Stress is the ubiquitous buzzword bandied about as the root of most evils. An excuse for everything and anything, used indiscriminately, and definitely the cause of many a health issue. But is it real? And is it something you should pay more attention to?
The answer to both of those questions is DEFINITELY!
The definition of stress is 'a state of physical, mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances', which sounds pretty all encompassing and very much the way we all live today, doesn't it?
Life nowadays is indeed hugely stressful and I doubt there are many of us that are not suffering, to some degree, from stress. Not only is the pace of life today considerably speedier than it was in the old days, but many of us have lost track of our own needs somewhere along the line, juggling the ever increasing demands of work, relationships, family, finances and those seemingly never-ending emails. When was the last time you had time by yourself, planning where your life was going rather than being rushed headlong along the river of life, struggling merely to keep yourself afloat and your head above water?
We all suffer from stress to some degree. And a certain amount is necessary to keep you functioning efficiently. Too much, however, can set you on a downward health spiral. Stress is at the heart of most diseases, and I would say one of the major fallacies of the health industry today is that you can 'manage' your stress and be fine. I disagree with that, because that concept works - until it just doesn't any more.
Where does stress come from?
There are all sorts of different types of stress: physical, emotional, mental and environmental. Life bombards you with it. You can be affected by one type of stress or many, and everyone deals with the 'stuff' that comes their way differently. What is lightly brushed off by one person may cut another to the quick. How efficiently you respond to stress depends to a great degree on the strength of your immune system.
Stress builds up over time, at different rates for everyone, but build it does, and when your stress levels get too high, that's when the trouble starts.
Each traumatic event that comes your way - whether it's an argument with a work colleague, or a family member, an emotional shock or physical trauma - adds to your stress levels.
Think of your immune system as a glass of water. Empty to begin with, but gradually filled over the years, drop by drop, as each new difficulty comes your way and fails to be resolved. The water level builds up over time until your glass can't hold any more and overflows. That's the point at which you get ill, with physical symptoms usually showing up wherever your immune system is weakest.
How to manage stress
You can certainly manage your stress. Exercise, diet, meditation, counselling and sleeping well will all help to a certain degree but they address the symptoms of your stress, not get to the root of whatever the cause. And unless you dig out the roots, it's just not going to go away. You have to do more than just 'manage' it. You have to neutralise it and let it go.
How many of us understand that you really need to deal with whatever rears its ugly head as it happens? That if you don't find the time at the time, you risk overload later.
So whilst 'managing' your stress is definitely better than doing nothing at all, wiping it out altogether - effectively pressing the delete button on your computer - and keeping your ongoing stress levels low in your glass is what to aim for.
Is your mind racing, full of thoughts and feelings about what's happened? Are you over-eating to sop up the overwhelming anger, fear, anxiety or depression? Are you having physical symptoms - your stomach churning, heart racing, palms sweating? What you want is to eventually be able to think and feel about whatever it is that is currently triggering stress for you - and have no physical or mental reaction at all. For the event to register neutral on your 'stress register' instead of off the scale.
3 steps to eliminating stress
1. Identify your stress
Sit quietly somewhere, close your eyes, and let everything that stresses you come to mind. It could be anything from years ago, to what happened in the office yesterday. If they come into your head they are unresolved. Write them on a list. Give each a title: 'argument with Mike', 'being made redundant', 'dropping Aunt Mabel's vase' etc.
2. Dedicate 15 minutes a day to clearing each stress on the list
Block out the same time each day for dealing with a single issue. Sit in the same place, make the commitment and within a month you will have sorted the majority of your 'stuff' and your glass will be well emptied.
Rate the issue you are dealing with out of 10. How much stress does it cause you? Is it an 8/10 problem, or merely a 5? It's hard to remember how badly something affected you originally at a later date when you are clear of the problem.
3. Tap away your troubles
The therapy I recommend to deal with your stresses is EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique, which is one of the most effective methods I know of releasing both physical and emotional trauma. It works on a conscious, subconscious and unconscious level, simply and (best of all) rapidly. No years of therapy here! A single session will often clear an entire issue.
I learnt the technique ten years ago now, and although initially I felt a bit of a fool tapping various set meridian points on my body at the same time as repeating various phrases out loud (very British this embarrassment about acknowledging difficult thoughts and feelings, even to oneself) I got over it remarkably rapidly once I saw how effectively it sorted me. You can buy a book and learn how to do it in a matter of minutes, or for a more thorough grounding do a weekend course. Learning EFT may well be the best gift you ever give yourself, and certainly the best stress neutraliser out there.
There are, however, many ways to climb a mountain, so experiment to see what works best for you. Your doctor can refer you to a professional psychiatrist, psychotherapist or psychoanalyst.
The point is to address the stress, not bury it or pretend it's not there.
Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's largest breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health.
Sign up to our free newsletter for fortnightly holistic health tips and a regular dose of get-well advice. SUBSCRIBE NOW!