Stress and today’s hunter gatherer

Stress

Stress, stress, stress from morning through to night time. In today’s world which never sleeps there is a constant pressure to keep on pushing forward. Bombarded by social media and constant emails we work through lunch breaks and find less time for family and friends. We ignore nature’s invitation to rest and replenish and instead, driven by caffein and adrenaline we continue to overload our minds and bodies. Then one day that build up of pressure and stress has to escape from somewhere…

Time to de-stress

Top tip: every day set aside 10-15 minutes for you to just relax. Make it a habit like brushing your teeth. It can be anything you want from yoga to meditation, reading a good book to listening to some music, it’s your choice. It’s easy, just place it in your diary and enjoy.

Why?

Why take 15 minutes out of a day that is already bursting full of things that haven’t yet been done? Here are just a few of the reasons:

  • You will think more clearly
  • You will become more emotionally stable
  • Digestion improves
  • Reduction in immune issues and chronic pain caused by low level inflammation
  • Muscular tension drops out of your body
  • Improved hormone production 
  • Increase in libido
  • Reduction in blood pressure and reduced  risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease
  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep

Not bad for a 15 minute investment of giving back to yourself.

So what is stress?​

According to the NHS:

Stress causes physical changes in the body designed to help you take on threats or difficulties.

How does it affect us?

Stress can be split into good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress). 

Good stress causes us to get up in the morning, motivates us and causes our bodies and minds to adapt. When we go for a run or to the gym the ‘good stress’ causes us to get stronger and fitter. To sum up, good stress is the driver for our evolution and ultimately our survival. 

On the other hand bad stress is when we get too much of a good thing. Our bodies and minds can no longer adapt. The body which used to spring out of bed ready for a jog now hobbles off clad in support bandages and physio tape and the alert mind becomes foggy and confused. This is the bank account that has become overdrawn one too many times and can no longer support our spending.

How we evolved

Lets take a ride on time back to our hunter gatherer ancestors who would chase Sabre tooth tigers for fun. As they confronted these toothy monsters their primitive amygdalas would fire and their hypothalamuses would kick into action. As a result their adrenal glands would pump adrenaline and cortisol round their bodies to ready them for battle as their sympathetic nervous systems roared into action.  Blood would be diverted away from their digestive systems and into their muscles (after all who wants to eat when you are face to face with a  tiger), their hearts would beat faster and their pupils would dilate to take in all the peripheral dangers. In addition glucose would be mobilised from their muscles into their blood streams and they would prepare for action.

Today's hunter gatherer

Fast forward to 2018 and we are still blessed with a finally tuned nervous system however lifestyles have changed. The only threat to today’s hunter gatherer is a bit of road rage in the car park of Tescos or a mad dash for the last crusty loaf in the bakery aisle. Subsequently we have no avenue to expend our powerful internal chemical soup and our cortisol levels stay elevated. In other words our bodies constantly feel like we are under attack. Because we cannot differentiate between physical, emotional or nutritional stress, a looming deadline or a big mac on the way home is all interpreted as a big sabre tooth tiger staring us between the eyes. The consequences of loosing our physical fight or flight reactions for today’s warrior are:

  • chronic inflammation and pain
  • digestive issues
  • immune system issues
  • weight gain
  • hormonal issues
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes 
  • depression
The power of your mind​

Imagine now being at the cinema watching your favourite horror film. Suddenly on chap with an axe jumps out from behind a curtain and you jump out of your skin. After that your hands sweat and your heart beats so fast you can feel it in your mouth.  Your ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic nervous system is priming you to survive.

A metaphor for stress

You  know it is just a film, with actors and camera men, but for two hours that film becomes real. Your imagination is allowed to roam wild and your brain struggles to differentiate between reality and fiction. Now imagine those films that we can all play in our minds. The oscar winning “I’m not good enough” film or the critically acclaimed “What if ….” staring Mr anxiety. These films are on loop 24/7 and just like in the cinema our brains struggle to tell what is real and what is imagined.  Consequently our adrenal  glands are pumping away all day long and any chance of rest and digest is long gone. In short we are left in a state of high alert against a  Sabre tooth tiger of our own making. 

What can happen if this film stays on loop? 
 
  • Indigestion or IBS creeps up from ‘now where’
  • Whole body ‘unexplained’ muscular aching develops. This is because chronic low level inflammation sits in our bodies waiting to repair us from the attack that never comes.
  • We wade through a cloud of brain fog every day that even coffee can no longer shift.
  • That yearly medical that was a guaranteed pass flags up raised blood pressure (…oops that might explain the headaches).
  • When our stress levels cause us to panic about panicking we end up in a cycle called a panic attack. For more on this you might like to read my blog post here.
So what can we do about it?​

Go back to paragraph one and plug in one of the following

  1. Exercise: If we are no longer using up our chemical soup in battle then it is time to get physical. Lace up those trainers, get outside and take your ‘fight or flight’ out on a good run or exercise class.
  2. Get social: Guaranteed to lower your blood pressure (especially if it is not just a trip to the pub)
  3. Meditation, yoga and breathing: Our sympathetic nervous system’s twin, the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ nervous system gets a chance to come out and play
  4. Sleep well: There are many reasons to sleep well but this is a whole other article on its own. Above all good sleep allows your body and mind to rebuild, repair and reorganise.
  5. Healthy diet: Remember stress can be nutritional as well. For instance that donner kebab on the way home may be adding stress to an already compromised system.
  6. Reduce caffeine: A double espresso can not only hide some of the symptoms of fatigue but in excess can also increase stress levels.
  7. Mental imagery: Take a moment and close your eyes then imagine a relaxing holiday you have been on. See what you see, hear what you hear and feel what you feel. Now imagine you are no longer imagining and simply notice how great that feels. It is powerful stuff
  8. Don’t be a perfectionist: None of us can be perfect all the time. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to be human.
  9. Create a to do list with a high, medium and low priority column. Being organised can help nurture good stress. Likewise being disorganised can make you stressed about your stress.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please feel free to share, and if I can help in any way at all, please do get it touch and lets chat.

Best wishes Dan

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Daniel Baines
Daniel Baines

Daniel Baines is an Osteopath, Hypnotherapist and movement coach who is intrigued by all things mind and body.