Do you know you’ve been misinformed about stress for years?
Now’s the time to harness the power of stress and transform your midlife
Harness The Power of Stress and Transform Your Life
Is it true that stressed people die young? Or have serious health issues? Or need medication to survive stress?
Imagine if all you thought you knew about stress is a misunderstanding of the facts. Do you know there’s no such thing as a stress-free life? And you wouldn’t want one. You can harness it in a positive way, to enjoy a long and meaningful life.
The problem at midlife is that there’s so much going on. We find ourselves sandwiched between ageing parents, boomerang kids, falling pension funds, ill-health and the death of loved ones. We feel overwhelmed by the ‘stress and anxiety’ of it all. Yes, you want to know the secret to enjoying this second stage of your life, NOW!
Stress has become the go-to word used to describe anything we meet during our day. We use it far too often, without thinking of the consequences. If we stop and think for a minute we can define it in a different way. We get so used to having unresolved internal conflicts about such things as work, health, self-esteem, life situation or relationships. We blame stress for it, when in fact it’s our circumstances. And it is all preventable.
People often ask me ‘What are your secrets for coping with stress?’ I want to share those secrets with you. They’re not complicated, and I know they have a lasting impact.
The issue is everywhere. Take, for example, work-related stress. It’s where you will find the most statistics, yet it’s only part of our lives.
Stress: ” A harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them”. We all define it differently, so it’s hard to understand how we can produce ‘factual’ evidence: we can only estimate. The latest estimates from the UK Labour Force Survey (LFS) show:
- The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 was 488,000 cases, a prevalence rate of 1510 per 100,000 workers.
- The number of new cases was 224,000, an incidence rate of 690 per 100,000 workers. The estimated number and rate have remained broadly flat for more than a decade.
- The total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2015/16 was 11.7 million days. This equated to an average of 23.9 days lost per case. Working days lost per worker showed a generally downward trend until around 2009/10; since then the rate has been broadly flat.
- In 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill-health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill-health.
- Stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education, health and social care, and public administration and defence.
- By occupation, jobs that are common across public service industries (such as healthcare workers, teaching professionals, business, media and public service professionals) show higher levels of stress compared all other jobs.
- The main work factors causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety (LFS), as cited by respondents, were workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.
There is No STRESS!
Despite the figures above, I would argue there is no crisis. What you are looking at are figures showing that there is a gap between the expectations of staff and managers. We are stuck in the belief that this is how it should be, rather than resolving the issues. It’s an excuse for failing systems that need a complete overhaul.
The truth is: there is no crisis. I would even argue that there is no stress at all. Our fixation on it keeps us from doing things and living our life to the full.
What you are about to hear is controversial. Many medical professionals will disagree, they hate it when I say this: I have a solution.
Is Stress a Killer?
Most stressed people do not have shorter lives. Why do so many believe that stress is a killer? One reason is that the media, the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry operate from the unwavering assumption that stress is deadly. It’s a trillion dollar business so why wouldn’t they want you to keep believing!
Contradictory evidence that comes along is simply written off. Stress only correlates with increased heart rate, increased breathing, decreased digestive activity and the release of glucose by the liver for energy. We also know that the body has the natural ability to go back to its original state – if we allow it.
What we do know is that what are deadly and shorten lifespan are…
- Not understanding stress correctly
- Not changing our mindset
- Avoiding stress
- Not dealing with life events
“Simplicity is the ultimate of sophistication,” said Leonardo da Vinci. So let’s simplify stress…
The Stress Paradox
So for me, here is where part of the problem and the paradox are: we have ingrained in our society the persistent idea that life in the 21st century revolves around stress.
We use the word constantly. It is an all-encompassing word with no actual meaning. Life throws us challenges and curved balls EVERY DAY. Life is about the ups and downs. You only have to think of a heart beat with its peaks and troughs, life is the same. If it was boring and flat you could say you had flatlined – died!
The term ‘stress’ was first used by scientist Hans Selye who said stress was a ‘non-specific response of the body to any demand for change’. In his half-page report for Nature magazine (Selye H. A Syndrome Produced by Diverse Nocuous Agents. Nature (Lond) 1936; 138: 32). Selye needed a word to describe the accidental findings from his laboratory experiments on animals. He constantly struggled to define stress, once telling reporters, “Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows.”
That might surprise you, since we are all talking about stress. Sounds almost crazy, doesn’t it? Yet before Selye invented it, we didn’t know stress existed!
I have met many people along my life path, some get very ‘stressed’, others avoid stress and become mentally or physically ill, others have no idea what stress is.
Take these three client examples (names changed for clients’ privacy)
Jan rang one day, in tears because she had three weeks of ironing to do and it was stressing her out, she couldn’t function, no-one understood her dilemma and life was the pits. My suggestion was that if she has 3 weeks of clothing to iron it would be easier to declutter, remove that which no longer served and reduce the pile to a more manageable one. The ironing was, in fact, a symbol for the rest of her life and after much de-cluttering both mentally and physically she is better able to cope with the challenges life throws her way.
Mark avoided stress of all kind. He refused to deal with what life threw at him, no matter whether it was good or bad. His way of dealing with life’s challenges was to drink alcohol. His wife walked out and left him, he alienated his children, got into debt and buried his head in the sand. It took a near-death experience for him to seek help to begin the slow journey back to balance. By taking the time to ditch mental and physical baggage he was able to let go and find meaning in his life. He now helps others deal with separation and alienation.
,Keith came to me because he felt stressed at work. We worked on the way he mentally approached life’s challenges and asked the question: ‘Can I control this situation?’ Keith realized that as long as he was doing to the best of his ability it was his bosse’s problem to deal with the deadlines. If he missed a deadline his boss had choices; accept the reason the deadline was missed, do something about it, or fire Keith! Whichever way, it was out of Keith’s hands. By letting it go Keith had space to deal with those things he could control. In this way Keith was able to free himself from unnecessary burdens and save precious time.
To reduce the risk of dying from stress you don’t have to remove yourself from the stressor, you just need to think differently.
We believe that stress exists and that it’s bad for you, in fact, that it can kill you. The more we read, the more we convince ourselves of the fact, and the more stressed we feel! Yet does it have to be this way? Is it not time to let go of Stress?
I immediately think of the fable by Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes, or beliefs that we have grown out of during our lifetimes, such as Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy. Stress is no different. I want to empower you to approach stress in a far more satisfying way.
Excitement and Anxiety
Take, for example, Excitement and Anxiety. Think about the physical reactions your body goes through when you feel excited: stomach churning, heart racing, a feeling of anticipation. Your physiological state of arousal for anxiety is also a faster heart rate and stomach sensations, yet with a feeling of dread. The difference between excitement and anxiety could, therefore, be said to be based in the mind. Excitement and anxiety are very similar. Which mindset do you prefer to choose?
Zanzibar versus UK
Here in Zanzibar the people live simple lives. They live in homes without running water or electricity. The average working salary is between $3 – $5 per day – yet there is something to be said for this lifestyle. It is super-simple, surrounded by a supportive community who help each other survive. The majority are super-happy people, with smiles on their faces. Greeting all passers by as if they are part of the same family.
The Zanzibar mindset is so very different from Western mindsets. In the UK many who close their house door behind them have never said hello to anyone in the street. They have no idea what their neighbour looks, like never mind their name. Rich or poor, it can be a very lonely place to live.
Government statistics tell us that, in 2016, around 7.7 million people lived alone in the UK, the majority were women.
Humans crave the proximity of others, connections. We are social creatures: cut off our access to others and we don’t function correctly. We like to help and we like others to help us. It’s how we communicate this need that can cause distress. Asking for help and guidance is becoming a dying art; we prefer to struggle alone in discomfort than to trust others. It is not healthy.
Switching mindset can be done easily with the right support, by asking the right questions and learning the art of listening in return. Being mindful of the narratives you are buying into is a good place to start.
You need Stress!
The problem is that today’s ‘stress industry’ tells us that stress is avoidable, that there’s only one type of stress, and the only way to deal with it and avoid complete burnout is to pop a pill or take a potion. There is an alternative: unlearn old ways and begin to understand stress from a different perspective.
I’ve had stressful situations in my life, and have many stories to tell, just like you. I always wondered why my reaction to stressful situations was different to other people’s. Without prior training, I’ve remained calm in life-threatening situations, though I see friends panic over the loss of a fingernail. I face stress head-on and have thrived and grown, while I’ve seen others avoid stress, and then apparently self-destruct.
In order to have less stress in your life, you need to actually have more of it in your life! You can use life’s discomforts to move comfort zones, learn and grow. It’s not all negative, in fact, you could (dare I say it) conclude that it’s just part of life.
What Others Say
Serge Doublet, PhD in The Stress Myth says “There is actually no conclusive evidence to show that stress (if it does exist) causes ill-health. (There is) a lack of scientific evidence of a connection (of Stress) with disease. If stress cannot be shown to be harmful to health, then its importance as a scientific object of study is lessened dramatically… The continuing belief in the legitimacy of stress can only retard our understanding of the relationship we have with events in our lives.”
Kelly McGonigal in her brilliant book The Upside of Stress defines three types of stress: Fight and Flight, Challenge Response, and Tend-and-Befriend stress. We should not regard these states as bad, providing we know how to harness them and use them to our advantage. All you have to do is work out which type you find yourself in.
Running away from stress is a lot more harmful than taking it head-on. Think of a fighter pilot or a fireman. Do they have a lot of stress in their lives, do they die young? Or have they dealt with stress head-on and become immunised to its effect?
I was definitely immunised against stress at a young age. One of my sailing experiences in my early twenties led me to understand this…
I had taken up the offer of joining a retired couple as they sailed up the east coast of England. We wanted to see how far we could get in the summer holiday. We didn’t get very far. Anchored between Lindisfarne island and the mainland we watched the most beautiful sunset and retired to our bunks. As the night drew in, and the darkness took hold, the tide also turned, and with it, the boats in the area.
A French boat anchored near us dragged its anchor. Within the space of a few minutes it became entangled with our own anchor and the boats collided. It took all night to sort out the mess.
As dawn broke beautiful and clear, we dropped anchor again and stopped for a well-earned English cuppa tea. At that point we realised the anchor was too close to shore: as the tide ebbed we would be aground within a few hours. There was nothing more to do than pull up the anchor again and reset it. That was when the real nightmare began.
With his wife on the wheel, the captain and I began to pull up the anchor by hand. We struggled to get it out of the sand, and just as we did, the man collapsed. He had a massive heart attack. I heard the death rattle and smelt the tea on his breath and yet I knew under the circumstances there was nothing else to do but give him mouth to mouth resuscitation until rescuers arrived.
We sent a pan-pan mayday call to the local lifeboat rescue centre, and 45-minutes later help arrived in the form of a Sea King helicopter. The winch lowered the medic down onto the deck of the boat. Captain and wife were taken to the nearest hospital. A doctor pronounced the captain dead on arrival.
I had to secure the boat and find my own way home. Luckily for me, the following weekend my father persuaded me to go out sailing alone in order to conquer my new fear of boats. If I hadn’t done that the next chapter of my life in Spain would not have happened.
Avoiding Stress is Impossible
Avoiding stress is a big myth – you can’t avoid it. Our fixation on avoiding stress keeps us from doing things. Doing things means meeting stress head on. Stress is not the crisis, it is not doing anything, not living your life that is the crisis.
Avoiding stress is like flatlining, you’re dead! Life is all about challenges. It’s not about stress, it’s about living. Life does not have to stagnate. If you want to know if you’re stressed, take the time to know thyself, learn what your core values are and then align them with your life. When you do this, surprisingly, stress disappears. It’s a lot easier to do this than to avoid stress.
Making Space for the Stressors
We can define a stressor as a stimulus (or threat) that causes stress. When events or triggers cause agitation we call them stressors. Modern life is ‘stressful’ because we make it so, through choice.
Most clients come for Stress Busting because they have crammed their life so full that every minute is accounted for. There’s no time for the unforeseen. No time to deal with what life throws at you.
These are some of the areas I help my clients alter in order to deal with life
- Doing too much
- Having too many possessions
- Not eating healthy nourishing food
- Using poisons in the home
- Not taking enough exercise daily
- Substance abuse
- Making other bad lifestyle choices at work or at home
- Not living in the moment
- Listening to the negative news
- Being surrounded by negative people
- Not having the right Mindset – Using negative thoughts daily such as guilt or regret, attempting to be perfect and low self-esteem
- Not being congruent with their core values
The Stress Solution
All of the above can cause ‘stress’ and yet each and every one has a solution. Keep it simple. That’s it! Alter all of the above one-by-one, and surprisingly you find you create space to breathe and just be. A place where you can concentrate on what truly matters in life.
For example, look at the average lifespan around the globe. On average, Japanese women can expect 75.5 years of good health, while men enjoy 70.6 years. In the UK, they can expect 70.1 years and 67.1 years respectively.
Why are the British less likely to live long and healthy lives than the Japanese, who tend to live in a one-roomed apartment? Says Professor Kenji Shibuya “Attitude probably plays a large part, along with their culture, education, climate, environment and the old Shinto tradition of purifying the body and mind before meeting others.”
It’s not hard, not rocket science, just common sense. Get help (if you need it) to become aware of the imbalance in your life, and make the necessary changes so that you have the strength to deal with life’s challenges.
Take the Challenge
Stress is a made-up word without any real meaning (thanks to Hans Selye!) We use it as an umbrella word to cover our inability to deal with life events. When we strip away the mask we allow space to…
- Build self-esteem
- Increase physical and mental resilience
- Enhance focus
- Alter Mindset
- Deepen relationships
- Strengthen personal values
- Change our beliefs regarding stress
- Increase our awareness about what others are going through
- Simplify our lifestyle
- Gain personal strength
When you take on the challenge of choice you are well on your way to harnessing stress and creating an awesome life!
Want some help?
You can book your Stress-Buster session today right HERE!
Kay Newton, Midlife Stress Buster
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