Is stress your new normal?
It doesn’t need to be.

How often do we hear a friend or colleague – or ourselves – exclaim they are stressed? These days everybody seems stressed.  And worse, it is becoming widely accepted that stress is just part of life.  But should it be?  And are you happy to accept feeling stressed as part of your normal life?  You really shouldn’t.  Stress has serious impacts on our physical and emotional well-being and can lead to anxiety, depression, and can further complicate existing health conditions. It can also be preventing you from reaching your full potential. However, with some new coaching strategies from the field of neurocardiology, stress can be relieved and managed.

Understanding stress

By definition, stress is a term used to describe the wear and tear the body experiences in reaction to everyday tensions and pressures. But what is stressful to one person may not affect the next person to the same degree. We also talk about stress being the body and mind’s response to pressure that disrupts its normal balance.  But what is normal balance for you may not be normal for the next person. This points us to the conclusion that, although we often blame outside events as the source of stress, it is our reaction to the event that actually causes stress.  For example, being stuck in a traffic jam may illicit an angry, frustrated reaction from one person, but another person may calmly ride it out – even though both drivers are late for a meeting because of the traffic jam.

Over time, our stress reactions begin to go unnoticed and unmanaged.  We simply adapt to the stress in an unhealthy way and accept that our reactions and emotions are normal behaviour.  We no longer recognise our stress reaction or that we are physically stressed, and long term, this can lead to low-grade anxiety, depression, and a myriad of other physical health conditions. It also means we stop being aware of our reactions and their potential consequences.

The health effects of stress

Stress is bad for your health.  And each year there is more research to support this. It can affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally – and it can further exacerbate existing health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, depression, and sleep disorders.

Some quick facts from the American Institute of Stress:

  • Three 10-year studies concluded that emotional stress was more predictive of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease than smoking. People who were ineffectively managing stress had a 40% higher death rate than non-stressed individuals.
  • A Harvard Medical School study of 1,623 heart attack survivors found that when subjects got angry during emotional conflicts, their risk of subsequent heart attacks was more than double that of those remained calm.
  • According to a Mayo Clinic study of individuals with heart disease, psychological stress was the strongest predictor of future cardiac events, such as cardiac death, cardiac arrest and heart attacks.

And stress goes beyond the physical reactions and responses.  Our thoughts and emotions have an important effect on our health and vitality too. Emotions like frustration, insecurity and depressing feelings contribute to our stress response and inhibit optimal health.

It’s clear that long term, uninterrupted periods of stress are bad. But can we really do anything to relieve stress?  We can’t always control what happens around us, but we can control our reactions and responses to a situation.

The role of a coach in stress management and relief

Interestingly, the link between coaching and stress management is closer than what you may think.  One of the key goals of coaching is to help individuals grow personally and achieve their personal and professional goals – and often what prevents individuals from achieving their potential is their stress response, or in other words, their emotional and physiological reaction to a stressful (or ‘not normal’) situation.

We often hear comments about a young child who doesn’t yet know how to self-regulate, but there are so many adults who have the lost the ability to do just this.

In order to effectively relieve stress it’s important to understand it’s not the external events or situations that do the harm; it’s how you respond to those stressful events.

A coaching tool that I often use is The HeartMath Building Personal Resilience process. Its primary purpose is to increase your ability to regulate and sustain composure and balance as you face the day-to-day challenges in your personal and professional life. This process focuses on increasing your self-awareness and building and sustaining resilience by enhancing your ability to more intelligently self-regulate your energy – and this ability directly affects performance and personal fulfilments.

HeartMath in practice

You can try a HeartMath® tool for yourself.  This one is called Notice and Ease and is designed to help us shift our energy to self-awareness and de-escalate our reaction to a “stressful” situation. Ultimately it helps return us to a point of balance where we can think more clearly and find a more balanced perspective.

Notice and Ease

Step 1: Notice and admit what you’re feeling.
Step 2: Try and name the feeling.
Step 3: Tell yourself to e-a-s-e as you gently focus your attention in the area of the heart, relax as you breathe, and e-a-s-e the stress out.

This is just one of the many tools available through HeartMath, leaders in the new field of neurocardiology where the communications between heart-brain-body for stress management are being explored.  You can read more about HeartMath or simply get in touch with me to discuss this and other stress management techniques.