How do I manage stress?…is probably one of the most common questions we get asked in the clinic. Stress is of course, very subjective and can be difficult to measure yet studies have shown that 60 – 80% of primary care doctor visits are related to stress (1). Other sources across the internet claim that 90-95% of all disease is stress related. Often it will encompass symptoms of anxiety, exhaustion, depression and terms like burn-out or break-down are used when referring to extreme stress. Stress affects us mentally and emotionally whilst having an unmistakable impact on our physical body.
So what is stress exactly?
Medicine Net’s definition – ‘In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the "fight or flight" response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems’
Stress undeniably affects the entire body impacting energy levels, mood, appetite. All body systems can be affected to varying degrees and from person to person with symptoms that could include headaches, irritability, anxiety, grinding teeth, heart problems, digestive disorders, weight gain or weight loss, decreased libido, muscle tension and pain.
When we consider the lives that we lead in today’s day and age, it is not that far-fetched really, that stress would be the cause of 90-95% of illness and disease. And if this is the case, our approach to illness and disease needs to dramatically change and we need to be asking questions about stress and going deeper with understanding the cause.
Let’s think about it– daily stresses of time pressure, work deadlines, family commitments, family dynamics, eating sugar and other junk, not enough sleep or quality sleep, rent or a mortgage to pay, children to feed, school fees to pay, feeling lonely, feeling misunderstood, feeling frustrated, eating on the run, not eating at all, over-eating, sick family members, YOU being sick, demanding friends, not feeling enough, can’t seem to say no…and so the list goes on. This is life!
What we tend to do is try to ‘manage’ these situations in order to ‘manage’ the stress. Or we try to find some solace in amongst it all that gives us some time-out so we can take a breather before heading right back in there. It’s exhausting just reading it let alone living it!
So, what’s the anti-dote? We ask ourselves and our clients this question all the time. What do we want more than anything that we are not getting?
The simple answer is – Connection.
Yes, connection. In a world that is technically more advanced and connected than ever before, we are failing dismally at connection with each other and more importantly, connection with ourselves. Illness and disease is synonymous with stress. We know that. And if stress is caused by lack of connection, then illness and disease is synonymous with dis-connection. Right?! We cannot look at treatment and healing without addressing one’s connection to themselves, the relationship that trumps all others and the relationship that is the foundation for all other relationships.
As far as we can see, 'fixing and managing' in isolation in the way of health-care is not the answer. It is a step towards relief and reprieve, however it does not offer true healing. When we include connectionin a treatment plan, we are getting back on track. However, the connection needs to be true. It needs to come from our inner-most, the part of us that is forever un-changeable; that is delicate and divine; that is loveliness personified and powerful beyond measure. Yes, we are all of that…and more.
So then, is it possible that stressis simply, our deviation away from the very core of our being? And if so, we best do our best to get back there :)
1) JAMA Internal Medicine. 2013;173(1):76-77