Since when did wellness get so complicated? I think it came right about the time our lives were made easier by technology. Yep, the more conveniences we have the more complicated our lives seem to become. We have smart phones that are like master control panels for our lives. Sure, we can send emails and Christmas shop while we wait for our children at the orthodontist’s office. You would think that would free us up for more downtime to relax. If that’s the case, then why are we so stressed out all the time? There are a couple of reasons for that. The most obvious is that we are compelled to fill that free time. Sometimes it is with more productivity and other times it is with a “relaxing” guilty pleasure net surf or catching up on a series on Netflix in a free afternoon. We never allow our minds to just be.
That’s a problem.
You may follow a perfect Paleo diet, get in an abundance and variety of exercise and stretching, treat yourself to healthful Infrared Sauna Therapy and massages, supplement with adaptogenic herbs, make your own environmentally responsible personal care and household cleaning products, make your own cultured foods and drink out of a glass water bottle. That’s great and those are all a great jumpstart toward healthy living. But if you aren’t ensuring proper downtime, you could be setting yourself up for any number of health concerns. Stress is one of the major contributing factors to adrenal fatigue and is a well known trigger for autoimmune disease. So what can you do? Lets start by taking a closer look at stress.
When it comes to stress, most Americans don’t need a designated month to realize what they already know – stress is part of modern life and can’t always be avoided. Perhaps the most puzzling issue around stress is what really works when it comes to reducing it.
Recent surveys by the American Psychological Association (APA) reveal that stress is an increasing and on-going issue for Americans. More than one third (36 percent) of U.S. workers report experiencing work stress regularly, according to APA survey findings released in March. Another significant APA survey released in November revealed American families recognize they have high stress levels, but lack the time and willpower to make appropriate changes.
What is “stress?”
Stress comes from our perception and emotional reactions to an event or idea. It can be any feeling of anxiety, irritation, frustration, or hopelessness, etc.
Stress is not only created by a response to an external situation or event. A lot of daily stress is created by ongoing attitudes, that is, recurring feelings of agitation, worry, anxiety, anger, judgments, resentment, insecurities and self-doubt. These emotions are known to drain emotional energy while engaging in everyday life.
It is emotions—more than thoughts alone—activating physical changes that make up the “stress response.” Emotions trigger the autonomic nervous system and, in turn, trigger stress hormones that cause many harmful effects on the brain and body.
Stressful feelings actually lead to a chaotic pattern in the beat-to-beat changes in the heart’s rhythm–indicating that our nervous system is out of sync. When this happens, a cascade of over 1,400 biochemical changes are set in motion that have a wide range of effects on the body’s systems.
Why Today’s Stress is Different
Experts say an important factor in today’s stress experience is that it’s not just about the single incident type of stress that naturally follows trauma, illness, job change, or other major life event. For most people it’s the wear and tear of daily life. What used to work for stress relief before may not be as effective today, because modern stress is more about the on-going levels people are experiencing.
Daily life stress can be difficult to change because of how the brain works. Through repeated experiences of stress, the brain learns to recognize the patterns of activity associated with “stress” as a familiar baseline, and in a sense, it becomes normal and comfortable. Without effective intervention, stress can become self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing.
Traditionally, stress research has focused on the mental processes that affect our perception and the body’s response to it. Some of today’s most pertinent stress research comes from the Institute of HeartMath, which has contributed greatly to the understanding the underlying mechanics of stress and its relationship to our patterned emotional responses.
HeartMath research examines the role of the emotional system in the stress process. Scientists discovered a critical link between stress, emotions, heart function and cognitive performance. From this research they have seen that while mental processes play a role in stress, the real fuel for the stress is un-managed emotions. Simply put, emotions have the power to fuel a thought into a high-definition experience of stress.
According to the research, the harmful effects stress places on the brain and body are in fact the physiological repercussions of negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, fear, resentment, etc.
What Works and What Doesn’t Work
Most stress has an emotional source, yet until now most of the widely used stress management methods have not focused directly on emotions. Instead, more often they focus on distraction methods, quieting the mind or trying to relax.
These practices may be enjoyable – such as taking a hot bath, or treatments like massage and aromatherapy – yet the fact remains that real solutions need to address the root cause of stress. They need to transform the deeper, recurring emotional patterns that sustain stress-producing feelings. Without essential changes at the emotional level, any other stress-relief method is likely to be short-lived. I have been studying the work of the Institute for Heart Math for several years now. It was cutting edge in 2008 when I first stumbled onto it. The research into heart rate variability and the advances they have made are simply stunning and incredibly relevant to our wellbeing climate. I will be posting specifically about HRV in an upcoming post.