Ever wondered why we have Stress Awareness Month?

The word stress wasn’t even used until 1970s but anxiety, trauma, depression and mental health conditions are not new and form part of our evolutionary process, helping us cope with danger and threats. The difference today is that 73% of the UK workforce are suffering from chronic stress. Poor mental health on this scale  is a newer and growing concern.

Although as humans we are constantly evolving and the newer, cleverer, thinking bit of the brain continues to develop, the original primitive part which runs the autonomic, reactive system continues to protect us through our reactions to a fast-paced modern world.

These reactions can include:

  • Depression: We damp down our feel-good chemical production when we feel depressed, inducing sleep/sluggishness to conserve energy until the situation changes (this is recognised as the primitive ancient response to snow, ice and danger to keep us in the cave until we could go out to hunt, feed and clothe ourselves)
  • Anxiety: We stay on high alert when we perceive the environment as dangerous (now, no longer the marauding sabre-tooth tiger but potential threats to livelihood, ego and safety). In extreme cases anxiety can become panic attacks
  • Anger: When we feel threatened or need to defend ourselves, we use anger – it makes us appear stronger, louder and bigger – to scare or fight off the would-be attacker

Three basic innate, hard-wired reactions underpin patterns of behaviour so that we approach life with caution, forming a sort of early warning system and makes complete sense, for our ancestors. However, today’s enemies and dangers are more likely to be the dizzying pace of change, huge volume of information and incessant intellectual demands.

It is easy to see why sleep is impacted, people fly off the handle, make mistakes and can be ill humoured, bad tempered and generally irritated and upset – we are not at our best when we are stressed.

Most people don’t have the luxury of selling up and going off to run a goat farm in Wales for peace, quiet and a life surrounded by nature (which is how we lived until the industrial revolution) so what can you do? Again, back to basics.

Six simple stressbusters:

  1. Do anything and everything you can to improve your sleep, both quality and quantity. That could mean going to bed earlier and stopping the ‘doom scrolling’ at least one hour, but preferably two hours, beforehand.
  2. Walk more – go for a walk at lunchtime, get up earlier to fit one in, get off the tube/bus a stop earlier and walk the difference. Listen for the sound of nature, the birds, the breeze, intentionally take note of the changes in the season and be in the moment.
  3. Laugh more – find things to make you laugh, look at old photos, ring up someone who is always funny, watch stuff on YouTube. Laughter and sleep are nature’s cures for most things.
  4. Be more mindful about what you eat – cut down on processed foods and eat raw if possible. Itis now summer and much easier to do – salads, fruit, grated vegetables.
  5. Drink more water and cut out fizzy drinks (which are one of the biggest contributors to IBS, another stress symptom)
  6. Make your mind up to enjoy making these changes and your body, mind and relationships will all thank you.

Paula Ruane is a member of the IoD, as well as a stress specialist, resilience trainer and speaker.

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