As we continue with April National Stress Awareness month, itís important to understand why the stress of todayís changing times is different and why many of the things we have tried to relieve stress donít seem to be working as well as they used to.
Itís obvious to us at the Institute of HeartMath (after twenty years of researching the physiology of stress and a leader in the field of stress management) that the majority of people in the USA have become resigned to stress as the new norm Ė an unwanted but necessary way of life.
Thatís because todayís stress is more persistent, due to the accelerating speed of life and constant change. Todayís stress is often a result of mental and emotional overload, and uncertainty about the future. Stress is our bodyís way of signaling we are out of balance and likely to make poor choices or compromise our mental, emotional or physical health.
Todayís Stress Effects
Until the turn of the millennium, stress was considered a major problem only after a life crisis. But the stress of todayís times is not a single incident type of stress that naturally follows trauma, illness, house foreclosure, work layoff, divorce, death of a loved one, or other major life event.
Up Next – More on Stress
Day-to-day life before the turn of the millennium was also different for most of us. It used to be that we had more space between events, like eating, sleeping, working, spending time with family and hobbies. We had time to unwind and recoup from stress. We could go on vacation and not worry about all the emails that will pile up so high that we donít even want to take the vacation. Advances in technology have enabled us to constantly multi-task, take on more and more to do, and stay hyper-connected. Add to that the media, which continuously broadcasts news generating stress waves across the planet, adding to personal stress levels.
Instead of addressing the problem of todayís stress, most people are focusing on the ailments and chronic diseases that persistent stress leads to and the cost. The American Institute of Stress reports that 70-90% of visits to primary care physicians are due to stress-related complaints. If the cause of stress isnít addressed, many of those complaints cascade into more serious illnesses, then the physician refers us to a costly specialist.
We gloss over stress when we think there isnít much we can do about it. With all the debate on health care reform and now the Supreme Court weighing in on the health care reform law, very little attention is being spent on what to do about stress.
Coming up – Reasons and Excuses
Public health organizations and publications are sounding the alarm but few in government seem to be listening. Norman Anderson, CEO of the American Psychological Association (APA) says, ďStress could easily become our next public health crisis.Ē An APA survey found that 33% of Americans reported suffering from extreme stress and half of those reported high levels of stress at least 15 days per month. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that workplace stress is as bad for your heart as smoking and high cholesterol. And the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported that employees with high stress have 46% higher health costs!
Some Reasons and Excuses
Even though stress impacts health, relationships, career and quality of life, many people donít connect the dots. They arenít conscious of the impact that stress is having on them. Others associate stress and exhaustion with hard work and are proud of it.
In the workplace, one reason why stress isnít being effectively addressed is that many employers still believe that stress is essential for high performance and productivity, even though study after study have found that workers under emotional stress produce less. It is well established that stress interferes with memory, concentration, judgment and decision making. The Centers for Disease Control substantiated this with data showing that stress is the single highest cause of worker absenteeism, double that of all other illnesses and injuries.
Taking Personal Responsibility -† up next
Another reason is that many executives confuse stress with challenge. Approaching a challenging situation with a positive attitude is healthy. But letís face it. When most employees talk about stress around the water cooler, they are referring to an ongoing distress and overload that is unhealthy and unproductive.
Perhaps the biggest reason why many executives gloss over stress is they donít know what to do about it. They canít change the economy and they have financial pressures. So they offer brown bag lunches with a stress management coach who tells people to take breaks, balance work and family, eat healthy and sleep more. Of course these are important, but many employees feel these are impossible-to-difficult to do with all they have on their plate, so they resign to staying overloaded and stressed.
In todayís changing times, we have to take personal responsibility for our stress. No one is going to do it for us. There are many helpful interventions for stress, but most provide only temporary relief. A massage and aromatherapy can feel wonderful tonight, but then youíre back in the stress bath tomorrow. Todayís stress is different and we have to learn how to manage it — from the inside-out.
Tips – up next
Here are two tips from HeartMath that have worked for thousands of people:
Tip 1 – Heart-Focused BreathingTM – Reduce Stress and Anxiety
HeartMath research has shown that heart-focused breathing can help you quickly reduce stress. Itís especially helpful during times of crisis, or whenever you experience anger, anxiety or emotional overload. Heart-focused breathing exercises help you shift stress-producing attitudes and reset your stress set point.
Itís easy to do and takes only a few minutes .Just imagine your breath passing in and out through your heart area or the center of your chest. Envision yourself taking a time out to refuel your system by breathing in an attitude of calm and balance (like breathing in an emotional tonic to take the rough edges off). The key to making this exercise effective is to generate the true feeling of calm and balance as you breathe in and out through your heart area. You can substitute calm and balance at times with breathing the feeling of appreciation or compassion (or whatever soothing attitude you choose to breathe). This can be done in a quiet place or while walking, jogging, and even in a conversation once you get familiar with it. Itís very helpful for reducing anxiety, anger and mild depression. Read about more Attitude Replacements.
For More Tips – see following page
Tip 2 – Decrease Drama
Another effective way to help stop energy drain from stress and reduce anxiety is to practice not feeding ďdramaĒ in your thoughts and conversations. When we constantly spin thoughts of blame, anger and ďdoom and gloomĒ projections about the future, it increases drama, which always makes things worse. Adding drama to a situation blinds our intuitive discernment, which we need to find the most effective ways to navigate through challenges. Start by trying to decrease drama when sharing with others. When we genuinely share feelings from the heart with others, this reduces the tendency to keep amplifying and repeating the downside of situationsóand increases the tendency to strengthen and encourage sober support and solutions. Naturally, there will be some drama while expressing our feelings to others. But when excessive drama continues, it blocks solutions because it drains the mind and emotions, leaving us feeling worse. Practice reducing drama, but try not to judge yourself or others for creating it. Everyone is doing the best they can until they get more stable and secure. Try to proceed with compassion through all your interactions.
Try these tips this week and let us know what happens. Weíll provide a few more tips next week.