By Bridget Edwards, Stress Expert and Author of the book Stress Gone! How to Identify and Reduce Stress Easily
Stress affects everybody; no one is immune to the effects of stress. In all aspects of life duality exists, and stress is no exception having both positive and negative aspects. On a positive note, stress is necessary for our survival and evolution as human beings – we learn through pain, suffering and stress. Stress is often a catalyst for change, as well as an early warning signal. Stress can also be character building, and can stretch us to achieve what we never believed was possible. Do you view your current stress as positive or negative, beneficial or detrimental?
How you react to stress is unique to you. This response is defined by your own internal framework, core beliefs, perceptions, attitude etc. Even the environment of your childhood and upbringing influences how you react to, and handle stressful situations. All these variables make everyone’s stress response, and the symptoms of stress, unique to each individual. No two people respond to stress in the same manner – for example, one person may find a stressful situation a thrill, rise to the occasion and thrive on the challenge, while another person may be completely overwhelmed by the same situation. Neither one is right or wrong; it’s simply how each person responds. We should never compare ourselves to others in stressful situations. Besides which there are literally dozens of stress related symptoms, which makes stress so difficult for the medical fraternity to discern and diagnose. There is no ‘stress’ rule of thumb, bar four common symptomatic categories namely, mental, emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms.
As an entrepreneur, know you are unique and how you deal with stress is unique too. Know your strengths and weaknesses, limitations and boundaries. Be realistic in your self assessment. Above all else, learn to listen to your body’s innate wisdom. Nobody knows your body better than you do – look, listen and learn – your body constantly provides clues and feedback. Stress is feedback. Listening to your body is arguably the most empowering thing you can do for yourself.
Now the negative, alarming facts about stress, which is of paramount importance - entrepreneurs sit up and take note. The consequences of continual and unresolved stress can be debilitating, far reaching, even dire. But, it doesn’t have to be that way, particularly if you have solutions and know how to deal with your stress effectively. Critical stress facts include:
- According to a Bloomberg study, South Africa is the second most stressed country worldwide, after Nigeria.
- In severe cases, personal problems and stress can lead to one becoming suicidal. South Africa’s suicide rate is high with approximately 21 people taking their lives daily. High stress levels are linked to anxiety, depression and panic attacks, which can then lead to substance abuse.
- Workplace stress, which accounts for the highest cause of stress, costs South African corporations an annual loss of approximately ZAR3 Billion (excluding SME’s). Stressed employees cost businesses far more than one thinks.
- Stress is responsible for approximately 90% of all illness and disease, thus known as the ‘silent killer’.
- Stress hijacks one’s ability to think logically, rationally, linearly and clearly. When stressed one cannot function optimally; creativity and productivity are thus adversely affected.
- Stress is a ‘dream stealer’ because this contributes towards inaction, procrastination, forgetfulness, memory loss, indifference, fatigue, exhaustion, insomnia, illness, disease etc.
Understanding biological implications is crucial in understanding yourself
The automatic fight, flight or freeze stress response, which is triggered by stressful or emergency situations, is completely necessary for our survival. This instantaneous stress response has saved countless lives, and on occasion enabled people to achieve virtually impossible human feats, like scaling a six foot wall in one leap or singlehandedly lifting a car to save a child from being crushed to death. Such is the incredible super-human power of adrenaline coursing through your veins.
In a nanosecond, chemical reactions are triggered by the amygdala, which is situated in the temporal lobes of the brain forming part of the limbic system. This instantaneous chemical reaction causes surges of adrenaline to mobilise the body into either fight, flight or freeze response, and in dangerous life threatening situations this is essential to keep us safe. Simultaneously this chemical reaction causes three very important and specific physical functions to occur.
Firstly, the functioning of the frontal lobe of the brain, known as the ‘thinking brain’ is temporarily suspended, and the hind or ‘animalic’ brain instantly takes control. This is precisely the reason why we cannot think clearly when stressed; we merely act upon impulse or instinct. This phenomenon is known as the ‘amygdala hijack’, and is vitally important for entrepreneurs to understand. When stressed the instinctual reaction is usually emotional, and afterwards we may regret what we said or did, asking ourselves the question, ‘What on earth was I thinking?’ The effects of emotional reactions can contribute towards silly mistakes, inappropriate behaviour, and making a fool of one’s self. Many people have lost contracts, jobs or destroyed relationships because of an ‘amygdala hijack’ where they reacted inappropriately in the ‘heat of the moment’ of a stressful situation. Additionally, the automatic ‘fight’ stress response naturally triggers angry emotions or violent reactions, which is why anger and stress are inextricably linked. This is so often misunderstood.
Secondly, the automatic stress response immediately suspends the digestive system. This enables all digestive energy to be redirected into the limbs for either ‘fight or flight’, maximising the chances of survival. However, the consequences of recurring and or chronic stress means most stressed people suffer from digestive issues and stomach problems.
Thirdly, the stress response interferes with and compromises the immune system from functioning optimally which is precisely why stressed people are so often sickly. The body can only handle so much stress before all defences become weakened, and you’re unable to cope adequately.
Sleep deprivation and insomnia are also common side effects of stress, which further weakens the body’s defences and immunity. Entrepreneurs cannot work optimally or productively with continued sleep deprivation. At the best of times, the body requires adequate, quality sleep in order to maintain health – if not the consequences can be debilitating, even dire. All the more reason a healthy, nutritious raw food diet is vital to perk up the immune system, providing optimal energy to cope with day-to-day stress. Furthermore, dehydration also causes unnecessary stress, including inflammation, which can result in aches and pains. Therefore, hydration by drinking pure still water throughout the day, instead of sugar laced caffeine-stimulating drinks is essential. Pure water helps calm and support the body, flushes excessive adrenaline and other stress chemicals from the body, and aids the brain to ‘fire on all cylinders’ so you can think clearly, rationally, and perform optimally. Caffeine, energy stimulant drinks and sugars are counterproductive – you’ll receive spiked high-highs and low-lows, plus have far more acidity coursing through your veins and digestive system.
Most people don’t realise that stress results in an accumulation of acidity, changing the body’s pH from alkaline to acidic. Disease and illness thrive in an acidic environment. Repeated stress, plus acidity from food and beverages, means you’re far more likely to succumb to illness, and in chronic cases a life-threatening disease. Not good news! But, for a driven, high powered and successful entrepreneur or executive, you now have the power in your own hands to make appropriate healthy lifestyle changes to support your ambitions, dreams and goals. Would you ever consider pouring sodas into your vehicle’s fuel tank, and expect the vehicle to perform optimally? Of course not!
According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘The first wealth is health’. Maintaining a healthy diet, drinking plain water and sleeping well isn’t a big deal compared to the detrimental effects of stress. As family, friends and colleagues rely upon your responsible lifestyle, pay attention to how well you treat your ‘vehicle through life’ – your body is your home and temple during your lifetime. Treat your body as you would a holy sanctuary, with love, respect, and nothing but the best!
Unfortunately western society considers stress a natural and normal part of our daily existence. ‘Suck it up Bubbles, and get on with it’ is society’s attitude. Easy tiger, not so fast! Today, we are constantly being bombarded by deadlines and over-stimulated by far too much ‘external noise’ with little or no reprieve. Literally 24/7/365 we constantly have subliminal and unnatural influences threatening our well being – and, this isn’t a conspiracy theory. External noisy influence emanates largely from all the obligatory radioactive techno-gadgetry that rules our modern day lifestyles – cell phones, social media, radio, TV, the internet, emails, billboards, noisy alarms, flashing lights, buzzing sounds, even traffic. Our human existence is being severely marred by the assault of constant noise, which is highly stressful. Our delicate, hypersensitive six senses are being brutally attacked, over-stimulated and overloaded; small wonder people feel frayed at the edges and stressed! It is virtually impossible to completely switch off or unplug from this all-consuming, unnatural, and dare I say, insane system the modern era has created, and we’ve become slaves to. It’s a choice to participate or not.
The tiny almond sized amygdala is responsible for our safety, security and survival, and can be likened to Africa’s endearing Meerkats who are hyper-vigilant reactive sentries on guard 24/7/365. What follows contains two critically important keys to understanding your innate stress response.
Firstly, the body’s stress response is exactly the same no matter whether your stress is big or small, real or perceived. So, those anxious, worried and stressful thoughts you have about future events is actually causing your body ‘stress-in-the-moment’ – even though the event hasn’t actually occurred, your imagination triggers the stress response, sending adrenaline coursing through your veins. As entrepreneurs, be careful what you think about – positive, upbeat thoughts are critical for stress-free living. Stop listening to negative, stress-inducing news.
Secondly, the amygdala picks up on all impulses received via the six senses, most of which occurs well below our conscious awareness. This is the real danger of stress. Since the amygdala is continually responding to impulses you aren’t consciously aware of, it is imperative to ensure your environment supports your highest good. All six senses require calm consideration to support your body in dealing with the continual onslaught of daily stress. Ensure you spend much quality time outside of work in tranquil places, preferably in nature, or listen to relaxing music, meditate, take a soothing hot lavender bath, exercise or play with your pets, cuddle and hug your family etc – these simple, inexpensive tools are all examples that can have a soothing effect on stressed, frayed nerves.
Adrenaline junky entrepreneurs, yes stress can play an important role in driving towards accelerated successes and achieving ‘big, hairy and scary’ goals but be wary of the unnecessary stress you may be putting your body through, and the toll this takes. Chronic fatigue and adrenal burnout have devastating long-term consequences, and are a struggle to restore. Today people wear stress as a trendy ‘badge of honour’. How often do we hear people reaffirming how ‘busy’, ‘hectic’ and ‘stressed’ their lives are? It’s as if the busier one’s life is, the more important or successful one appears. People seldom admit to their lives being carefree and fabulous. Besides, most people feel guilty if their lives are stress free. People actively seek out ‘things to do’ in order to consciously occupy themselves, instead of relaxing quietly and rejuvenating. Moderation is vital; find your balance in everything you do.
Tips to apply during stressful situations – breathe deeply in and out through your nose, stay focused on immediate tasks, drink plenty water and delegate.
Stress is both a perception, and a choice. Your attitude will determine how you choose to support your health and well being to enable your success as an entrepreneur. Bridget’s comprehensive book, Stress Gone! How to Identify and Reduce Stress Easily covers beneficial information, exercises and techniques to adequately and effectively cope with stress.
Bridget Edwards is a South African entrepreneur, author and emotional change catalyst. She is passionate about helping people overcome their emotional obstacles and personal challenges. She does this through speaking engagements, training (workshops), and private consultations. Bridget has authored two self-help books, Anger gone! How to Easily Defeat Anger, and Stress Gone! How to Identify and Reduce Stress Easily. She continues to write self help programs to assist people in dealing with their personal obstacles. www.Bridget-Edwards.com
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