In our high paced, frantic world most of us are experiencing ever increasing levels of stress. Our days are full of traffic jams, email overload, increasing customer demands, lower profit margins, massive competition etc etc This often leads to the feeling of “Too much to do and not enough time to do it”. Many people are reporting that their stress levels are dramatically higher than they were even just 5 years ago and there is nothing to suggest that things will get any easier in the future.
Some people believe that they perform better when they are stressed but research consistently shows the exact opposite. Stress usually causes a person to forget important things, miss deadlines, make simple mistakes and loose their cool in tough situations! Besides making you late for a meetings and causing you shout at people when you eventually get there, stress also can have dramatic negative impact on your health.
- Stress makes you gain weight – when we were hunter-gatherers the harsh conditions forced us to eat as much as possible when food was available to store up for lean times. That compulsion lives on inside us, and comes out when we are stressed. Researchers at the University of Miami found that people in stressful situations are likely to consume as much as 40% more food than they need.
- Stress makes you look older – chronic stress contributes significantly to premature ageing. Researchers at the University of California discovered that stress shortens telomeres — structures on the end of chromosomes that allow new cells to grow quickly. This shortening leads to the inevitable signs of ageing: wrinkles, weak muscles, poor eyesight, and more.
- Stress increases your risk of heart disease – some people are more prone to heart disease but chronic stress can make their problem much worse. Stress damages your heart because the hormones we release when stressed increase our heart rate and constrict our blood vessels. This forces our heart to work harder and increases our blood pressure.
- Stress affects your love life – sex is an effective way to relieve stress but stress can also get us out of the mood quicker than you may think. One scientific study found that stress can dramatically lower a man’s testosterone levels, and so reduce his sexual desire. Furthermore numerous studies have shown that stress (especially performance anxiety) can lead directly to impotence.
- Stress weakens your immune system – the connection between mind and body is often underestimated but we’ve all experienced catching a cold or the flu when we can least afford to. This happens because the high demands stress puts on our body make our immune system suffer, which makes us more vulnerable to viruses and infections.
- Stress can lead to anxiety, depression and even suicide – anxiety and depression are much more common in our society that most of us think. One in nine adults in New Zealand are currently on anti-depressants and many more refuse the medication, preferring to suffer the extremely debilitating symptoms. It’s well documented that high levels of stress are the main cause of the thought processes that lead to depression and anxiety.
So what can you do about it? The concept of managing stress with regular exercise, better diet, reduced alcohol and caffeine consumption and better quality sleep is the most commonly suggested approach. Unfortunately for those of us who are already leading a healthy lifestyle, it’s just not possible to make significant improvements in those areas. So what other options are there?
The only thing that I’ve ever found that helps us to stop making the stress (as opposed to managing it) is MINDFULNESS, a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment. Present moment awareness, or living in the NOW is well understood by most of us but rarely achieved in our modern, frantic lives. If we’re being honest with ourselves we’ll see that 99% of the time our thoughts are focused on things that happened in the past or on planning or worrying about the future. It’s only very rarely that we become focused in the present moment and only then for very short periods of time.
A good example of present moment awareness happened to me when my first child was born. On holding my son for the first time I became totally absorbed in the moment and thought only of him. However even that incredibly important focus only lasted for a few seconds and then I started to think about his future wants and needs. Many people say that they are rarely, if ever ‘in the NOW’ and find it extremely difficult to stay away from past and future thinking.
Mindfulness has been around for more than 3500 years and almost all modern mindfulness programs rely a meditation practice to help us develop our ability to achieve this present moment awareness.
I’m running another of my Mindfulness and Stress 1/2 day programs on Tuesday 28th February in Mt Wellington. Click here for full details of the course.