I made a promise to myself.
An important, life-changing promise. Something so important it would impact my whole life. Such a monumental decision like this takes a lot of willpower, and I must admit it’s been a difficult promise to keep. Not since giving up sugar have I been so challenged.
So I decided to find a way to live a life with less stress. Not so easy, right?
But in our modern world, how?
How many times have you tried to live your life with a little less stress? Most of us, I suspect, view stress as just something to accept as part of modern-day living. If you’re anything like me, you’ve read enough about stress to know it has a detrimental impact on our health. But it’s one of those subjective things. How do we know for sure? What aspects of our lives, or perhaps more specific, our health, are affected by stress?
The obvious signs of stress?
Maybe for you, stress reared its ugly head after too many sleepless nights. Blaming stress on something or someone is tempting. But night after night, thinking or worrying about things we probably can’t change can take their toll. Or it’s your shoulders or your back? Easy enough to blame that on too many hours hunched over a computer screen. Sure, it’s computer whiplash!! Yep, it’s a thing! Or was it the third cold in as many months? Sure, it’s going around. Nothing to do with stress?
We can find a legitimate excuse for just about anything that ails us. We know stress plays a role in our health, and yet, we keep going, grab the occasional back massage, load up on sleep-inducing valerian. Fight the next bout of the flu with a good dose of vitamin C and echinacea—all good home remedies.
But even so, all this has left me with a lingering thought. Most of us know stress is a problem, yet we continue to deny its impact on us, both physically and mentally.
You’re not stressed out; you’re just busy?
Here’s the thing. The biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves and to our peril. Most of the time, our body can handle short bursts of stress, why it’s probably even good for us. But what about the ongoing emotional stress bubbling under the surface for so long you don’t even realise what you may be experiencing the effects of long-term stress.
Are these minor ailments little warning signs? After all, we’re pretty resilient, and our body’s quite remarkable in coping. Even so, our body will not be deterred; it’ll keep sending us little clues to take stock and deal with our stress? Are we listening to what our body is trying to tell us? I think we rarely do. These days it seems being stressed and busy has become a badge of honour.
But is it improving the quality of our lives?
As Ariana Huffington, founder of Huffington Post and author of the best selling book, Thrive, puts it.
We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.
Whenever we’re stressed, our body releases a hormone from our Adrenal Glands known as Cortisol. During short bursts of stress, like the last time, a sabre-toothed tiger chased after you. Or, closer to your reality, you failed to meet an important deadline, and your boss began to resemble something a lot like that sabre-toothed tiger. Cortisol is sent rushing to your brain, setting your cheeks ablaze and your heart racing. Of course, your life is not in danger, and usually, this feeling will dissipate. Everything returns to normal. Phew! But repeat this enough times, and you may be in trouble.
The effects of long-term stress, the loss of a loved one or the turmoil of a troubled relationship or other life-changing and traumatic events. All leave cortisol hanging around in your brain, causing long-term damage. In particular, your hippocampus.
The relationship between your memory and the Hippocampus?
Located in the medial temporal lobe of your brain, the hippocampus is an essential part of the brain and is responsible for converting short-term memories into long-term. A pretty important part of the brain and usually the first area of the brain to be affected by the debilitating effects of dementia.
A serious manifestation.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is often associated with severe and chronic stress. A crippling form of stress that’s just barely understood by most of us unless you’ve experienced it first hand. A type of stress most commonly associated with long-term cortisol in the brain. We view this type of stress in its extreme, but perhaps, the everyday stress and worries, when left unabated year after year, are having the same effect on cortisol in our brain as those who have PTSD?
For most of us, stress is unavoidable, and a lot of the time, if we acknowledge its presence, it can be treated and become manageable. It’s just a part of life, and depending on your personality, you’ll deal with stress in a completely different way to me or your friends or other members of your family.
I have a suspicion.
Even though most of us tend to view stress as something unavoidable or short-term, there can be times in life when it’s not so easy to manage. I have a suspicion, more than any of us perhaps realise, we may be putting our hippocampus at significant risk of long-term damage. With the rates of dementia set to skyrocket in the next two decades, it’s certainly something to think about and consider taking positive steps to reduce the risks long-term chronic stress and worry is having on us all; is having on our health.
I wrote about the effect of long-term chronic stress on the body a few months back; you can check the article out here.
Most days, I fail miserably at the promise I made to myself. Probably like many of us, most of the time, I don’t even acknowledge the presence of stress until something manifests physically. I’ve read enough about meditation and mindfulness to know the brain has a powerful hold on every aspect of our emotions and how we deal with life.
But what’s the point of a promise like the one I’ve made without action? Sure, I’d like to wish it were easy, the same way I wish George Clooney had met me instead of Amal. But alas, wishing just isn’t going to make it so.
So what am I going to do?
Well, I’m going to make a big effort to master mindful meditation.
But before I do. I have a few other ideas. Things I can start today.
I could sit in silence for 10 – 15 minutes every morning.
Step away from smart devices. Not even that ancient device called the television.
Less time looking down, more time looking up.
I could be kinder to my past self and forgive her for some of the dumb stuff she’s said and done.
And, lastly, perhaps not stress if I break the promises I made to myself.
And now you?
I’d love to hear from you. How do you manage stress? Do you have a mindful meditation practice you’d like to share, or have you found another healthy way to handle stress and worry? You can email me here.
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See you next time,