Stress: A badge of honour or a curse?


Stress is everywhere. Everybody is stressed, stressed out, overwhelmed, overbooked, too much to do, too little time….

But people accept that this is their lot in life. If you suggest that they should find ways to reduce their stress, it is always surprising that after crying out that they so don’t have time to spend an hour a day meditating, they are also defensive almost, of their stress.

Their stress seems to be their badge of honour, they wear their stress as evidence that they are busy and therefore important. They exist because they are stressed out, because they are too busy.

I have discussion with mothers who are so stressed they are getting sick, yet would not find a way to let go of their stress.

I have discussion with executives who recoil at the idea of taking time for themselves, and therefore reducing their stress level, because of what others are going to think about them….

On the other hand, I have discussion with successful people, who while extremely busy, find the time to take care of themselves EVERY DAY. And they are not lazy by any stretch of the imagination, but everyday, they run or they partake in their hobby or spend time with their family without feeling any amount of guilt. And they are successful in their job, in their life, whatever their career of choice might be.

How can that be?

I know that most people (the stressed one! :-)) will look at the situation and say something along the line of: Yes they have time, but they are their own boss…. Or another favourite of mine: They have huge self-discipline and I don’t….

Hum… self-discipline and being your own boss would be the reason why certain people carve out time for themselves everyday….

Lately, I met a consultant, we will call him, Z. And Z. had a very busy and stressful schedule, what with the travelling, the projects that never end and the deadlines. Z. had a family and he loved spending time with them. But he made it clear that this part of his life was encroaching a little too much on his professional time and he found himself more often than not in the wee hours of the morning working in order to finish projects after he had spend some times with his family. He described being addicted to the deadline rush. He admitted that if there was no deadline, he rarely looked at a project, because the other projects (with deadline) took precedence… It was almost as if being stressed out about a project was the only motivator.

Is Z. alone in this situation? No, so many people are driven by this sense of urgency. However as Z.’s doctor pointed out, it was not healthy. His cortisol levels were so high that the doctor was concerned about Z. developing type 2 diabetes and other health issues related to stress. Z. had a relatively healthy diet and there were little things he could do to limit his chance of developing Diabetes through a diet intervention.

Z. suddenly became motivated to reduce his stress load.

But he made it very clear that he was not to do any meditation (no time and/or interest) he had very little time and wanted immediate results.

After a few sessions, where we discussed the basics of stress and why he would be acting the way he did, I enquired what he did for himself, without any guilt. He thought about it and said, well I spend time with my family. I challenged that he explained that it was always encroaching on his professional time. After a little resistance, he said that he did not do anything else. So I challenged him to exercise regularly. It did not have to be an hour a day and preparing for a marathon, but he needed to exercise at least 5 minutes a day and break a sweat while doing it.

His reaction was comical.

NO, he said. I don’t have time. I am already not going through my to-do list and you want me to add one more item on it! And that won’t be only one item, I will have to add shower time and changing time… It is an hour of my day that you are asking me to find… That is not helping Joëlle!

Now, Z. was not the sporty type, so I knew I was challenging him beyond his comfort zone. I suggested that he could enrol one of his kids to do it in the evening or the morning… After a few more arguments against the idea, I asked him to humour me for a month and see what would happen.

So, every day, Z. found the time, he enrolled his 12 y. old son, who was very happy to spend some time with dad. The kid would wait for his dad every day and would get the 5 minutes of jogging in. Sometimes, they would go to the gym park sometimes, they would just run and be back home.

Mid way through the month, Z. was puzzled, he had more energy through out his day. He was also more focused at work and therefore more efficient. He still had a long to-do list but he was certainly more relaxed about it.

How could that be, when he had to be home earlier than normal and he would actually spend a longer time, not working. He did not run more than 5 minutes a day, he is really not a sporty kind of person. But he still did it because his son would not let him forget.

At the end of the month, he had a visit to the doctor who was really pleased by his cortisol levels result. They were well into the normal range.

All Z.’ projects were being done and he did not stay up later to finish them as well. He was still travelling extensively and he was still what he called a workaholic but he worked less! How could that be?

From a health point of view, when you exercise, you produce anti stress hormones which have a direct impact on cortisol levels. So I was not too surprise about this.

From the point of view of perceived stress level and efficiency in the work place, I was not surprised as well.

When we decide to take the time to do something for ourselves, we find ways to make everything fit. There is an element of re-prioritization in what is important. People become more focus, because they have that obligation (yes, taking time for yourself is an obligation) and they factor that in. We made it a double obligation for Z. because if he did not show up he would disappoint his son (As well as himself). And there was not way he would disappoint him. He sleeps better at night and need more time to rest, so he really had to change his work habit at work to be sure to do everything that was needed and still get the time for his run and the time for a little longer sleep.

He reported that he is less easily distracted at work and therefore more focus.

And all those elements are typical signs of an improved and controlled stress level.

Stress has a direct impact your health. Stress triggers the “fight or flight” response, which in turn has a direct impact on your body. When the fight or flight response is triggered, all “non essential” function in the body are locked down. So, digestion is stopped or slowed down, adrenaline is released in the body in order to get more energy in, which is not used and therefore required a high dose of insulin to control the influx of energy/sugar which is then stored in fat. Of course, your body also shut down your long term memory and your capability to retain new information, because let’s face it, in the face of danger, you don’t have time to think, you rely on your reflex, the basic, reptilian part of your brain. When the danger is gone, then, all those functions will resume.

But if you are constantly under stress, then you are constantly fighting against your body. And your body will get tired to be on high alert all the time. And so at some point, it will develop disease, such as hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, obesity, digestion problem, fogey brain…

So reducing your stress will actually have direct impact in your life. For one, you will start retaining more information and you will be able to retrieve previously stored information more easily. I know from the work I do with students that when they can access the information they have learned during the year easily, if they are able to learn more easily, they are able to either learn more, or to spend less time studying and more time doing other things, for same or even better results…

You will also be much more efficient and focused, because you will be less tired. You will not suffer from brain fog. You will be able to achieve greater task with less effort. Again, think of the potential.

And if you reduce your stress, you rest your thyroid and your adrenals and in doing so, you could also see an effect on your waist line!

So, really, it is wise and interesting to invest on a stress management strategy for yourself.

Is running the solution for you? I don’t know. Maybe it is actually for your slow down everyday. Maybe you want to read a few pages of a novel every day or even meditate… I don’t know what will work for you. But what I know for sure is that you need to start doing it. :-)

If you want more information about the effects of stress on your body and indirectly your life, then join me tomorrow May 11th, at 9pm, London time on line (Click here to claim your seat). I will be explaining the different effects of stress and how to reduce it.

See you tomorrow.



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