effectiveness.
In a high performance, high pressure workplace, we can’t avoid the stress, but by controlling the physiological effect that stress has on our body – we can control it.
But how does this work?
1. In our 24/7 world, situations that cause us stress are everywhere – we can’t avoid them
Stress is a subjective response from our mind and body, to a difficult or threatening situation in which we find ourselves.
Stress is everywhere, we can’t avoid it – we can’t hide from it
In today’s 24/7 always-on world, stressful situations (or stressors) are everywhere. They come from an ongoing situation, such as a difficult work or home environment, or long term family, health or financial pressures; or a time or work pressure, such as an imminent work deadline.
It could be a psychological stress, such as a persistent worry about losing your job; or it could be an immediate threat or situation, such as a dog chasing you on the street, the sound of screeching brakes behind you when you are driving or the critical presentation you are about to give to an important group of clients.
2. Our body has an in-built system that controls our response to stress
Our body’s physiological response to stress, known as the “stress response”, is managed by our body’s autonomic nervous system – which is divided into two parts, each with opposite effects.
Our sympathetic nervous system, (we call it our “Stress Engine”) fires up the body in response to perceived dangers, threats or situations, while its opposite partner, the parasympathetic nervous system, (we call our “Relaxation Engine”), calms the body once the danger has passed.
3. In response to a threat, our body’s Stress Engine takes over
In response to the threatening situation, including our imminent, critical presentation, our brain’s sympathetic nervous system, (or Stress Engine), then springs into action.
The brain assesses the information and collects the data regarding the threat in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain which regulates many hormonal and neural activities.
The brain’s motor cortex, sends a message down the nerve pathways to muscles, which tighten and tense, preparing for action.
The hypothalamus then sends a signal to the pituitary gland of the brain.
The nerve cells of the pituitary gland get stimulated as soon as they receive the signals from hypothalamus and then produce the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which commands the adrenal glands to flood the body with a range of stress hormones, which have the effect of preparing the body to face the threat.
4. Stress hormones are released which cause physiological change to our body
The three primary stress hormones, epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, over a period of a few seconds, to several hours, then drive a range of significant physiological responses:
- epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is responsible for supercharging our body;
- norepinephrine, is responsible for making us more responsive, aroused, awake and focused; and
- cortisol, helps to maintain fluid balance and blood pressure, by flooding the body with glucose, while inhibiting insulin production and also, narrowing the arteries;
The full effect of these stress hormones, is that your body is now fully prepared to fight (or quickly flee), the immediate physical danger:
- glucose and fats are released into the bloodstream, to provide extra fuel for your muscles;
- your breathing is now faster, as your lungs take in extra oxygen to better fuel your muscles;
- your sight and hearing are now improved, as you become more alert;
- your heart is beating up to 2-3 times faster than normal and your blood pressure rises;
- certain arteries narrow, which helps direct blood away from your skin and other organs (that are deemed less important), to your muscles and brain, which have a higher priority function;
- your blood platelets are now stickier, so clots can form more easily to minimize bleeding from potential injuries;
- your muscles are more tense and tighter, preparing you to spring into action.;
In addition, body systems not needed for the immediate fight or flight, are restricted, so energy can go where it’s needed, and so stomach and intestines cease operations, repair and growth of body tissues slows and sexual arousal lessens.
There is also an emotional reaction to a stress, which can appear as anxiety and aggression.
5. After the stress has passed, our Relaxation Engine returns our body to calm and balance
After the stressful situation has passed, (we have successfully given our presentation), our body’s autonomic nervous system is designed to then activate our parasympathetic nervous system (our Relaxation Engine) which decreases metabolic activity, increases energy conservation and relaxation, and returns the body to balance.
When activated, the parasympathetic nervous system releases acetycholine (Ach), a neurological agent, which has the effect of reducing our heart rate, ventilation and blood pressure, and increases our intestinal and glandular activity and relax our muscles. This process is also where our body cells regenerate, grow and recover.
6. HOWEVER, our 24/7 lifestyle means we are always under stress and our Stress Engine NEVER switches off
Today’s 24/7, always-on, iPhone-connected lifestyle, means that our body is always under stress, our Stress Engine NEVER switches off, and so our parasympathetic nervous system never gets the chance to switch-off the flow of dangerous stress chemicals throughout our body.
7. SO, these dangerous stress chemicals continue to flow through our bodies for months, or even years
This situation, where our bodies remain under long term stress, called chronic stress, is where our Stress Engine never switches off, and these dangerous stress chemicals continue to flow through our bodies for months, years or even longer.
8. Researchers have proven that long term exposure to these stress chemicals causes serious and fatal illness
While we are all aware of the immediate symptoms of stress on our body, such as tiredness, inability to sleep, tension, headaches, nausea, panic attacks, chest pain, anger, mood swings, weight gain, there are many more serious health risks.
Researchers have now linked long term exposure to the stress chemicals epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, to serious and fatal long term illness, such as: cardio vascular disease including heart attack and stroke; autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and colitis; neurological diseases including Parkinson’s Disease and multiple sclerosis; severe psychological illnesses such as anxiety and depression; and even some cancers.
9. Because can’t avoid stress, how then can we live & work with stress, but without the health risks
Because we can’t avoid stress, we need a solution that allows us to live and work in a stressful environment, without the damaging, serious, long term health risks caused by exposure to chronic stress.
10. We need a solution where we can control our body’s response to a stressful situation
We need a solution that allows us, at any time, to control our body’s response to a stressful situation and to the symptoms of stress when we feel them.
We need to be able to:
- switch-off our “Stress Engine” and stop the effects of the dangerous stress chemicals in our body, and switch-on our body’s “Relaxation Engine” and the flow of the neurotransmitters that encourage the relaxation and healing process.
- relieve the symptoms of stress that we feel, and switch-on calm, when we’re feeling tense and frustrated; switch on energy when we are exhausted; switch on sleep, when our mind is still spinning; and switch-on concentration when our brain feels scrambled.
- repair the damage done to our body by past stress, but more importantly, to defend and protect our body against the effects of future stress.
11. Harvard Medical School Researchers discovered we can control & switch-on our Relaxation Engine
Landmark research from, Dr Herbert Benson, of Harvard medical School, showed that it was possible to elicit a “relaxation response” in patients and activate the “parasympathetic nervous system”, calming the body and restoring it to balance.
He did this by taking the patients through a special series of deep relaxation techniques.
Further research into this relaxation response (our Relaxation Switch), has shown that through variations in the deep relaxation techniques, that specific benefits can be achieved by relieving specific symptoms of stress that we feel.
Almost like a “box of pills” solution – to give us calm, energy/focus or sleep, when we need it most.
12. Research also shows we can repair damage done by past stress & protect against the effects of future stress
Further research has shown that we can both repair the damage done by past stress and defend ourselves against the effects of future stress – we do this through the “4 Building Blocks of Stress Defence”
Doing meditation at different times of the day (with a technique designed to activate your Relaxation Engine), will give you different benefits:
- • with meditation to start the day, you will feel refreshed and focused, throughout the day; and to help relieve the symptoms of tiredness that we all feel during the afternoon;
- using meditation to wind down at the end of a stressful day, ensures that you will sleep better and feel more rested to start the next day.
In addition to the physical benefits that exercise provides, exercise is proven to reduce the stress we feel and to burn off the high levels of cortisol in our body.
Eating the wrong foods, can actually increase our levels of stress, or impact the effect that stress has on our bodies, while we actually reduce our levels of stress, and prevent future stress, by eating a healthier, more balanced diet.
Sleep helps our body and mind recover for the next day, and helps our brain to function properly.
Better sleep improves our physical health, and helps us with weight problems and diabetes and also helps our immune system to keep us healthy.
Living Stress Free is a Powerful New Way of Life
Waking up feeling refreshed and invigorated every morning, happy and healthy – while living and working, a high-performance, high-stress, 24/7 always-on life.
Feeling in complete control even in difficult or emotional situations throughout the day, with energy to spare for you and your family at the end of the day.
No longer at risk of the hidden long-term health damage caused by the effects of stress.
All without changing your work or home or family situation.
Quicker and easier than you ever thought possible.
It’s a powerful new way of life – start now.