Stress. It can be defined as a situation that causes discomfort and distress for a person and can lead to other mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression a well as contribute to physical illness such as cardiovascular diseases.
In 2015, the Australian Psychological Society conducted the National Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey. Some of the key findings were:
- 35 per cent of Australians report having a significant level of distress in their lives;
- 26 per cent of Australians report above normal levels of anxiety symptoms;
- 26 per cent of Australians report having moderate to extremely severe levels of depression symptoms; and
- In 2015, anxiety symptoms were the highest they have been in the five years of the survey.
So what does stress do? At the base level, it initiates the Fight or Flight response. So whats that mean? Well it gives your nervous system a little can of Red Bull which lets you get more done in a shorter amount of time & improve performance. Well that sounds like a good deal? Sure does… except it comes with a catch… kinda like Red Bull. After the up there must come a down.
The fight or flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.
In the wild, when we were young & naked in the jungle, it used to go something like this. You’re off in the jungle, looking for tasty jungle fruits when you run into a tiger. After soiling your loin cloth, your body goes into overdrive and the fight or flight response kicks in. These are the options that happen:
- You fight. You win! You get a fancy new rug for the jungle pad. Stress gone.
- You fight. You lose. Tiger eats you. Stress gone.
- You flight. You get away & live to frolick another day! Stress gone.
- You flight. You don’t get away. Tiger eats you. Stress gone.
Now thankfully we don’t have to worry about tigers in jungles anymore so that’s good news. What we do have though, is a stress that is a but more insidious. You see, even though we were at threat of being eaten, our fight or flight response could help get us out of danger or it wouldn’t… either way, there was an end to our stress.
Work deadlines, family commitments, relationship issues… there’s no cessation of potential “tigers” in life to cause us stress. Its like having that real life tiger just within striking distance… not close enough to eat you and end it all but close enough to keep you fearful… constantly on your toes.
So what can we do? Breathe. That’s it. Well thanks genius, I do that already, I hear you say. Yes you do… too quickly. The fight or flight response causes your heart rate and breathing rate to increase keeping your body in a state of excitation. Becoming aware of your breathing and consciously slowing it down, is enough to let your body know its safe from that “tiger”. We’ll talk more about how it works in a future blog about breathing but until then here’s a video of Dr Andrew Weil performing a really effective breathing exercise.