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What’s Top of Your Priority List?

This week is part of National Stress Awareness Month, and I wanted to write a post that shared that focus and suggest some methods to help alleviate and manage the stress we all feel in our business sometimes.

There are many aids out there to help us stay focussed and on track with our work and our life, and even though we may use them all, sometimes that feeling of overwhelm kicks in when things get really busy or particularly challenging and it knocks us for six.

What causes stress?

Our stress response is an inbuilt primitive reaction to a threat to our existence. Once upon a time, it saved our lives. Imagine life as it was many years ago, a caveman, let’s call him Jimmy, left the shelter of his cave in search of lunch and with no Sainsbury’s or Tesco around the corner, he has to go hunting. During this time, he needs to keep his wits about him so as not be to be hunted down himself.

On the hunt our man finds himself face to face with a sabre tooth tiger. Jimmy makes an instinctive reaction, the primitive mind gives him three option, fight, flight or freeze. And his instant decision is to run away. With that decision to retreat comes the body’s reaction, flooding the system with stress hormones, primarily cortisol and adrenalin, enabling Jimmy to run faster than he ever has had to before, evading the tiger and reaching the safety of his cave.

Once safe, he recovers from the hormone rush, his heart still racing, palms still sweating and panting heavily. Slowly his body readjusts, the hormones are mostly burned off by the frenzied activity and he feels back to normal. Impressed with his speed to react and run, Jimmy feels quite proud of himself for not only outrunning the tiger but for staying alive, however there is still the issue of lunch for him to sort out!

Our stress hormones evolved for that very purpose, to keep us alive in face of extreme danger, however we don’t face such challenges to life and limb today. Unfortunately, our bodies have not evolved as fast as our societies in the past 250 years.

The Stress of today

Today we live in a mostly safe physical environment, predators such as sabre tooth tigers hardly ever roam our streets and the urgent need to run for cover is rare. Our bodies however, when faced with a feeling of distress or overwhelm still automatically provide that exact same rush that was once used to help us deal with our tiger incidents.

Bills, customer complaints, employee problems, any and all things can cause the same response in our brain and because we’re not using the hormones to drive an extreme physical reaction, they stay stuck in our bodies longer, and they are extremely toxic to our health. Stress not managed can leave us with long-term serious health issues to deal with.

Our dilemma today, is learning to deal with this. One way is to reduce the stressful incidents so that adrenaline, cortisol and the other hormones are not produced, and the other is to deal with it and release it when we get stressed.

Reducing stress

There are obvious ways to reduce stress, none of which include reaching for caffeine, nicotine, sugar and alcohol, which sadly is what many people reach for in the hope of alleviating the symptoms.

The regular practice of some form of disciplined relaxation, including yoga and meditation, can have a calming effect on our bodies and our minds.

We need to calm our mind and rest our body, allowing the body to realise its great potential to heal itself. Meditation and Mindfulness were recently endorsed by the US Congress as a powerful tool to help politicians stay calm, centered, productive and healthy.

You can also use the medical model which usually involves a prescription for a pharmaceutical drug that may help alleviate the symptoms but does not help you deal with the cause. And while this can make you feel better in the short term, it is by no means an ideal solution in dealing with the longer term issues.

Dealing with stress

When we even just think we are in a stressful situation, our body still produces that powerful cocktail of hormones to help us survive through a spurt of increased activity. And so it makes sense that we can use it up in the form of exercise, recent studies have shown that simply shaking our bodies like animals do when they’ve survived a potential threat brings down the level of stress hormones in our bodies.

I find writing about it can also help immensely. The trick is not to try to write when we are in the gripe of the hormones; we are much too agitated physically at the point. We can stave off a repeat event by analysing why we reacted like we did and creating solutions to the issue so it doesn’t take us into fight/flight/freeze again.

However you decide to deal with stress, being aware of its existence and the effects it can have on you personally is a great start. And always remember, you are never alone. Just start talking to a friend or write down your experience. This can be a great way to begin finding methods to cope with and even alleviate your stress.

So when you are considering your priorities, always make sure that you are at the top of your list!

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