Career Woman

‘Busy’ is not a badge of honour – stop the stress

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How often do you catch up with a friend, a work colleague, a parent at your children’s school or someone in your family and when you ask them how they are, their response is “I’m so busy!”. It seems that being busy is something that we aspire to these days. Somewhere along the way we have perceived busy as equating to being successful. To the contrary, “busy” is a red flag and a warning sign to us all.  As the world becomes more connected and overwhelmingly busier it’s not surprising that this will lead to one in two Australians developing a mental illness in their lifetime. *(1)

Why?

With the increase in accessibility, competition, doing more with less and the “need” for more material things in our lives, the levels of stress that people experience are at an all-time high. Now don’t get me wrong stress can be a good thing…but in small doses. The stress we are talking about is constant, every day stress, the long-term stress that is silently killing us.

So, what is long term stress doing to us?

When we are stressed cortisol is released in our body, and in small doses cortisol is great. For example – when we are presenting to an audience, when we are preparing for a sports competition, or when you are hiking in the woods and a not so friendly bear comes your way.

The problem occurs when the cortisol is present in our bodies over a long period. Chronic stress triggers the fear centre of our brain (the amygdala). As the neural connections in this part of our brain rise, the hippo campus’ ability deteriorates (the brain centre that helps us with learning, memory and stress control). Even worse however, is that long term presence of cortisol causes our brain to shrink thus losing synaptic connections which results in reduced concentration, decision making and social interaction.

(Have a look at this TED talk that illustrates these concepts very simply.)

And what does all of that mean?

Well, with a brain that is shrinking and being impacted in all the regions mentioned above this chronic stress ultimately leads to depression, anxiety and even Alzheimer’s, thus impacting a person’s life and career substantially.

So, what can we do about it?

Thankfully there are ways to combat this. Firstly, from a scientific point we can actually reverse cortisol in our body by using two simple methods (1) exercise and (2) meditation. Research has shown that both of these methods can increase the size of your hippocampus and thus help you to combat stress more effectively.

Secondly, we can consciously choose to eliminate the stressors in our life. Some suggestions that everyone can implement include:

  • Allocating time each week that is your “down time”. Just half a day even on the weekend where you don’t have to be anywhere or doing anything. This is your relaxation time to simply be
  • Set boundaries. In order to have your down time you need to have clear boundaries and say no to others when they want to take that time from you. Your health is a priority and setting boundaries around this is vital.
  • Declutter your life. Look around the room – how many things do you have that don’t serve you or simply fill a space. Research has shown the calming effects of having less. And remember the mantra less is more.
  • Practice gratitude. When you are more thankful for the amazing things in your life you will begin to 1) gain more perspective and 2) be happier with what you have. Both of these outcomes help your brain centre in terms of its reaction to stress and keeping those cortisol levels at bay.

*Footnotes:

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra

About Suzanne Williams

Suzanne Williams is the Director and Founder of Grace and Grind Career and Lifestyle Coaching as well as a certified Executive Coach, Human Resource Specialist and Yoga Teacher.Suzanne has worked for over 10 years in corporate HR roles ranging from giving advice and guidance to frontline leaders to strategy and business planning with business owners. Suzanne’s passion is to help others find a career and lifestyle that they love while growing their confidence, leadership skills and ultimate potential.

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