What Causes Your Stress?

As I deliver my presentations about Stress, I am continually reminded that the world in general thinks of stress as something that is happening to them from their outside circumstances. Their boss, their family, the juggling of life. And after the circumstances of this year there are more of us than ever feeling the effects!

However stress is actually the response in your body to all sorts of things including your thoughts, beliefs and reactions to both the external and internal stressors. We don’t all respond in the same way to similar incidents. Most times this is initiated when we are children. We develop a way of handling life’s traumas so that we don’t ruffle other’s feathers. This is to make sure that we are loved, that we are secure and that we get our needs met.  This is on the baseline on Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs.’ We can’t move to the next levels until we feel loved, safe and secure.

A couple of years ago I read, “Childhood Disrupted, How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Heal,” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. In her book she talks about the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) questionnaire and the research that had been done from different specialties, all showing huge correlations between the stress we have been subjected to as a child and the illnesses we present with up to 40 years and beyond later.  Two thirds of the 26,000 in one study said, yes, to at least one of the questions. The 10 questions in the ACE don’t all relate to the major traumas that we would expect. It can be low grade chipping away at our self-esteem. We develop ways of responding that we think work for us as a child and we continue to use them into adulthood. These experiences filter all of life’s experiences from then on.

But whatever the experience then, or the experiences now, our bodies all respond in the same way when we perceive the situation to be ‘stressful.’ We go into the ‘fight, flight, freeze or appease’ mode that everyone talks about. We need the physiological response of stress to just get out of bed each morning. What we don’t need is the 21st century ‘status stress,’ winding up some functions and shutting others down. If we’re going out to fight a grissly bear we don’t need our immune, reproductive or digestive systems. That is OK if we are going to come back to the cave and settle back to normal. It is not OK if the continuous stress disrupts the normal workings of our body, leading to disease.

What I have also learnt recently is that we all have particular biological drivers that are unique but similar to others. If I choose to do the right exercise but at the wrong time as suits my chronobiology, it won’t be as effective, because my body is stressed. It needs to be doing something else at that time, like eating or resting. Have you been on a diet that works with all your friends but not you? That could be because the food you have chosen suits their biology but stresses yours. Am I striking a chord?

We are complex beings but the paradox is, there can be simple things that make a big difference.

As a 7 year old I remember throwing a fit at a teacher I adored. Showing strong emotion in our house was not approved of, so I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I carried this for 40 years until I had the opportunity to meet this teacher again. I felt compelled to apologise and of course you know what she said, “I don’t remember anything about that, and if I you had acted in that way I would have thought, a normal little 7 year old behaviour. And what’s more I thought you and your friend Barbara were great kids to have in the classroom.” I learned that day, not everyone is brought up with the same beliefs about life. And now that I’m an adult I can change my beliefs. I don’t have to stick to what my parents said, my teachers may have said, the media says! Research and science shows that our brains are ‘plastic,’ they are mouldable, they can change.

What beliefs are driving your stress and behaviour, that you could choose to change today?

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