I think we all know that stress is bad for us. But I wonder if you know just how much stress you carry around all the time and exactly how it takes a toll on your health, your relationships and your overall well-being?
It’s really quite easy to get stressed in our culture. The fast-paced technological age we all live in causes a daily background of pressure, and many of us are so used to it we’re hardly aware that there’s more strain on us than there should be. Powerful marketing keeps us falling over ourselves to upgrade to the latest phone, tablet, or whatever. We’re bombarded with information by the media from every side. Emails and tweets announce themselves on phones and PC’s with never-ending regularity 24/7, and social media activity keeps us forever alert to the latest trend, gossip or general chatter between us and our friends. Technology sets the pace and we have to keep up. And this mad helter skelter leads, inevitably, to stress.
In addition to all this, as human beings, we’re already adept at worrying and building worst-case scenarios or allowing ourselves to get wound up, quite aside from generally not managing our emotions in the most skilful way. So we really don’t need any added stress! Most of us are aware that when we’re under pressure, our whole body tenses up and our mental processes don’t seem to flow as well as they could. But did you know that until that stress is completely released, it will stay in your body, clogging up your cells and generally putting your health at risk?
I had an experience of this myself recently in spite of years spent practicing ways of managing my stress levels. I have just had some damp-remedial work done in my flat which I always knew was going to be very messy and disruptive. Three of the four rooms in my home required damp-proofing, which meant there would be only one room plus the kitchen and bathroom that would be workman-free. I therefore had to pack away the bulk of my clothes, books, ornaments etc . to protect them from the dust that would result from the men hacking the plaster off the walls. Almost the entire flat was covered in dust-sheets! The men also erected curtains of thick plastic sheeting around them when they did their work to help reduce the amount of dust that was flying around. (This was all happening the week we had the smog and the dust from the Sahara descending upon us, by the way!)
The actual damp-proofing only took three days, and I’d calculated I needed to take 17 days off work to supervise the men (and make endless cups of tea or them!). This included waiting a week for the top plaster to dry before putting back the furniture, and then giving myself a week to set the flat to rights again before starting work once more. It all seemed like it was do-able, but what I hadn’t bargained for was the length of time needed to not only unpack my belongings and put them away again, but also how long it would take to get rid of the dust which was covering everything (despite all the dust-sheets!) This meant not only did I have to unload all the boxes and suitcases and put the contents away, but I also had to clean all the floors and carpets, wash the curtains, china, and shelving not to mention cleaning all the furniture thoroughly . All this work was incredibly tiring and having to do it quickly was extremely stressful!!! There I was, up and down ladders, humping boxes and suitcases around, moving furniture and – oh dear, oh dear – it became a race against time to get it all finished before the first of my clients came into my space again, and I could feel my mood and energy going downhill fast.
It’s hardly surprising that since my entire home was upside down, the energy in it would be all over the place – and so would I! The piles of stuff to be sorted plus all the dirt and muddle had a quick and punishing effect on the flow of Chi coming through my home and through me. It soon started causing all the classic domino effect symptoms of chronic stress. My energy dwindled alarmingly, my routine of meditations and energy exercises quickly became erratic , and worst of all, there was scant time to give myself either Reiki or EFT because there was just so much to do in a relatively short time. The result was that not only did I find that my sleeping patterns were disturbed; I was also starting to suffer from digestive problems and terrible aches and pains. On top of that, I was horrified to acknowledge how low and negative I was feeling – something I haven’t felt for years!
Although the situation I’ve just described above was a one-off event outside my normal daily experience and made worse by the relatively short amount of time it was happening in, it serves very well to illustrate how quickly chronic stress can build up. So I thought it might be good to use it as an example of the domino effects of stress and tell you exactly what it can do to your body.
When you think of, or are engaged in something stressful – work, money, relationships, builders (!) or whatever – your mid-brain (known as the amygdala) senses danger and naturally goes into red alert.
The amygdala is what turns on your body’s fight-or-flight response to stress or threat. But you don’t have to be in the middle of an earthquake or a war zone in order for this to happen. It can occur when you get stressed about being late for an appointment, or the computer crashing or worrying about what someone might think of you. And when this happens, the body releases a hormone called cortisol which immediately diverts blood away from your frontal brain, and instead causes it to flow into your arms so you can fight and into your legs so you can run! It also takes blood away from the digestive system which means you’re less able to digest food, absorb nutrients and more likely to gain weight. Interesting how this points to how obesity and/or overweight are linked to stress, eh?
Taking blood away from the frontal brain means your creative centre is disabled and shuts down, since your body deems it to be a non-essential function in a time of danger. This means that your ability to solve problems diminishes, your creative skills evaporate and your intuition is lessened. This is how our thinking processes get foggy.
In this state, you are now vulnerable to digestive disorders, migraines, fibromyalgia, arthritis and chronic illness – to name but a few possibilities. If you don’t manage to get out of this stress syndrome, a number of other things may happen – e.g.: your metabolism slows, you don’t sleep well, you become irritable, and your relationships suffer. Does this ring any bells?
If the situation goes on for too long your body will slip into what’s known as Adrenal Fatigue where you feel depleted, exhausted and depressed and have very little energy to do anything. Not a happy prospect!
I think I was fast heading towards the adrenal fatigue stage by the time I’d finished putting the flat back together. Fortunately only a few clients were booked for the start of my return to work and I then had the whole of the Easter break to get myself back on track again. How glad I was to have some tried and trusted techniques at my disposal to help me to restore my equilibrium! How good to know that however bad the stress gets, we CAN eliminate the debilitating effects of having too much cortisol running around our bodies!!
Techniques which help you manage your energy and emotions and bring you back into balance are worth their weight in gold in our speedy culture. For example: Reiki helps to balance your subtle energy system and take you to deep states of relaxation which, in and of itself, facilitates clearer thinking and an improved sense of well-being. Tapping has been found to produce a 24% decrease in cortisol levels after just one hour and provides powerful stress relief. And medical research has found that practicing meditation can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and decrease anxiety and stress.
Any reduction in stress will strengthen the immune system and generally help with healing and balancing the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual levels of the human being. So watch those stress levels, take steps to keep it at bay, avoid letting clutter and muddle build up, and maybe look into learning some new techniques to put in your “energy first aid kit”.