Chronic stress might be the disease of our time. Some would argue that it is the single most damaging factor in modern life, contributing more to physical, mental and emotional dysfunction than any other phenomenon.
From lowered immunity, increased weight gain and elevated blood pressure, to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, degenerative conditions, depression and mental illness, chronic stress and the resulting elevation in cortisol levels lower our life expectancy, reduce our overall health, and impair our ability to enjoy life.
You already know the modern lifestyle factors that contribute to this epidemic of constant stress:
• the overwhelm of a sped-up world
• never having enough time
• the dissolving line between work and home
• increased social media & technology
• increased feelings of loneliness & isolation
• economic and political uncertainty
• an empty, consumer-based society
But what of our ancestors? Didn’t they experience stress?
Most certainly. Long working hours are not just a modern experience, and the worry over having enough food or resources to get by will always be a factor in our lives to some extent.
Humans have always faced times of war, struggle, and hardship. Why then, does stress seem to be having a more profound and deleterious effect today than it ever has in history? And what can we do to counter these effects?
To examine this question, let’s back up a little.
The stress response is a natural and beneficial process and one that serves us well in moments of physical threat or danger. Hormones course through our bodies preparing us for fight or flight and replenish lost stock once we’ve outrun or fought off the danger.
The problems arise because our bodies don’t know the difference between a real threat and a
perceived one. This means that, even though there may not be a physical threat when we get another bill in the mail or we miss an important work deadline, our minds are telling us that there is, and our bodies respond exactly as though we were being chased by that tiger.
Since it’s not socially acceptable to run into the woods or fist fight the mailman, we have no way to process the flood of hormones coursing through our bodies.
Real or imagined, when we perceive something as threatening or stressful, it creates the same response in the body.
When this type of stress becomes constant, our bodies and minds don’t have time to regain balance, repair or rebuild, and the negative effects of stress begin to take their toll.
Interestingly, not all stress is bad; Eustress (as opposed to distress) refers to the good kind of stress that can motivate us and keep us productive when we are moving towards goals with hope and active engagement, and to the beneficial stress we experience as a by-product of exercise.
Strange but Good News
Essentially, not only can the stressor be real or imagined, but our perception of it as beneficial or painful can determine whether it will heal or hurt us.
This is really good news; if stress is a response to the thought of threat (whether real or imagined, good or bad), then it is not something that happens to us but rather something that happens within us, and is therefore entirely under our control, even when the situations creating it are not.
Challenging situations are bound to happen and modern life shows no signs of slowing down. How can we learn to change our perception of events and circumstances, and thus respond to them in a healthier way?
NLP (Neuro-Linguisitic Programming) is all about becoming aware of, and then shifting, changing, and improving how we perceive, process and respond to our experience of the world.
By implementing a variety of simple and effective tools and techniques, an individual can learn to observe and then adjust their perception of stressful events, and eventually change how they respond to those events.
When Dealing with Stress, Mindset is everything.
Our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes determine how we will respond to the circumstances of our lives, and whether or not we view them as a threat. Working to put things into perspective by challenging our beliefs about everyday occurrences can change our point of view and thereby reduce stress.
NLP provides several means of bringing about a shift in our point of view:
- Reframing in NLP is a way of redirecting our thoughts or beliefs about an event or circumstance, typically towards a more positive or resourceful meaning. Something as simple as asking solution-based questions about an event can often be enough to create a feeling of possibility where none previously existed.
- In order to change damaging or unhelpful beliefs, we need to know what they are. NLP makes use of the Meta Model to help us identify and transform problematic vagueness in our thinking and communication, which often reflect erroneous hidden beliefs and views of the world and our experiences in it.
- Changing states from one of being intensely ‘in’ a situation to one of a more external, objective view (dissociated) can often provide relief from anxiety and stress by giving us the perspective of the bigger picture. One can also learn to access other resourceful mental and emotional states, at will, when facing stressful situations.
- Anchoring – an anchor is some stimulus that triggers a specific physiological or emotional state or behavior, such as getting a bill in the mail and feeling instant anxiety, or thinking about having to go to work on Sunday afternoon, and becoming overwhelmed with dread. NLP techniques can help us create new, more beneficial anchors to counter such unhelpful learned triggers.
Tools, tools and more tools! There are a million tools out there to help with stress, if you apply them!