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The Stress Factor

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The Stress Factor! by Harshani Curbishley-Brown

Autumn 2014

How To Increase Your Wellbeing

The Collins dictionary’s definition of ‘stress’ is “a feeling of tension & anxiety, because of difficulties in our lives”.

Stress is a word that often gets banded around quite freely at times & is one that I often hear many of my clients say to describe how they are feeling. Stress is a natural response factor, which is in-built into our systems to help us cope with our surrounding environment & keep us safely away from any possible dangers. The stress response is simply a natural part of our ‘Fight or Flight’ response system & relates to the sympathetic branch of our Autonomic Nervous System. It is there primarily for survival purposes, but what once would have been to help us escape from a sabre toothed tiger, in our modern lives our brain links other stressors into the mix. We all need a certain degree of stress to get out of bed in the mornings & get on with our daily chores. A low to medium manageable level can be a good source of motivation for some. What we all need to become more mindful of is when we are under immense pressure & prolonged stress, how this can sometimes lead towards depletion of our body resources & therefore can go onto affect our physical, mental & emotional sense of wellbeing. So it’s a good thing to know that you can do something about reducing your stress & managing your wellbeing.

Everyone is different, so discovering the right stress management program for you is important to help you maintain a healthy yet often busy lifestyle. Stress management to me is about putting work loads into perspective & ensuring you have some good quality ‘R & R’ time (rest & recuperation), which I encourage all of my clients to explore.

Understanding the Various Stages to Stress.

There are three main definitions to the differing stages of stress, & these are known as Alarm, Resistance & Exhaustion. All of which can be managed.

The alarm stage of stress is triggered when faced with a stressor (something the brain recognises as either frightening or puts us under pressure). At that stage the hypothalamus, pituitary gland & adrenal glands are activated, resulting in the production of cortisol, noradrenaline & adrenaline. This is our fight or flight response kicking into action, to set us into action mode at the first sight of the ‘stress’.

If a stressor continues to be present & our personal stress reaction continues, then we enter into a degree of resistance stage. The hypothalamus in the brain, produces endorphins allowing us to maintain a state of ‘Alert’ around the stressors & gradual depletion starts to set in. So this is the natural way our bodies help us build resistance to work through the stress, ideally for a short period of time. The longer the resistance the more our energies deplete.

If the stressor is still present over a medium to long period of time, then gradual depletion continues & the body is unable to maintain normal functioning & the third stage of exhaustion comes into play.

Extended or prolonged exhaustion stage can affect us mentally, physically & emotionally ~ where we might experience anxiety, low mood, confusion, insomnia, behavioural problems & addiction, nerviness, nausea, bloating, ulcers, skin conditions, diarrhoea, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, colds, infections, auto-immune disease, headaches, tension etc.

In stressful situations the production of adrenaline, noradrenaline & cortisol leads to an increase in heartbeat; increase in breathing rate; sugar in the form of glucose is released from the liver to give us increased energy for action; sweat is produced to cool the skin down, whilst our muscles work our senses become more alert; our pupils dilate; the immune system works hard to help the body fight any anticipated infections or wounds; & the muscles tense for action. Its principal is to get oxygen, blood & energy to our lungs & muscles so we can have the extra resources we need to ‘Fight or Flight’ ~ either tackle or run from the sabre toothed tiger! But alongside that our digestion shuts down, to prevent us from needing to eat or process food because it needs us to take immediate action around the sabre toothed tiger! Therefore our digestive system also gets stressed during prolonged exhaustion stage.

What is an Antidote to Stress?

‘Relaxation induced by our parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system’.

By learning how to relax deeply, fully & completely on a regular basis the natural calming influence of our parasympathetic nervous system can have a healing effect on stress symptoms.

It’s wonderful how our bodies have this built in parasympathetic nervous system to compliment the sympathetic nervous system; both being absolutely necessary for our health, wellbeing & personal safety. Our parasympathetic nervous system brings about an important phase of rest & repair, which is necessary to maintain healthy balance in the body:

  • Restore energy, to grow.
  • Healthy natural energy supply is replenished. Body tissues repair & grow.
  • Heart action slows down to a healthy rate.
  • Breathing slows down becoming deeper & calmer. Digestive system activates to absorb nutrients. Nervous system finds rest & recuperation.
  • Muscles relax.
  • Excessive mental activity slows down.
  • Positive emotional states arise ~ feelings of wellbeing. Energy restores.
  • Sleep improves.

Here are just a few suggestions of practices & techniques that I recommend to clients, which can help enhance & stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system:

Learning Self-Hypnosis ~ all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, so imagine being able to relax your entire body, set aside your thoughts & take yourself off to your calm safe sanctuary whenever you need to rest & recuperate, then you can ~ a Cognitive Hypnotherapist can teach you self-hypnosis or you can follow a guided hypnosis download.

Practice mindfulness ~ mindfulness is one of those ways of saying ‘being present’, being aware of what you do, as you do it, putting a positive flow into what you do, finding a sense of peace in your actions, thoughts & deeds. Taking things one step at a time, rather than our minds galloping ahead at 50 miles an hour! Slow down & be present.

Take up Yoga or Tai Chi ~ both have aspects of slowing us down, inducing our parasympathetic nervous system & naturally cleansing stress out of our physical bodies, whilst subtly working on our mental & emotional bodies too! Yoga classes tend to have a Yoga Nidra, deep relaxation & Pranayama breathing techniques to deeply rest the body, mind & spirit.

Meditation ~ a simple meditation to practice for beginners would be to find a quiet place where you can sit & be undisturbed for a while. Close your eyes & follow the flow of your breath in & out through your nose. Start with a daily 5 minute Meditation on the breath & gradually over time increase it to 10, 15, 20 minutes. This can be very helpful at the end of a busy stressful day, when you have lots of thoughts whizzing around & you need to help them settle for sleep. Just know that thoughts do pop up from time to time & when they do, just imagine them like soft clouds passing through & bring your awareness back to your breath.

Practice some Deep Breathing ~ our inhalation is our energy breath & our exhalation is our calming, soothing relaxing breath. So learning to slow down & lengthen our breath out, starts to induce our parasympathetic nervous system & calm us down to help reduce stress. In Cognitive Hypnotherapy we teach a 7 ~ 11 breathing practice, breathing in for the count of 7 & slowly breathing out for the count of 11. This can also become part of a meditation practice if you wish.

Talk to someone ~ they say a problem shared is a problem halved, so communicate & find support from family, friends, work colleagues or seek professional guidance.

Go for a relaxing walk, stroll in nature or enjoy some garden time. Here you can practice both mindfulness & some deeper exhalations at the same time, whilst enjoying some space & fresh air.

These are all positive things that we can all learn to do & introduce into our daily lives to help us help ourselves along the way. Finding a daily, regular practice which enhances & supports your parasympathetic nervous system, will not only help you reduce your stress levels, but essentially bring about it’s calming, healing response to us physically, mentally & emotionally.

If you have been suffering from stress for a prolonged time, then Cognitive Hypnotherapy & other talking therapies can help you reduce the impact of any mental or emotional stress factors, enabling you to be able to reach deeper states of relaxation. It can also be an extremely effective way to help resolve stressful triggers from past events or traumas that affect you in the present.

Learning to relax is a practice, which takes patience, practice & time to accept & allow the body/mind that quiet time of doing nothing in a physical sense ~ but so much in a healing context!

So start learning to relax better now, & put stress into your past, with better coping strategies into your present day & future life ahead of you now.