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Would you Know if you were experiencing Stress? Part 1- What’s getting in the Way

People do not seem to realise they are experiencing stress.  They just don’t see it!

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)
  • Resilience
  • Productivity at work
  • Motivation

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!!!!!
  5. 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.

Christmas- celebrating the Light of the Human Spirit

The Festival of Light

What do Christmas, Hanukah and Diwali mean to you? Are they purely a time off work or do they have a deeper message? What messages, lessons and ideas can you take from Christmas, Hanukah and Diwali into the rest of the year?

This is the time of The Festivals of Light. Christmas, Hanukah and Diwali are all religious celebrations commemorating the Light of the Human spirit. Candles and fireworks are lit to remind us that hope, forgiveness and kindness are human traits to celebrate and practice for the benefit of others as well as ourselves.

Candles and fireworks are lit to remind us that hope, forgiveness and kindness are human traits to celebrate

The symbol of Light in this way is prevalent across the world and throughout time. It is a universal image to which all people relate. Fire has been used for millennia to accompany sacred ceremonies and mark sacred time and space. This fire can represent the divine, that universal force that creates all and, it can illustrate the indomitable spirit within each of us, which marks our uniqueness and our collective humanity. The human spirit is a flame that can be neglected, ignored and covered over. It can also be nurtured, nourished and fanned to create a blaze. The various Festivals of Light are a reminder that we need to cultivate this Light within. I believe people are naturally born with this flame inside them. It holds their Light, uniqueness, innate talents and skills that can be shared with the world.

The Light of the Human Spirit

When we are born, we possess a presence and power that radiates out. Babies light up rooms and bring smiles to people’s faces. Young children are open and free with their emotions, laughing one moment, crying the next, then all smiles seconds later. They show confidence in expressing spontaneous behaviour, sharing unsolicited thoughts and being their authentic selves. This unhampered Light shines as children play, learn and express their love.

Things can happen to cover this Light. By being made to feel wrong for expressing emotions and certain behaviours, by not being supported and encouraged, by denying feelings and longings that are deemed inappropriate, through abuse, neglect and so much more, this Light becomes dimmed and fails to shine in the world with the clarity and brightness that it did in a person’s youth.

This process can start young or later in life. For the person concerned it feels like a void, a gap, even a deadness inside that is filled with pain and a yearning to be given a voice and take action. To the outside world, it might appear as a lack of confidence or commitment, apathy, even indifference. To them it feels frustrating, exasperating and ignites a desire for change. Regardless of how it appears internally or externally, this Light still burns furiously within. It needs uncovering, oxygen and nurturing. Done consistently, we can shine brighter, burn stronger, share our Light more fully and embrace the joy of doing and being that more completely.

Uncovering the Light

How do we start the process of uncovering the flame that burns within so that we can feel fulfilled and live with meaning and purpose? There is the journey of uncovering the things of the past that stifle the flame. And there are the things that happen in the present that if left unchallenged can further diminish our Light. We can learn strategies to uncover the things of the past and the present. This in turn improves our resilience so that we are better able to face life’s challenges. There are lots of ways you can explore these strategies. Coaching is one such method in which you focus on your goals for the future and explore your habits and beliefs and ways of being that prevent you from achieving those goals. Here are some areas that might be powerful for you to explore:

  1. Mind sets supportive to your success. Very often you learn scripts from the past that actually undermine you. These scripts can stop you stepping into your best self. Scripts such as “not good enough”, “not deserving” and “I’m a perfectionist” can be self- limiting beliefs that stop your growth in important areas of your life. By challenging these old beliefs and finding new scripts that are supportive to becoming the person you want to become, you can update your inner landscape so that you can step into new roles and new ways of being. This acts as fuel for your inner Light.
  2. Living in line with what is most important to you. You probably have areas in your life that you are very keen to protect. Perhaps it is time with the kids, your workout schedule or commitment to your career.  You set these boundaries up to make sure things do not encroach on them. You might even think of them as sacred. Yet there will also be areas where you are less robust in maintaining your boundaries and your life suffers accordingly. You might not be consistent with your eating or exercise habits. You might say you’ll do something when you have the time rather than making time to do it. By living your values you make a statement to yourself and others that what is important to you matters. This really nurtures the inner flame.
  3. Self care. So many people put others first. They do it so much sometimes that they wear themselves out, making themselves ill. Alternatively, people are all for themselves. They are number one and no one else gets a look in unless it serves them to think of others as well. This idea of self- care is a delicate balance. To get it right you can think of it as caring for yourself SO THAT you can care for others. If you are someone’s long- term carer, it is important that you get a chance to recuperate and rejuvenate yourself from time to time. You can’t keep giving endlessly. If you do you might become tired, frustrated and even resentful. You have to take from somewhere so that you can continue to give where you choose to give. So many people feel guilty about this, as if to say “I don’t deserve it” or “I don’t have the time”. If you continue this way you will dim your inner Light even though it is your pleasure to give and share. The Light needs fueling. Self- care recharges the battery.
  4. Mindfulness and awareness. Sticking your head in the sand and not dealing with things that are instrumental to your growth are sure ways to stifle your inner flame. However challenging these things might be to confront, it is harder to deal with them the longer you leave them and the more painful they are when you finally feel them. Unresolved emotions have a way of surfacing in a destructive and unsupportive manner. Deal with them on your terms and they can be voiced in a healthy and healing way. This takes awareness in the moment. It will take practice if you are not used to being this way. Like all new habits, it takes some time before it becomes easier. It is worth the investment. As you lighten the burden of undisclosed feelings, your Light burns brighter and makes you stronger.
  5. Reflection and Contemplation. Life can be a relentless journey. You can move from one event to another and never take the time to reflect or consider what you have learned, what could be different and how things might change. Perhaps you are so focused on what is coming up you don’t take the time to enjoy the event you’re in? You also might not think about events in the future either or how you might want your future to look. By considering these things with reference to your sense of what is right for you and where and who you want to be, you can fan the flames of your inner Light, orienting your life towards values- driven goals.
  6. Inner Council. You have so many qualities and aspects of your character that can be developed and discovered. You can learn to embrace and cultivate these innate talents, broadening and deepening your range to make you a more fulfilled and purpose- focused individual. Noticing how people you admire and respect achieve their great success can inspire you to tap into those aspects of yourself, allowing you to make those qualities your own and enjoy success in the way that is most fulfilling to you. Another way to access your inner council is to work with your archetypes. Clients on the Mindful Movement courses and VIP coaching days with me work closely with these ideas.
  7. Whatever you achieve in life, you do so with the help of others. To surround yourself with people who will support and nurture you in your endeavours is an essential part of life success. Where you might notice you lack certain qualities, there may be no need to cultivate those skills yourself. Instead, find the people that fill that space. Whilst you might need to learn new things these may not be your passions. Work to your joys and strengths. Life can be a rich tapestry and a variety of friends, colleagues and associates can serve your growth, fulfillment and purpose a tremendous amount. True friends and other people you can trust bring more flames together to create a raging fire and allow you to enjoy confidence, support and faith in the human spirit.

As we approach this season of Light, please remember to nourish this inner flame. Be aware of it for yourself. Also be aware of it for others. Be an advocate of nurturing this inner Light for all. This applies throughout the year, not just for the weeks around these festivals. The human spirit shines eternal. The more you care for yourself and others the more empowered you are and give people permission to be empowered. I believe this is the message of the Festivals of Light. An eternal and universal message that you can carry in your heart all year and apply to every moment of your life.

Over to you

How do you view Christmas, Hanukah and Diwali? How do they influence your thinking and behaviour through the year? Have you ever thought of the metaphor of the flame representing the human spirit? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in the comment box at the bottom of the page.

Pass it on

If you know someone who might find this article useful or interesting, please send it to them by e- mail or through social media. I’d really appreciate your spreading the word. Have a great Christmas and New Year. I look forward to connecting in 2018.