Unshackling the Straitjacket of Stress

By Nicky Rowbotham

It’s not stress that kills us - it’s our reaction to it.

We spend about 70% of the average day in a state of stress. This silent killer has become so normalised in our lives that our warped relationship with it no longer serves us. Many of us have glorified stress, wearing ‘busy’ as a proverbial badge of honour, and allowing it to pervade every aspect of our existence. Stress is a natural response in the fight for survival, avoiding accidents, and (if channelled correctly) to perform at our best. With that said, we are made and meant to rest, regenerate, and recover after a period of stress. As natural as our stress response is, so is rest. Rest emulates a natural wave in our energy patterns, which, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to earn. Rather, it is essential to our resilience.

Stress causes an incredible chain reaction in our bodies that can start with the seed of our thoughts, or even just the anticipation of a given event or stressor. So volatile is our response to stress that, even if the event never comes to pass, the stress reaction triggered by our anticipation thereof can have exactly the same effect as the event itself. We don’t always need a big event like a car crash or a deadline to trigger stress within our bodies. Factors such as feeling overwhelmed, having a perception of pressure, and the continual feedback loop of unfinished tasks, can all trigger a cascade of stress hormones that send signals to our nervous system, effectively keeping us shackled in a straitjacket of stress.

Many of us have made our homes in an always on, stressed out state – we live there. Our bodies don’t have an opportunity to rest and recover. It’s like redlining your car, flattening your foot on the accelerator, while expecting an infinite ride.  We wear out our resilience until our ability to bounce back has all the bounce of a flat tyre – all thud and no spring. Alison Cullen – a nutritional therapist at herbal remedy firm A.Vogel - commissioned a study to research the correlating impact that stress has on our immunity. She states that “Ongoing stress causes the body to put everything on hold except immediate survival.”

Health whispers…until one day it screams. Let’s not wait for the scream.

Too often, we address the symptoms and fail to dig deeper into the root cause of our stress. Choosing to paddle in the shallow end of the warning signs of stress will yield superficial results. Instead, we need to stop and ask ourselves: what is the story I’m trying to tell myself about my stress? What am I whispering to myself to justify my stress? What cost to my health and my life would I consider to be too much? Don’t wait until you have to pay the price. I had the luckiest escape of my life: I woke up and listened before the effects of pervasive stress on my health and life were irreversible.

If you’re struggling with managing stress or its impacts on your health, you are not alone. Many people I speak to say that they find it hard to talk about, especially because they are not ill. Rather, they are just not well. We need to remove the stigma around struggling with stress and stop the glorification of being busy and always on. For me, finding flow should be a state of being, rather than doing. A flow state, as referenced by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is often referred to as a state of effortless concentration and incredible productivity. A flow state is a transient state purposefully entered into, characterised by the pure enjoyment of being lost in the moment, or achieving a specific outcome - a constantly evolving process.

It is a state more present and permanently obtainable or accessible in our lives. It is not just in how we work, build, lead teams, or create, but also in how we manage our energy and exist holistically and congruently in mind, body and spirit. A state of easefulness and grace, where we are balanced and grounded; in tune and intuitive; aligned and in touch, whilst feeling like we have our own personal state of balance – whatever that balance means for each of us. By building awareness and being tuned into the state of your nervous system, you can incrementally take small steps towards maintaining the ebb and flow of an easeful life.

Be intentional about creating your own personal rhythm around your focus or intentions; being patient with yourself so that, if you don’t get it right today - you can try again tomorrow. Everyone’s lives and priorities are different, so step back from the notion that balance is a perfect equilibrium between all areas of life at any one time. Ban the notion of perfectionism, and create a life that supports you. What we say no to is just as important as what we say yes to. Say yes to a life that feels more like a gently unfurling and expansive hand, rather than a tightly closed fist.

Here are some quick and easy suggestions for implementing stress-busting habits into your daily life:

  • Take a few deep belly breaths. You don’t have to be a yogi or take up meditation – all you need to do is consciously breathe in and out.
  • Practise releasing the tension in your shoulders or unclenching your jaw - especially when counteracting a pattern or trigger event.
  • Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. I know it’s a cliché, but this one is still life-changing!
  • Practise turning off your phone - or at least your notifications and alerts.
  • Ground yourself in nature by getting your bare feet back into the soil.
  • Create a pause for potency: go on that holiday, be present, or take the weekend off.

About the Author

Nicky Rowbotham is a founder, business leader and author of the book 7 Steps to Finding Flow. She has built and supported many successful leaders, global teams and businesses in the corporate space over the last 16 years. Through her personal experience with stress, high performance and delivery, she launched a journal business, Inspired Change, and her personal brand as a platform to share her learnings around stress and the pursuit of a more easeful life. For more information or to get in touch, visit www.inspiredchange.co or www.nickyrowbotham.com.

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