Essentials of Stress Management: Part 1
Stress from a mental perspective is simply fear. If you think of a stressful event in your past you’ll probably be able to find the link. This perception is interpreted by the nervous and endocrine system to produce the stress response, “fight and flight”. This causes increased release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and “heightening” of the activity of the sympathetic part of the nervous system. In the short term this helps you escape lions from an evolution point of view. However it also prevents you from sleeping well, causes increased fat deposition on the front of your abdomen and prevents rest and repair in the body. This has been shown to cause many conditions and the links with cardiovascular health, mental health and digestive health are especially well established.
There are six modifiable foundation principles of health.
In the case of stress management all can play a role.
Stress is caused by perception, most of the time. By altering our perception of the stressful event(s) we may no longer be stressed by it. How simple!
Stress is normally perceived when something happens that we do not want to. As what we want to happen is determined by our beliefs and values we need to alter these if we want to alter our perception of an event. For example if you view someone verbally abusing you as harsh and aggressive it will likely make you “stressed”. However if when this occurs you view it as a lessen and think why are they saying this? Is there something I have done to cause this? Are they struggling to manage their foundation principles? Asking these questions alters your mental focus, it’s hard to be stressed when you’re focusing on something else. Incidentally asking your self questions is a way to shift your focus and improve your state of mind. E.g. how can I use this? What can I eat that I will enjoy and improve my health? What exercise have I got the energy to do? How can I free up time for my exercise today?
Similarly you can alter your perception buy making a comparison. If you can only lift 20kg maximum and you have to do this daily you will likely get injured very quickly. Likewise if you have only experienced the stress of a 9-5 work week then this will seem very stressful as you will be working at your maximum stress daily. Therefore having a really stressful event you have worked your way through can be a very powerful stress management tool. For example Nick Hall (2010) highlights how many ex-prisoners of war and people experiencing extreme stress when younger go on to be remarkably relaxed in adversity later in life. My father’s favourite quote on stress management comes from a sportsman of the 50’s whose name I forget. When asked how he dealt with the stress of professional sport he remarked, “Stress! Stress is when you have a Messerschmitt up your ass!”. This lack of stress that children experience these days (myself included) has meant that we do not cope well with low levels of stress. We have always had food available; hardship is not getting latest computer game! As a result many people of my generation struggle when exposed to low levels of stress both personally and professionally. Nick Hall suggests going on a really challenging holiday as this gives you a really tough week. Thus when you return everything feels much easier and more relaxing. He takes his family endurance cycling to meet this need. In contrast if you go and relax for a week when you come back everything seems tough and life just isn’t as good. Obviously this needs to be taken in context if your in stage 3 adrenal fatigue and have no energy at all then endurance cycling may push you over the edge into full blown adrenal failure. Nonetheless in practice organising a really challenging hike for 2-4 days, a sky dive or a Vipassana (prolonged period without much food whilst you mediate for several days, usually done in India) will give you a contrast so that your daily stress levels don’t seem so bad.
Coming next foundation factors 2-6!
Kieran Macphail BSc (hons), MCSP, MACPSM, Dip PT, NM, IIST, CHEK III, HLC II, CMTA