Chronic stress can have significant effects on mental and physical health as well as out behaviour, and this can, in turn can affect one’s work performance, relationships with family and friends, not to mention their self worth and self esteem.
Whilst most of us can relate to that sense of overwhelm when we have too much on our plate, the problem is that this state appears to becoming a part of our existence more and more, and what is worrying is that chronic stress is on the rise!
But – is stress all in the mind?
The APS has been collecting data on stress and wellbeing since 2011, and the most recent report from 2013 suggests that stress amongst Australians is on the rise:
There are reportedly significantly increased incidences of stress and distress and the stress is more moderate to severe compared with findings in 2012.
Australians also reported significantly higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms compared with 2012.
There are many other reports stating similar findings across the globe.
So – returning to my earlier question:
Is stress all in the mind?
The answer is yes and no! It is not ALL in the mind.
There is no disputing that there are stressors, life events that can impact us in a big way, and it would NOT be ‘normal’ for us to not feel stressed, BUT why is that two people experiencing the same event often have different responses?
This is where the mind comes into play!
The way we think about things and our beliefs about how things should be has a huge impact on how we react to stressors, and this, over time, affects our overall resilience in dealing with the challenges that life may present, be they personal or work-related, big or small.
I would like to share a story with you.
Two years ago I was travelling on the local bus from Nadi to Suva – I was on my way to visit my daughter who was working in Suva at the time, and as I hadn’t seen her for six months, I was pretty excited!
The bus was crowded as many local Fijians were heading back to their village at the end of the day. A Fijian lady named Veronica asked if she could sit next to me. We started chatting and she was talking about life on Fiji.
During our conversation her phone rang and after the call she told me she was using her daughter’s phone. She then showed me a photo of her daughter – a beautiful, vibrant looking young woman, who had taken a good job with the ANZ in Suva and had recently gone to India to study. Her vibrancy reminded me of my daughter, and she appeared to be of similar age.
Veronica then said to me “She died… 3 weeks ago…” Clearly I was shocked and taken aback – I actually thought I had misheard her. Here was this lady, seemingly going about her normal routines, but carrying what must be one of the most difficult burdens of all – the death of her child.
We chatted for a bit about what had happened. Veronica talked about the depth of her sadness, and then she told me how she took strength from the support of those around her. Her daughter had been diagnosed with spinal cancer.
Veronica then said that given the prognosis described by the doctors, she felt she was fortunate that her daughter had died sooner rather than later… as it meant that her daughter did not have to suffer the difficulties and indignity associated with the projected trajectory of the illness… and Veronica did not have to see her daughter go through it.
Clearly, no-one would ever say that Veronica did not suffer one of the greatest losses of all, a loss that would naturally cause untold stress and grief, but the way Veronica thought about the situation – taking the positives from a very negative event, had a huge impact on her suffering.
She also drew upon her beliefs (in this case they were religious-based beliefs) which helped to mitigate her suffering, enabling her to begin re-building her world, getting back into the routines that she knew, and re-building her life.
I have chosen to share Veronica’s story because it highlights how her thinking and her beliefs influenced her responses to an incredibly difficult situation.
Whilst her grief was stressful in the extreme, she was able to think positively for at least part of the time.
Many of us would still – at 3 weeks after the death of a child – or indeed anyone close – be struggling to continue their regular routines. I wondered how I would have handled what she went through – and I am sure some of you are thinking similarly!
Veronica’s story is an extreme case and goes beyond the bounds of stress alone, and it is important to acknowledge that there are many ‘justifiable’ cause of stress.
However, our thinking styles underpin our response style to the stressors we encounter – be they difficult life events, a build-up of everyday issues, workload demands or workplace issues, or the effect of the behaviour of others.
Individual’s respond to such events according to how they ‘believe things should be’.
These beliefs are usually built on what has been learned during infancy and childhood – we tend to accept and adopt the beliefs of those closest to us during our formative years.
However, thanks to neuroplasticity of the brain, we can unlearn these ‘learned behaviours’, and replace them with ‘new learnings’ that serve us better.
Statistics tell us that stress is on the increase, and stress that is not managed is not helpful for wellness, business, and the overall sense of balance in our personal world.
By understanding oneself better, and modifying the thought processes and beliefs that no longer fit for us, we will also manage our responses to stress more effectively. This in turn will lead to a happier, fulfilled and more productive individual and contributor to society.
It is do-able – there are support services available to assist…
You are able to do this!
Keeping life balanced..