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Stress – How To Beat This 21st-Century Epidemic

Written by: Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

APRIL has been designated as Stress Awareness Month, so no better time to shine a spotlight on this growing issue which is in danger of becoming a 21st Century epidemic.


Sad woman finding hope and strength.

Anxiety is without doubt the single most common problem I see manifested every day among my clients at Phoenix Coaching & Therapy. Even with those who initially approach me for help regarding another issue, such as smoking cessation or weight loss, there invariably turns out to be some form of stress lurking in the background. Problem behaviour, such as smoking and other forms of addiction, is merely a symptom of a deeper underlying issue, which is almost always stress-related.


We live in a society that is already over-anxious, panic-stricken and burdened with worry, even though we enjoy many luxuries and conveniences that our ancestors could have only dreamt about. But why now? What is it about the way we’re currently living which is driving people to their GPs in record numbers to be prescribed pills for anxiety?


Cost-Of-Living Crisis


Inflation, a cost-of-living crisis, Brexit, an increasingly turbulent political landscape and the continued impact of COVID-19 have undoubtedly played their parts, leaving many people worse off than they were a decade ago and struggling to provide for their families. Official statistics confirm that the UK is a nation that is overstressed, overanxious, overworked and insecure. UK employees now work some of the longest hours in Europe, and over half of them are living in a state of near-permanent fear for their jobs. This is economically disastrous. Sickness absence alone costs the economy an estimated £100 billion a year, and longer hours are associated with worse productivity. We are caught up in a self-defeating spiral of stress and it’s destroying the quality of our lives.


Everybody experiences anxiety at some level. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, old or young, outgoing or shy, rich or poor, well-educated or not. Stress is a perfectly normal human reaction and it’s impossible to live without it. In fact, it’s an important part of our body’s defences for dealing with short-term pressures and danger.


Burnout


The problems come when those pressures last for too long and exhaust our body’s coping resources. That’s when stress can lead to illness. We’re simply not designed to be in top gear the whole time. Our bodies and minds need to switch off periodically in order for our batteries to recharge. Failure to do so will lead to us becoming overwhelmed and burnt out. We don’t expect mechanical devices to keep on going indefinitely without some degree of recovery time to ‘power-up’ again. So why should we expect that of ourselves?


Ten years ago I was left physically, mentally and psychologically broken by sustained, chronic workplace stress. I was completely burnt out to the point where I could no longer function. This situation had been brewing for several years, during which I’d been fighting desperately to keep a lid on my burgeoning stress levels, bottling them up until the internal pressure was no longer sustainable. The good news is that I managed to find my way out of the black hole. Now I spend my life showing others in similar positions how to do the same. I know from personal experience that it’s vitally important to recognise that you’re not alone. It might seem that way at first because stress can be an extremely isolating condition. Many people feel embarrassed to admit to it and therefore to talk about it.


Some become skilled at putting on a brave face to disguise how they feel. This is a particular problem among young men who feel a need to adhere to outdated stereotypical concepts of masculinity. But the truth is that anxiety is a far more common problem than most people realise. A quarter of people across the world suffer from stress at any given time. And latest statistics show that almost a third of GP visits in the UK are due to people seeking help for stress.


Stress Symptoms


Anxiety causes a wide range of frightening physical symptoms, including unexplained physical pains, dizziness, breathlessness, nightmares, numbness in the arms and legs, choking, chest pains, agoraphobia and loss of appetite, to name just a few. When you first start to experience these things, it can be really scary.


I’d had no idea that stress could cause such a wide variety of alarming physical symptoms. It happens because of what’s known as the ‘fight or flight’ response which is our body’s way of dealing with a physical threat or opportunity. Anxiety happens to everyone at times of danger and is the body’s natural response to prepare us to cope with sudden threats. It is a primitive alarm reaction inherited from our ancestors who had to contend with savage predators such as the sabre-toothed tiger. But the world has changed, and so has the nature of the problems we face. We’re less likely to find ourselves in the kind of short-term life-threatening situations that were commonplace for our ancestors. You’re not going to run into a snarling sabre-toothed tiger on your way to Tesco’s (we hope!).


The modern world has created a whole different battery of new anxieties though – workplace stress, money worries, bullying, fears of redundancy, constantly evolving new technology, worries about the long-term future and how you’re going to pay the bills, relationship difficulties, an illness in the family – to name just a few. But our physical reaction to these perceived threats is exactly the same as it was for our ancestors when faced with a predator – because our biological response hasn’t evolved. We’re still using a prehistoric defence mechanism which was created for a whole different type of situation. And because many of the problems we face now are more long-term in nature, our body doesn’t get the same opportunity to power down and recover.


Helping people to overcome stress and anxiety is at the absolute forefront of the work we do at Phoenix Coaching & Therapy where we use a vast spectrum of different tools and techniques to give clients the coping resources they require. These include meditation and mindfulness, hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Integral Eye-Movement Therapy (IEMT) and sound therapy, all of which we’ve found to be powerfully effective in not just alleviating stress but also empowering people to go on and live the best and most fulfilling lives possible.


Call To Action


A very simple but highly effective exercise, which anyone can do, involves simply passing a ball backwards and forwards from one hand to the other for a period of several minutes. Juggling balls are ideal for this purpose as they are designed to land comfortably in the palm of the hand. Practice of this exercise has the effect of synchronising the left and right brain hemispheres so that they are operating together in perfect harmony. This induces the Flow State. Neuroscientists have discovered that when we’re anxious, all of our brain activity is in the left hemisphere. This means that any activity which forces the right brain to come online will automatically reduce stress and induce the high-performance Flow State.


Any activity which involves using both hands equally at the same time will induce this state because the left-brain controls the right-hand side of our body and the right-brain controls the left, so the use of both hands requires both brain hemispheres to be active and perfectly synchronised. The ball exercise is particularly effective in achieving this because of the large number of nerve receptors in the palms of our hands, which send a powerful message to the brain that both hemispheres need to be online. Practising this exercise for at least five minutes a day every day will significantly reduce your stress levels. Try it. It’s such a simple trick and it really works, producing profound benefits.


If you’d like to know more about the significant range of services we offer for tackling stress and anxiety, visit Phoenix Coaching & Therapy or contact us here for details.


For more info, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and visit my website!


 

Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Andrew Cowie is a transformational life coach, psychotherapist, and author dedicated to helping people overcome adversity and achieve their full potential. He came to the world of therapy after a 20-year career in newspaper journalism was brought to an abrupt end by severe burnout. In the course of his own recovery, he was introduced to meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, martial arts, and NLP. He went on to retrain some of the world's leading spiritual and personal development teachers to become an expert in these fields. Andrew has since dedicated his life to passing on this knowledge, synthesizing the various disciplines into one overarching system blending ancient spiritual practices with the latest cutting-edge techniques from the field of modern psychology. He is the owner of Phoenix Coaching & Therapy and the founder of its associated 'magical training school' The Ancient and Mystical Hermetic Order of the Phoenix (AMHOP). His debut book Rise Like a Phoenix was published in 2021 and is described as a manual for personal regeneration. Andrew works with clients worldwide and is passionate about mental health and exploring the latent potential of the human mind.

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