Stress is a normal part of life, and research shows that moderate levels of stress are even necessary for us to perform at our best. Yet too much stress can be very unhealthy and can cause a wide range of mental, emotional and physical problems. Have you ever had the experience of going on holiday only to fall ill for the first few days? This is a sure sign that you are living with a level of stress that isn’t good for you. Of course, that’s part of what a holiday is for – to relax and unwind from the everyday, but it’s astonishing how many people don’t know how much stress they are tolerating during their ‘normal’ lives.
High stress levels are the source of inflamation in the body, and inflamation can lead to all sorts of chronic illnesses like heart disease, migraines and weight gain and obesity. It also impacts your immune system making you vulnerable to any passing virus or bacteria. High stress levels impair decision making ability and also severely impact our moods. It’s hard to be relaxed and happy with stress hormones pumping round your body!
Fight, Flight and Freeze
As human beings we have remarkable capacities to deal with our environment with amazing survival mechanisms. Our brains have a function that continuously scans our surroundings looking out for danger. When it finds something that looks threatening, it sends signals to instantly release a flood of hormones into the body that prepare us to fight, take flight or freeze, making sure that the right energy goes to the right places to help us cope with the threat. What is particularly interesting is that this all happens out of our conscious control, so that sometimes we can find ourselves suddenly experiencing a rush of adrenaline without understanding why. It’s because our subconscious mind has detected something it perceives as a threat and it can take a few moments for our conscious mind to catch up.
This is obviously a very useful function and has kept us safe for millennia! The issue comes when we have that ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response to things that are not genuinely life threatening in a physical sense. We now live in a time when we are unlikely to encounter a sabre-toothed tiger on the street, but we have ‘trained’ ourselves to respond to other things as if they were a physical threat. Things like our boss shouting, someone being displeased with us, feeling inadequate or lonely, getting a bad mark at school, having an argument with a loved one, our kids not doing as they’re told, running out of time for something or making a mistake. It’s like the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response gets stuck to being permanently on. The bad news is that the response is designed as a short-term, quick ‘fix’ with the body then realising ‘antidote’ hormones that relax us. When we’re constantly stuck in ‘fight, flight, freeze’ mode those hormones don’t have a chance to be released and over time our bodies ‘forget’ how to release them. The latest research into the way the brain works (neuro-plasticity) also shows that over time we literally ‘hardwire’ the stress response into our brains. Now it’s almost impossible to relax fully, without taking some serious action to ‘re-wire’ the brain.
So what can we do?
Fortunately there are many ‘interventions’ that can reduce stress and, over-time, reset the brain to reduce the mental, emotional and physical problems that the chronic stress response produces. With breakthrough therapy and coaching we work to identify your stress triggers and by bringing those to conscious awareness you can start to reduce their impact.
We also work on finding practices that will work to reduce or eliminate stress and tailor them to suit your specific circumstances. These interventions include mindfulness, meditation, guided visualisation, hypnosis, somatic therapy and physical exercise. We also look at your emotional triggers and ‘de-sensitise’ you so that you’re not locked into the stress response without your conscious awareness.
The most important thing about healing a chronic stress response and managing day-to-day stress is to develop habits that become automatic over time. Virtually any situation can cause stress, so we need to make sure that we empower our minds, emotions and body to deal with it in a healthy and purposeful way. I work with clients to set realistic goals that will work to make good stress management techniques a habit. The latest research shows that it takes at least sixty days to ‘re-wire’ your brain into a new habit, so I provide support to enpower you to be consistent with your practices until they become second nature.