It also harms employee productivity inhibiting company growth. We derive a complete sense of wellbeing while in a state of homeostasis. That state reflects a balance between the parasympathetic (digest & rest) and sympathetic (fight or flight) states of the nervous system. Too much doing creates stress peaks which eventually flat line into our norm because we don’t get enough rest and relaxation. That puts us in chronic stress mode leading to numerous health problems.
The answer for both mental & physical health, which are intrinsically linked together, is true Rest & Relaxation (R&R). We’ve forgotten how to experience that. Neuroscience shows the importance of peaking in both stress AND rest ideally with plenty of time in between. Really we ought to live like athletes….(1) prepare: train, nurture (2) act: run (3) celebrate: completion (4) recover: rest. It’s the same as we did thousands of years ago, keep watch, run from lion, enjoy the relief of surviving and sit down by a tree to relax and digest some food, giving us the energy needed to live and run from a future attack.
Chronic stress prevents health
Stress shuts down the digestive & immune systems to provide maximum energy and push blood to your limbs to run. No need to fight off infection or extract nourishment from food during an immediate attack and race for survival. It sparks off the release of adrenaline and cortisol through the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal) which signal the body for fight or flight. Many people experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, disordered eating etc have HPA axis dysfunction initially with excess stress hormones (hyper-adrenia) which over time the body reduces by inhibiting the production of cortisol as it cannot cope with such high levels (hypo-adrenia). The body is built to survive, it’s smart. Forcing a reduction of stress hormones is its way to deal with long term stress. In either state your ability to cope with stress is dramatically reduced leading to mental disorders, burn out and difficult behaviour (anger, irritability, violence held in your mind or chucked onto others).
Modern living is challenging because we experience numerous forms of stress.
(1) Social stress:We are conditioned to focus on achievement, grades, status, money, box ticking social progress (no aging, marriage, kids, size of social network): all external forms of success. It makes us compare and enjoy thinking we are better than others. We expect perfect behaviour from people all of the time…not a cross word, no suffering from tiredness, no tears, no negative reactions just kind language, always included, considered and respected with quick replies. We intend always to give that yet rarely think we receive it. Socially we are exhausted and tormented. Humans are social beings. Belonging is vital otherwise we perceive survival risk. We long to be included in our tribe. Not on the edge, not sent away and not feeling rejected.
Work can be a great source of fulfilment but the 24/7 electronic boss, prevalence of fear –based cultures and awkward, opaque leadership styles of most people leave employees reeling, hiding, distressed, confused and almost constantly hurrying to race through a never ending to do list. No wonder we struggle to innovate, collaborate and co-create.
(2) Physiological stress:Our cells need daily nourishment. Sunlight. Real food. Clean water. Three things which are increasingly rare across the World. People hide from the sun in fear of Cancer, eat plastic, highly processed, chemically loaded food and water is full of hormones, chemicals and antibiotics.
Each person turns over a 100 trillion cells every year. What you consume literally becomes you. The modern lack of nourishment, which has accelerated alongside the use of convenience food, gradually degrades human function. A healthy gut is a critical component of normal digestion and supporting the body’s ability to extract nutrients from food. Stress is a major cause of leaky gut leading to more stress in the body through inflammation, auto-immune disease and deteriorates your cognitive function making you a negative thinker and fatigued.
Oxidative stress is also highly likely to occur in these conditions. This is when your detoxification process and ability to remove cell-damaging free radicals becomes impaired. The air we breathe, food we consume, clothes we wear and materials we are surrounded by every day are heavy with chemicals our body struggles to deal with.
Add to that, many people have problems sleeping through the night and rarely get the restorative 8 hours, further jeopardising both mental and physical health. Then spend most days sitting with an intense blast in the gym (stress peak!) and almost no gentle movement (rest peak).
(3) Identity stress: we get a namewhen we’re born and develop a sense of entitlement and ownership over things. Quickly our sense of oneness and interconnectedness is lost. Our desire for touch, safety and survival through having our needs met is soon confused by loving, busy, distracted carers trying to fit a beautiful, natural child into a very unnatural way of living. We hear shhhh when we cry and are told we should be ok. Our actions make our carers frustrated, angry, shout, shake and lose their warmth towards us. Gradually we learn the love we receive is conditional on our behaviour. We notice how their thinking affects relationships. We learn others can hurt us with words / actions. We see our thinking as reality.
That is the saddest part. Our thoughts are real within our inner voice but, through misunderstanding, we believe they equal reality. Our action and behaviour follow on from that flawed idea. In fact we live in an illusory reality. Our feelings swim along with our thoughts in a great, deep ocean of emotion. We have forgotten that truth. Whatever happens in your life, millions of perspectives and thoughts could be generated.
Do less, be more
The way we think and how we understand thought are of paramount importance. All the choices we make, both the macro (where to live, career) and micro (what to have for lunch, when to go to bed, how much to pack into a day) come from thought. Believing we can control how we think or how others behave around us, or that we can achieve some sort of perfect ideal if only ‘xxxx’ was done is a permanently doomed strategy.
Healthy thinking creates a healthy body and vice versa. We need to wake up and experience the joy that we are simply human beings. Do less, be more. Love, work & life will not only be easier but also ironically become more productive. That understanding is vital for employers to truly engage employees and tap into the sought after, magical discretionary effort often hiding in tired, unhappy and overly busy people.
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