Working with my clients from all over the world, it’s clear that an unreasonably high level of stress is becoming our “new normal.” My personal observations are validated by ample research that shows how saturated and over-the-top with stress our lives have become. Research has shown that job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation are the top causes of stress in the U.S.
To be more specific, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA):
- Two-thirds of Americans said they were likely to seek help for stress.
- 54% said they are concerned about the level of stress in their everyday lives.
- 73% of Americans name money as the number-one stress factor.
- 62% of Americans say work has a significant impact on stress level.
- 54% of workers expressed concern about health problems caused by stress.
You might think that if everyone has symptoms of stress, maybe it’s not such a big deal. Trust me, though—it’s a very big deal. After working with thousands of people, and from my own personal experience as well, I’m quite aware of the problematic symptoms of stress, which include everything from severe fatigue, migraine headaches, upset stomach and digestion issues, muscle tension, appetite changes, weight gain, emotional eating, insomnia, changes in sex drive, dizziness, brain fog, trouble concentrating, impaired memory, irritability, anger, nervous anxiety, teeth grinding, and more.
Why does this happen? When an event occurs that you perceive as stressful, your body has an immediate physical response. A natural “red alert” type of alarm goes off in your system. If the stressor continues, you may find yourself habitually adapting to this new level of stress. If this pattern goes on for too long, it can eventually lead to exhaustion. This Red Alert–Adaption–Exhaustion stress pattern can ultimately lead to chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and/or illness.
The problems don’t end there, unfortunately. In my private practice and group programs, I’ve seen quite clearly the fact that with any stress—particularly if it has persisted for a long time and has become chronic—it’s typical to also find depression and/or anxiety as well.
According to The World Health Organization statistics, an estimated 121 million people worldwide currently suffer from depression. The National Institute of Mental Health findings show that depression often co-occurs with anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects 6.8 million adults.
It makes sense that these mental health conditions may often show up alongside stress, since the body is completely interconnected with the mind and emotions. That’s why dealing with a health problem on only a physical level does not always solve the problem.
So what’s the solution?
When working with my clients—most of whom suffer from severe stress symptoms, depression and anxiety, panic attacks, chronic fatigue and chronic pain symptoms—I’ve found that using non-invasive methods for healing the mind and emotions often shifts and eliminates the physical stress and pain symptoms as well. With this in mind, I’d like to share with you a few strategies that I’ve found to be very effective in helping people break free of stress patterns and live a more pain-free life:
- Take the pressure off. As the APA study results above show, knowing we have a problem with stress as a society isn’t really the problem—we feel stress, can identify it, and know what’s causing it. Yet despite the fact that we seem to be acutely aware of how stressed out we feel and why, many of us actually try to do more—and try to do more faster—instead of slowing down and taking care of ourselves. (Believe me, I understand this tendency since I’ve done it so many times myself.) At the very moment when we clearly need to back off, take a long deep breath, and prioritize, we instead double down and try to do it all. This is not a healthy response.
- Learn to say no. As an alternative to continuing to go full-speed ahead when under stress, instead ask yourself: what is the most important next step for me to take? What really must get done, and what can be released? Stressful periods are a time to back off, not to push harder, because continuing to do more, apply more force, and stress out more, only leads to more physical pain, mental suffering, and emotional distress. In short: it’s OK to say no. Learning to step back is often the real key to turning stress around. If you’re constantly worried about what other people think, about making people angry, or about trying to be nice all the time, it can lead to your own unhealthy stress levels.
- Reframe stressful situations. You have more power than you think to affect the stress response in your body and mind—for better or for worse. Letting yourself spiral into negativity and despair about whatever is happening can make your body’s stress response continue, even if there is nothing really wrong except in how you’re thinking about something. While you can’t control the stressful circumstances themselves—whether it’s a toxic boss or bad weather—you can definitely control how you interpret and respond to such factors. Work on trying to see the big picture of a situation, not just what’s bugging you about it in that moment.
- Take time to breathe. One of the easiest things you can do to combat stress also happens to be among the most effective: focusing on your breath. Whether or not you try a formal meditation program, (check out “Meditation Made Easy” Here) you have the power any time to simply unplug from the problem (yes, I mean literally—turn off your electronic devices!) and do some deep breathing. There is nothing more calming than listening to your own breathing, in and out, in and out, like ocean waves.
The bottom like is that stress IS dis-ease. So the next time you’re feeling tense, or you’re holding your breath because you feel so anxious, just stop. Stop everything and ask yourself: Is it really necessary that I do this now? What is my top priority right now? What really must be done, and what can I let go of? Give yourself permission to say no, or later, or never…and watch (and feel) what happens.
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