Transforming our view of stress

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Stress, it impacts us all to various degrees and with Covid 19 many of us have experienced new challenges in our daily lives. For some it has created an opportunity to pause, reflect and recalibrate our values and actions. A time to be with those we are closest too and enjoy a slower daily rhythm.  For others it has been a time of increased stress due to financial, physical or personal strain.

Statistics show 75-90% of doctor’s visits are for stress related issues. Stress is a factor in 5 of the 6 leading causes of death. It impacts our sleep, our physical and mental wellbeing and according to the American Psychological Association finances are the number one cause of stress in the United States.

Farming can be a stressful business with uncontrollable, external factors such as weather, drought, fires, floods, markets, family and the impacts many of these have on farmer’s finances. Recently I felt and heard the deep concern of a farmer as he shared how the $200K debt he had budgeted to pay off had morphed into an additional $100K to his overdraft due to drought.  With this added stress, what is needed is a clear picture of the facts, to deal with reality rather than the wee voice in our head which chatters incessantly and mostly in the negative.

Regenerative thinking looks for the opportunity, shares the burden and brings a sense of possibility to replace the gloom of the moment. The saying “a burdened shared is a burdened halved” is to look to others when we are doubting ourselves and to allow others to contribute.

So is it stress or the way we view stress that has the bigger impact?

One study which tracked 30,000 people over 8 years discovered a 43% increase in death rates as stress increased. What surprised the researches was the people who viewed stress as a good thing had an even lower death rate than those who had low levels of stress. Another study reveal that the death rates caused by stress plummeted dramatically for those people who were actively engaged in caring for others.

What if there was another way to view the stress we experience in life, and what if stress was an access to building resilience and connectedness.  Looking into the research on stress I discovered something new and unexpected. It is not stress that impacts on our health and wellbeing but our view of stress. How does that work?

Consider the physical responses we experience when we are stressed. An elevated heart rate, faster breathing, hot flushes etc. When we view this an a negative and experience anxiety our bodies response is to further elevate our heart rate and constrict the blood vessels around the heart. For those that view stress in a positive light, the opposite occurs and blood vessels don’t constrict. Why, because stress not only releases adrenalin but also oxytocin which is our feel good hormone as it is pumped out by the pituitary gland. This neural hormone is designed to fine tune the brains social instincts, it primes you to do things that strengthen social relationships. Making us more inclined to empathy and willing to support others as it nudges us to share and connect. As a natural anti-inflammatory it helps blood vessels stay open and relaxed while it helps the heart with its oxytocin receptors regenerate from the damage caused by stress.

So it really is a matter of change your view to change your body. To view stress as an access to connect, rather than the enemy to conquer or manage, is to shift our paradigm on stress. When our body releases oxytocin (known as the cuddle hormone) it nudges us to share and contribute and motivates us to seek support. Our stress response has a built in mechanism for stress resilience, that being human connection.

The harmful effects of stress are not inevitable, how we think and how we act have a direct correlation to the outcome.  This provides us with  the opportunity to transform our experience of stress.  Viewing stress as helpful creates a biology of courage, while choosing to connect with others during stress produces resilience in ourselves and our communities.

What if we truly trusted in our ability to handle life’s challenges and got that we didn’t have to handle them alone??

Next time you experience stress notice your response and be sure to share with another the issues you are facing. As we work to restore and regenerate the connection and function of our ecosystems remember we too are part of this fabulous interconnected whole.

For further reading:  Bruce Lipton – The Biology of Belief;  Joe Dispenza – Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself

By Jules Matthews

Jules is available for coaching to help you achieve your regenerative agriculture goals and can be contacted by phoning +64 21 681 220 or by email jules@integritysoils.co.nz