. PSHEeducation | Stress is not the enemy, we are

Stress is all over the headlines and it saddens me so much that our children and young people are suffering from it too.
I don’t remember people discussing stress when I was growing up…Maybe I am wrong but it seems life was slower, easier and calmer back then. But now stress has become a huge issue - affecting people of all ages and all walks of life. I have and continue to teach stress management, meditation and mindfulness to people of all ages and have done since 2004.
Over this time I have noted the increase in stress levels: our children worrying about their academic levels and results, our young people aware of the pressures for jobs, us adults trying to juggle everything in our busy schedules.
But I don’t believe stress is the enemy… I think we are!
Stress is an important reaction and the body's way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength and stamina.
The events that provoke stress (stressors) make the body naturally react through a series of changes and these create the perfect response (a stress response). This ‘fight or flight’ response enhances and supports performance in a range of stressful situations, be they physical or mental.
So why are we the enemy?
Because our self-created modern world has now become a source of constant, low-level stress. Let me explain myself a little more…
So, let’s imagine you are in the wilds of Canada, you walk around a corner and you are confronted by a huge Bear (your stressor). Straight away your body will react (your stress response) - boosting your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, vision and more so your reactions are optimised. Luckily in this case, the bear doesn’t see you! Phew! Once the bear wanders off the stressor has gone, so our bodies once again relax.
This is a rather dramatic example but we are all familiar with those feelings. The problem with modern life is that we have filled each waking moment with small low-level stressors and the bear never wanders off – so to speak. Because we have constant low level stress it remains ever so slightly active over an extended period - not doing what it was designed to do. Eventually our bodies can’t keep up with this level of constant stress hormones every day so we become physically tired, mentally exhausted and maybe physically or mentally ill.
Now I am certainly not claiming to have cracked this one! I have a very busy life – I run my own business and have two kids for starters. But what I do know is how much better I feel when I remember to take time just to be.
I LOVE the saying ‘We are human beings, not human doings’ but I have to remind myself of this constantly! It seems our society is now in the throes of a pandemic of being busy – ‘I’m so busy’ this has become such a common saying – do we think we will be frowned upon if we were to say ‘I’m so relaxed’?
I have linked a 10 minute TED talk from a man called Andy Puddicombe at the end of this blog. He is an expert in Mindfulness and speaks a lot of sense. In the talk he mentions how Harvard have recently found that 47% of the time our minds are wandering, and not in a good way because according to them this type of thinking makes us unhappy. Let’s just stop and process that…that’s nearly half of our lives thinking unhelpful thoughts!
Mindfulness and meditation are often misunderstood as something a little bit ‘out there’ and thus it is often pushed aside but I want to try and do my little bit to amend this. I believe it is simply a term used to explain methods that are all about stopping and just being where you are right in the moment.
You don’t have to be a spiritual guru, a hippy, religious, sitting on the floor, cross legged, chanting, empty minded… you simply have to be a person who just stops and does nothing for a little bit of time.
I am a big analyser and thinker, this can be a good thing but can also be a very exhausting and negative thing because I never stop! I think about the past, the future, new ideas, my loved ones, memories, practicalities etc… occasionally I stop, breath, switch the incessant brain off and look around me, and when I do I feel so much better for it. In its simple form that’s mindfulness.
I would invite everyone to give it a try, no matter what age – if you don’t like it I won’t be offended. Me? Well, I’ll keep trying to find those pockets of quiet in my busy life because I know when I do I turn from robotic tendencies to human ones!