Would you know if you were stressed? Do you have a sense of what the signs might be if you were experiencing stress? Do you notice when other people are stressed? Are there occasions when people say you are stressed and you have no idea what they are talking about?
Having recently run a workshop on stress and talked to many people over the years about stress one thing comes through loud and clear:
Stress is rife in our lives and many of us are totally unaware that we are living with it.
People do not seem to realise they are experiencing stress. They just don’t see it! But that does not mean they are not affected by it. Nor does it mean family, friends and colleagues are not impacted by it as a result. Having been one of those people myself, it is hard to stand around the side lines and watch people struggle with its affects. As a result, they go about their daily lives oblivious to the signs and symptoms of stress thinking that all is well.
The Impact of Stress
I’m sure you know many of the statistics about stress. But just in case you don’t, long term stress can negatively impact your:
- Life expectancy
- Quality & duration of sleep (sleeplessness, disturbed sleep, nightmares, fitful sleep)
- Behaviour (withdrawal, irritability, restlessness, depression)
- Relationships (impacting those closest to us)
- Health & disease (increase risk of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease)
- Interest in sex & sexual performance
- Diet & weight (increase in fats & sugars raises weight or diminished appetite reduces weight)
- Productivity at work
Stressed? Not me!
So being unaware that you are experiencing stress can come at quite a cost. I will discuss the signs you want to be looking for, that tell you stress is present in your life and perhaps having an adverse effect on your health in Part 2 of this series. Before I do that, I just want to explore why people don’t notice the stress in their lives:
- The signs creep up slowly over time. You live with yourself 24/7 and often do not notice any changes that might happen in your life, except for the dramatic ones: the surprise birthday party, the heart attack, a heat wave or cold snap, not being able to get into those trousers or tops you once used to fit into, a new addition to the family. Look in the mirror daily and you do not see yourself getting older. You do not notice your shoulders getting tighter or your waistline bigger. You’ve breathed so shallow for years that you do not realise you’re barely getting any air at all. You get used to what you know and may not question whether this is best for your health and well- being.
- Social and cultural norms. Countries, regions, religions, companies, cities, individuals, cultures, towns and families all have their traditions. From what we eat and drink, to how we socialise, where and how we work, what exercise we do, where we pray and so on. Sometimes these norms are great for our health and well- being. Other times, these habits are not. It’s hard to do things differently to the rest. If other people don’t seem to experience stress as a result of these habits, then surely nor do I. Yet, we are all individuals and what may be calming to others could be causing untold stress on someone else. And remember, they may be suffering from the same lack of awareness about the effect stress is having on them as you are. We just don’t want to go there in our minds, so we don’t. Nothing changes and the effects of stress mount.
- Stress isn’t something that happens to me. This is the misguided vision I had for years. Because I am a martial artist, meditator, student of philosophy, calm, confident and thinking of myself as a spiritual practitioner, how could I possibly have stress? As a result, I’m not looking for the signs. Struggling to sleep? Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress! Experiencing shortness of breath? Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress! Finding it hard to focus? Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress! You’re getting the idea. So, maybe you think that being stressed is something that happens to other people. Or you have a super power that means you can survive on 4 hours sleep a night. Trust me, we all experience stress. If it is long- term, it will have adverse effects on your health. Pay attention to the signs before it’s too late.
- Stress isn’t that important to worry about. Some people just don’t think stress is anything to worry about. Everyone struggles with it and gets on OK. What’s all the fuss? It’s a bit like President Trump saying there’s no climate change problem. Everyone knows that there is, but he doesn’t think it’s worth doing anything about. The attitude that “I’ll be fine” or “I’ve got it covered” I hear a lot. As a result, the unchanged life style leads to heart attacks, strokes, cancer and more. These people that I care about seem surprised when it happens!!!!!
- I’m too busy to change anything, or change is too hard. Yes, to make changes in your life style does mean things will be different. In people’s minds that usually means things will be worse! Our resistance to change is often because we are invested in the old way of doing things: not rock the boat with family or friends; stay inside my comfort zone; surely this tough stage will pass even if I ignore it; I don’t have the time; what about my career, relationship, income etc.; I don’t need to change; how will I be perceived if I change things; what if I fail; how will life be different if I succeed. Resisting change is normal- there is a degree of uncertainty and that comes with its own challenges. If we do not make changes, nothing changes. There are signs telling you that change is necessary, even essential, if only you would pay attention. So, please listen.
Do any of these five points sound like you? If so, you might be experiencing stress and not realise it. Left untreated for many years, it could have adverse effects on your health, well- being, quality of life, length of your life and the degree to which you enjoy your life.
The Body has the answer
It’s great that you are deep in the cut and thrust of life, building your business, developing your career, nurturing your family, creating your life. To be immersed in life is wonderful. Sometimes you get caught up in the momentum and think “What’s next……?” As soon as the last job is done, you’re rushing off to do the next one. If you don’t take time to check in from time to time with how your body feels, you’ll never know where you are at…….. and you may well miss the signs that stress is building up.
Your body is the answer. It will tell you whether it is experiencing stress. Your head may tell you that there is nothing to be concerned about. It’s too busy being busy. Try this instead. Take time to connect to your body. How? Centring, mindfulness and meditation are great ways to connect in. Also, Mindful Movement workshops are a great fun way to connect in with your body and begin rebuilding a relationship with your body again. As a result, your body will become a friend, a confidante, a trusted partner. You will reap the benefits of living mindfully, managing stress effectively and enjoying life fully for mind, body and soul.
Over to You
What is your attitude to stress? Is it something other people have but not you? Are you too busy to deal with it or do you make time in your day for managing it effectively? Is stress another “Climate Change” issue or are you taking it seriously? Do you know you have to deal with the stress in your life or are you too busy to change? So, let’s get a conversation going and bring the effects of stress to people’s attention. Then they can take control and begin to live more fully and vibrantly.
Pass it On
If what I have been talking about sounds like someone you know, why not forward this blog to them and ask them to give it a read? It might be the turning point for them to start listening to their body and opening to the possibility that stress is in their lives. It’s so easy to deal with. Awareness is the first step. The next is seeing stress in action in our lives. So we’ll be covering that in Part 2. See you next time.