Saturday 10th  October was World Mental Health Day.  I thought I would focus on the most common current mental health issue – stress.

Is there anyone reading this who is not feeling some level of anxiety or stress I wonder.   The 2nd wave of Covid has put the word ‘stress’ back at the top of the agenda again. For those who may also have other stressors and big life changes in their lives too such as divorce, empty nests, financial and work worries, caring for others; it is a really, really difficult time.

Stress is now considered an epidemic; in fact, it was before Covid.  Reading about stress may cause you to feel even worse, if it does please bear with me and keep reading as I am aiming to help not add to your load.

If you are feeling anxious right now, if you live your life in a constant rush, consider the following saying –our life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to that (C Swindoll).  How much of your stress is to do with worrying about might happen, what has happened in the past, what someone might be thinking of you, or deadlines that you have set yourself?  How much of what you feel anxious about is due to your perception of the event, rather than the even itself?

Stressful events do happen, no doubt about it.  But its how we choose to respond to them that counts, e.g. a traffic jam to many people is stressful, whilst to others it could be a chance to listen to more music or practise some breathing exercises.   Another example might be our reactions to the thought of catching Covid, some of us are petrified, others are not so worried.

Many symptoms of stress are widely known, I do not need to list them here. However, I did want to explain a few of the less well-known effects of long-term stress on the body, and the reason why this happens: –

Weight gain, particularly around the middle.

·         Adrenaline, the 1st stress hormone, encourages our body to store fat by burning glucose (sugars in our bloods) in the short term which means fat is not burnt off for body fuel.

·         This also means that many of us crave more fuel for the body under times of stress – sugar.

·         Cortisol, the 2nd stress hormone, tells our body to store fat for the longer term – this goes back to our ancestors and their worries over famines.  There are more cortisol receptors on fat cells around the middle than anywhere else on your body.  In a way, we should be thankful as was a survival technique.

·         High cortisol also messes up our blood sugar levels, which can lead to hunger peaks and troughs, and poor food choices to combat this as the body naturally seeks out instant fuel.

·         Cortisol can also lower our metabolic rate, meaning we burn off calories at a slower rate.

 

Digestion issues

When we are stressed the body halts the digestion process and diverts energy ready for a ‘fight or flight’ situation.  It can cause bloating, IBS, suspected leaky gut syndrome, and bowel problems.

Again, our ancestors would have been grateful of this extra energy running through their limbs, but in today’s world of continued stress that energy has nowhere to go and can lead to us feel ‘tired but wired’.  Our digestion can be messed up as a result, and we absorb less of the nutrients from food – even if we are technically eating well.

Troubles with the menstrual cycle When our bodies make a lot of cortisol the sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are put out of balance.  This can interfere with all stages of a women’s reproductive life at any age.  Notably, progesterone is a natural relaxant and a diuretic,  and less progesterone is made when more cortisol is needed.    This means more anxiety, more low mood and potentially more bloating (which in turns stresses some women out).

 

If reading this is stressing you even more, another thing to worry about, let me please say that a lot of this can be improved.  We cannot always change the stressful events that are happening to you right now, but you can help how you choose to respond to them in a calmer way.   And I am not going to mention all the usual stuff like breathing, yoga, exercise etc because you know all that already (and yes, they do help).

For a different approach, try these

  • The next time you catch yourself worrying about what someone thinks of your last social media post, or the fact you were late with a deadline, or what they think of how you look – try to remember that you are not responsible for their thoughts and  cannot control their thoughts. But you can control how you respond to their reaction.
  • The next time someone asks you to do something for yourself, and you start with your ‘automatic response of ‘I’m too busy’ think to yourself – are you really that busy or is it just not a priority right now?  Scan down your list of priorities, what really matters to you, what do you value now?  In your busy rushing life are you living by those priorities of what matters to you, and if not, what can you cut out?  One example is that clients tell me they do not have time to cook a healthy meal, yet they do have time for social media.  If that is their priority, great, no problem, but I do wonder sometimes ……
  • About to say ‘yes’ to something for someone else, have a quick think why you might be about to agree. Is it for fear of saying no, rather than really wanting to help? When we act out of a sense of duty, rather than because we want to help, it can cause us a lot of stress.  We all need to help others at times, perhaps more now than ever, BUT only if we can truly say it is not detrimental to our own mind and body.  Kind, heartful acts are 1 of the keys to a happy life, BUT if these acts are not in the true sense of giving then question whether your people pleasing has gone a little too far?
  • Reframing stress has helped for me.  When I feel stressed in my head I say ‘I’m busy, not stressed’.  The words we use to ourselves have real impact on thinking, and that in turn influences our behaviour.
  • Remember that stress takes its toll on the body and it may need a little extra boost. If you cannot eat well, a home cooked varied balanced diet, then consider some supplements to help you through.  B vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium are so important to keep the body in optimum function through stress. Calmer body, calmer mind.  Calmer mind, calmer body.

 

its easy to read these points, less easy to immediately put them to good use, it takes a little time and patience.  I hope this has given you something different to think about in the area of stress and anxiety, particuarly if you are going through a significant unwelcome event in your life right now.   I am trained in Stress Management, and work one to one with clients to teach them techniques and practises, and share resources, to use to reduce the overload in  their lives.  For a free 30 minute introductory consultation please get in touch.

If you are interested in measuring your stress level then this is a quick little test you can do https://www.bemindfulonline.com/test-your-stress

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