We live in a fast-paced society and we have come to accept stress as a normal part of our lives.
Stress in small doses can actually be beneficial as it can motivate us, improve our memory function, drive us to do things and make us perform better at the tasks we set out to do. However, the unfortunate truth is that many of us become over-stressed and this is when the problems start. Work stress especially plays a large and problematic part in many people’s lives. These days, it’s not uncommon to see adverts for ‘stress management’ classes, coaching etc.
Though some people may tell us just to ‘shrug it off’ or ‘get on with it’, too much stress has a negative impact on both our mental and physical state. When we are over-stressed, our bodies start producing too much of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol has been linked with many health issues such as lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body. This can make us more prone to disease, decrease our bone density, weaken muscles, create blood sugar imbalances, suppress thyroid function and decrease cognitive functioning – meaning we cannot think as clearly as we would normally. Stress is real and it doesn’t come alone.
Many symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, fatigue and other health issues can be the result of stored tension and emotional and physical stress.
More and more people now recognise the importance of physical exercise on our wellbeing. Exercise raises the level of our feel-good hormones, improves circulation and helps us to lose excess weight etc. Even the government is trying to put the message across through various health campaigns.
However, what I find interesting is that there is a very little mention of the importance of looking after our own mental health, or taking care of our ‘mental hygiene’. Just as we take a shower in the morning to feel clean and fresh or brush our teeth or take exercise to improve our health, it is just as important to ‘clear’ our minds regularly. Otherwise, the ‘mental debris’ will just keep increasing and our stress levels can hit the roof, causing havoc in our system.
Scientists have now confirmed that regular mental activity such as meditation, active imagination, mental rehearsal or self-hypnosis can have a direct positive influence on our pre-frontal cortex. Put more simply, that’s the part of the brain that is involved in regulating our emotions. In turn, it has an impact on the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is involved in our response to stress.
So what does all this mean? Well, doing a regular, even just 10-minute long, ‘mental clearing’ can do wonders for your brain and boost it, so that you won’t feel so overwhelmed by stress. It will lower your cortisol levels too, giving a boost to your health overall. What’s not to like?
People can sometimes still be wary of such things but it’s all about finding what works for you and what you’re comfortable with. There are various courses out there you can try – such as mindfulness, which has become very popular and has had its benefits backed up by science.
You can take a meditation class, do yoga or learn self-hypnosis (something I usually teach to all my clients). There are also many resources available online. I have a free relaxation and stress release MP3 on my website, which you are more than welcome to download. The important thing is to clear your head regularly. Both your body and mind will thank you.
Photo published by Thomas Haynie under Creative Commons License.
This article was originally published in Dunfermline Press in April 2015.