Stress - A 21st century buzzword, but what is stress exactly?
Stress - On a purely physical level, is simply the release of adrenaline into the body. This is actually something which evolved to keep us alive – the fight-or-flight response, a survival mechanism which we inherited from our distant ancestors. When the brain perceives a threat, adrenaline instantly surges into the system. This sets the heart and lungs pumping and tenses the muscles, priming you to fight for your life, or run away as fast as you can before something eats you!
This is a very useful thing to have in a world full of saber-toothed tigers and other predators. However, the instinct is still with us today, even though most of us don’t face genuine life-or-death threats on a daily basis. Problems arise because this natural survival response is triggered when it isn’t needed, often in response to imaginary threats. So although a demanding job won’t literally kill you, like a saber-toothed tiger would, the brain feels threatened by it just the same and activates the fight-or-flight response.
Is Stress Good Or Bad?
Stress isn’t necessarily good or bad – it’s just a question of degree. Think about a stress scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stressed and flooded with adrenaline that you can possibly imagine being. This would be a very good level of stress to have if you’re running away from a wild animal. It’s not such a good level of stress to have if you’re going for a job interview. That might be a 3. Generally speaking, we might say that 4 is probably the highest point on that scale that you’d need for everyday life.
So when we talk about stress, we’re really talking about using too much stress for the situation at hand. The effects of this can be pretty damaging over time. As stress is a survival mechanism, one of the things it does is switch off or suppress all of those things that aren’t immediately necessary for survival – digestion, the immune system, the libido, even the ability to think clearly.
In the short term, the body is able to cope with this. However, if high levels of stress persist over time, then these vital natural functions remain suppressed. This is why severely stressed people suffer more infections and illnesses, are prone to stomach problems and IBS, and often say that they can’t think straight whilst being afflicted by negative thoughts - creating a vicious cycle of cause and effect; where our mind is like a garden and our thoughts are the seeds... we can either harvest flowers or weeds. Good thoughts give us blooming happiness like flowers. Negative thoughts can yield stress and tension like unwanted weeds, which destroys both the garden and its plants.
So how can hypnosis help with stress?
First of all, it’s a relaxing experience in itself. Secondly, because stress has more to do with our reaction to events than the events themselves, we can use hypnosis to train ourselves to deal with and react to stress in a more helpful way, identify the causes of stress, change behaviours by learning new techniques and approaches, and even help with ego strengthening.
Hypnosis can be used for more complex matters of stress and anxiety such as insomnia, pain, fears and phobias, overcoming undesirable habits like smoking, drinking, drug addictions and overeating. It also helps in lowering blood pressure, normalising pulse, respiration and perspiration whilst innovating a healthy lifestyle.
A Tool for Life
Taking just a few minutes each day to practice self-hypnosis will reduce the impact of an overworked stress response. This can be quite easily taught in your therapeutic session as self-hypnosis is a fundamental and universal human trait (maybe I'll write about this the next time).
Quick tip for Stress Relief
One very quick way to relieve stress is by paying attention to your breathing. Just as we have a fight-or-flight mechanism, so we have a natural relaxation mechanism – the parasympathetic nervous system – and this can be activated by simply breathing out for longer than we breathe in. You can try breathing in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11, or in for 5 and out for 9, whichever feels most comfortable to you.