September 19, 2010 By Leave a Comment
Is stress the new normal? Are you living in default?
I am fascinated by stress and its affect on the mind and the body…and what we can do about it. I used to have a job where I was so highly stressed for so much of the time that it became my baseline…I wasn’t even aware I was in a state of stress because I had normalised it. I multitasked like a demon, never really engaged with people in ‘chats’ (can’t you talk faster? I would think), raced from appointment to appointment, used coffee to get me going it the morning, and wine to wind down at night and generally lived with a perpetual voice in my head that said ‘you do not have enough time Louise! Go faster, work harder...there is not enough time!’.
It was not a nice place to be but in a strange way it felt very comfortable: living in a perpetual state of stress had become my default mode. It was my normal.
What was a real revelation for me was re-learning that being stressed is actually ABNORMAL. The stress mode in our bodies should actually come with a button that reminds us to ‘press in case of emergency ONLY’. The potent blend of hormones and neurotransmitters that are released into our blood stream are designed to sharpen our senses, increase the blood flow away from our digestive system to our muscles so we can escape that lion, or grab the children and run when the fire alarm goes off. They are designed for a quick short burst to get us out of trouble, they are a survival mechanism…they are supposed to be temporary.
The problems come when we are in stress mode for too long, for too much of the time. The effects on our bodies and our state of mind can be disasterous. Bad sleeping patterns, lack of concentration, exhaustion, permanently feeling wired…over time this can develop into serious diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancers, heart disease. It has been estimated by The American Stress Institute 75 – 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related problems.
Take a Stress Inventory of your life today and find out what is normal for you…try and estimate the amount of time you spend in ‘stressed’ mode and the amount you spend in ‘relaxed’ mode. Remember, there are only two modes….in terms of our physiology we toggle between our Sympathetic Nervous System being in dominance (stressed mode/ flight or flight) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System being in dominance (relaxed mode /rest and digest). In your head there may be more that two options…stressed, REALLY stressed, chilled out, nicely busy, total and utter meltdown etc etc…but crucially, for your body there are only two…stressed, or, relaxed:
See if you can get a rough percentage…eg..
Monday 60% stressed/40% relaxed
Tuesday 50% stressed/50% relaxed
What’s your an average number for the week? I am guessing many people’s stress inventory will show that significantly more than 50% of their week is spent in the stress mode. And thats only the time you are AWARE you are stressed, much of the time we are firmly in our stress response but do not even realise it: its’ normalised in the way I described at the beginning. Stress has become the new normal. And this is not a good thing!
So…what’s the level we should be aiming for for optimum health, to work congruently with the way our body is designed to work? Ideally you want a ratio of at least 10% stressed / 90% relaxed. Living life from a physiology of relaxation should be the norm and our default mode. Becoming aware of the imbalance under which we live each day is the first step in getting us back into a healthy balance.
Positive Balance is a wellbeing company founded on yoga but also embracing all aspects of wellness in both mind and body through powerful coaching techniques. Based on Auckland North Shore weekly yoga and meditation classes are available for all levels including complete beginners, with mind-body co…