Stress and how it shows up has changed throughout the years, particularly in the new millennium. Stress is surprisingly an important bodily function (despite how we sometimes feel about it). It has played the role of protecting us and in moments of survival, stress heightens our body’s arousal to run, fight or (sometimes) freeze. The two things that have made stress into a detrimental response is the longevity within our body and the way we feel about it.
Let’s talk about longevity first!
In the distant past, stress (that is our fight and flight system) would show up in our body to help us fight (or run from) the bear/shark/lion. This stress response would appear briskly and disappear immediately after the threat had been resolved – returning us to a relaxed and content state (our rest and digest system). The challenge now is that we internally create stress from rather trivial threats. These “threats” may show up as emails that need to be answered, alerts on our phone, to do lists, the need to multi-task, exams, big meetings and the need to be in several places at once. Although we may not like to admit it, the fact is we create this state of stress our self. The email doesn’t need to be answered now, the alert doesn’t need to be responded to immediately and we can choose to be present with one task at a time. We place this pressure and urgency on our self, society reinforces this constant need to be busy, and praise is given to those who “can get the most done”. This leads to a stress state that continues all day long - from the moment we look at our phone in the morning to the moment we arrive back in bed thinking of all the things we did or didn’t do. Our mind and reactions are constantly creating the experience of fighting wild animals all day long, with no time to rest and digest.
What has transpired for so many women is a frantic double shift, of work day and night with very little rest. – Dr Libby Weaver
Dr Libby Weaver has labelled this state as Rushing Woman’s Syndrome. In her research she has described multiple changes occurring at a hormonal, neurological and biological level - impacting our state of stress and overwhelm and continuing the stress cycle.
People who spend the majority of their time in urgent and important tasks are reacting to one crisis after another, leading to stress and burnout. Spending the majority of our time on not urgent and important tasks, is the foundation of a productive and fulfilling life. – Steven Covey
Now reading this may bring up that feeling of “that’s me”. Firstly, be kind to yourself, and then know that YOU get to choose. You get to choose whether you see every moment as urgent or needing immediate action. The reality is, over half of what we perceive as urgent isn’t actually the case. If we were to allow ourselves to recognise this, we move away from constant action and into a state of rest and contentment.
The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another – William James
How we feel about it
Sometimes stress will come up in response to things outside of our control. At these times, how we respond to it can play a huge role. Research has shown that if we view stress in the body as “energising us for the task”, it has a significant impact not only for our mental/emotional state but also how it plays out in the body. People who reframed stress to an “energising experienced”, and thought of stress as a state that allowed them to focus and power their response, had changes at a physiological level. They still had an increase in heart rate but not the constriction of blood vessels (increasing blood pressure). It’s incredible how telling our brain a different story can affect the body. Many of our organs (especially our heart) will be thanking us for this over time!
How your mind interprets stress can reduce the impact of stress. -Kelly McGonigal
These concepts are an opportunity to reflect on how stress is playing out in your life. It may also be a prompt to jump off that relentless treadmill and gain a wider view. Are there simple changes you can make today? Maybe its turning off those alerts on you phone (you can then choose when you’re ready to action them).. maybe it’s focusing on the task at hand.. maybe it’s choosing your thoughts in response to stress.
Remember that stress doesn't come from what's going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what's going on in your life. - Andrew J Bernstein
If you’d like to explore ways to shift your state of stress, please stay connected through Wholehearted Journeys on Instagram and Facebook. I’m working on something just for you!