And why you should get emotional about it
Stress nearly killed me.
And it can do the same for you.
You probably already heard that stress can cause heart disease, cancer and stroke, but… not your stress, right?
That’s not going to happen to you!
You’re only stressed about your relationship, that insane commute, your irritating boss or dismal bank balance. It’s normal right?
And you’re nowhere near the danger zone.
Or are you?
A recent study by the Mental Health Foundation reported 74% of participants were so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
I used to think that “real” stress had to be more than:
- Checking my phone every two minutes
- Being unable to wait in line for ANYTHING
- Screaming if my browser takes longer than two seconds to load.
And then I remembered I’d spent ten years rebuilding myself from illness, and all disease starts somewhere, and cute baby stress grows into deadly daddy stress, and maybe I should wake the f*ck up.
So if you’re still blaming anything outside of you for your stress levels…like your partner, your commute, or your boss…then you’re in the danger zone.
Because what’s stressing you out is NOT the real problem and this is the mistake everyone makes.
Stress Is Not In Your Circumstances
I know it feels like your job or your mortgage is the stress, but these are just situations you find yourself in. They do not contain stress.
Sure they may FEEL stressful, but rest assured, the stress is in you, and only you.
Or rather, it’s in one particular part of you and misunderstanding how this works can be fatal.
Why Your Survival System Can’t Cope
Assuming you’re human, your two million year old operating system is designed to define stress as a wild animal, or direct threat to life. Both usually a brief experience.
It is not designed to deal with intermittent wifi, being permanently jacked up on caffeine or months pining over your ex because you’re still stalking them on insta.
Cave people had bigger fish to fry.
You, on the other hand, are constantly feeling stressed. The people in a funky new field called “Interruption Science” have discovered that it takes an average person twenty-five minutes to recover from a phone call. However, the average person gets interrupted every eleven minutes.
In a continuously agitated state of stress the body copes by diverting energy from other bodily functions, like digestion, assimilation of nutrients, repair and general immunity.
And that my friend, will make you sick.
The good news is, you have a choice. And it doesn’t require moving to a caravan in a field and giving up social media.
The Real Reason You’re Always Stressed
Let’s play the perception game.
Imagine as a child you were bitten by a dog. And it hurt. As a full grown adult you might see a cute, cuddly puppy and want to pet it, but your memory of being bitten is going to trigger the emotion of fear.
Emotions work faster than the speed of conscious thought so they can actually impact and initiate your thoughts.
Therefore a dog, or even a picture of a dog, will stress you out.
If this is you, look away now.
Now apply this to feeling undervalued at work or generally hating your job. Every time you walk into the office, your feelings are firing and before you can smile at the receptionist your physiology has already shifted to DEFCON ONE.
Bye bye your best self, optimal behaviour and normal immune function.
How “Feelings” Can Be Fatal
Your health and wellbeing is determined by how you FEEL in any given moment, because a shift to a stress-inducing negative emotion releases a cascade of biochemicals that alter your physiology.
So feeling stressed about something is far more important than what the stress actually is.
Here’s how it works:
You are an energy system that expends and renews its energy but stress inhibits your renewing function.
So a few minutes of stress and you’ll bounce back fine. A few hours and you may feel drained or kinda tired. A few weeks and you’ll start to notice your thinking’s a little foggy, you’re not sleeping well, you’re always tired, grumpy and putting on weight. A few months and, in my experience, you’ll be seeing physical symptoms of illness.
Continually allowing stressful emotions to control your physiology sets a new baseline in the body and this becomes a vicious cycle. High cortisol in the body as a result of stress is linked to:
- Heart Disease
- Accelerated Aging
And a whole host of conditions nobody wants, including death.
And while “feeling” can be fatal, avoiding it won’t help either.
Why Stillness Won’t Solve Your Stress
You may love a hot bath, holding a yoga pose or meditating, but the trouble is, when you get out of the bath, downward dog, or stillness, the world is still waiting, with all its stress triggers annoyingly intact.
That’s why the revitalising effect of a holiday evaporates the minute you walk back into the office. Same Sh*t, still there.
The only real solution is to change your emotional response to the stress trigger. So rather than having to detach to recover, you can consciously engage your feelings in the moment and shift your emotional state.
Yes your boss with halitosis may still be breathing down your neck for that report, but your physiological response is totally different.
And, most importantly, you’re no longer a threat to your own health.
The people at HeartMath call this emotional self-regulation. I call it genius.
Why Getting Emotional Can Be Good
If you are freaking out about acknowledging your feelings, you’re
b)Very stressed out.
Either way, avoiding emotion never works — just look how miserable the Victorians were.
You can learn to use your emotions to your advantage, especially when it comes to stress. This doesn’t require sitting down and having a good cry every time you feel stressed. It means aligning with an emotional response that is renewing and re-energising for your body, instead of stressful.
Sound tricky? It’s a lot simpler than sickness and suffering with symptoms, trust me.
Think back to the last time you had to drag yourself out of bed because you were completely drained by a stressful experience. Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid that trauma to your physiology and stay clear and focussed in the face of stress?
Can you imagine coming up against a stress trigger and carrying on with your day while experiencing renewing emotions like peace, appreciation and gratitude?
Emotions are the key to your intelligent energy management. Suppress them at your peril, or see them for what they are — a tool in determining how you respond to and recover from stress.
Stress, and its effect on your health, is under your control. And yes you may need support, but long-term longevity is an inside job.
Going From Stressed Out to Surviving And Thriving
Ask Yourself…how long do I want to live and do I want to be happy?
Choosing the right emotions can literally be the difference between life and death.
If you want to get out of the danger zone, know that stress isn’t the problem. Choosing to feel stressed, IS.
Best of all, shifting and re-sett
ing your physiology in the face of stress, creates a healthy new baseline that your body will automatically gravitate towards — Kerching!
That’s life-giving stuff!
I’ve gone from stressed out, to fairly serene, and I’ve people brave enough to coach with me along for the ride, because here’s the truth…
What’s outside of you isn’t deadly, but how you react internally is
Emotions are your friend.
As Tony Robbins always says,
Changing your state, changes your strategy, changes your success
I’d like to add — changes your chances of survival.
This article first appeared in The Ascent Publication on Medium.com