In the words of Tony Robbins, ‘stress is an achiever’s word for fear’ – so, what is it that we are so scared of?
THE SCIENCE OF stress
The science shows us that some animals are born with a defence mechanism to survive, but humans are born dependant i.e. someone else had to put our needs ahead of theirs in order for us to survive. The human evolutionary advantage is LOVE. As a baby, you had to do nothing to be loved. Bio-chemically mothers have oxytocin to make them love their baby, no matter what the baby does… Oxytocin wears off and suddenly we have to be a certain way to get attention and this creates our Blueprint. When you first walked, you may have had love, and so achievers were born. Or, maybe you cried and screamed, and no-one came so you crawled and bumped your head, the mother comes running in for an injured cry, and there we learn “hurt = love”. So now as an adult we either feel we have to achieve to be loved or we talk about pain and problems because our subconscious believes pain = love. Essentially, we all crave the unconditional love we had before.
Stress and my mental health
I strongly felt that my self-worth was based on my achievement, so I lived in a state of fear, absolute fear of failure… I now know, my subconscious was telling me, if I failed, I wouldn’t be loved. If our sense of self, or identity, is connected with achievement, then failure feels as threatening as death. It’s not hard to see where the panic attacks come from. Fear of failure can easily become so crippling that we don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, and there we can couple anxiety with depression. Or maybe the only way out would be to numb the pain and that’s where drugs and alcohol could come into play.
I’m obviously over simplifying, and perhaps exaggerating for some, but from working in sharing groups for a few years now, my experience has been that wanting to hide away and stay in bed rather than face the day would be preferable for the majority not the minority. With such a beautiful world out there with so much to experience, that feels like a crying shame.
Living in a society where achievement determines your self-worth, often comes a presupposition that ‘rest’ is for the weak and being ‘busy’ becomes some sort of badge of honour!? And, if you’re so busy that you’re stressed, you must be super important, right? Certainly, elevated above those mere mortals who are relaxed and obviously don’t do much…? Or worse, maybe you feel you have to be a super high achiever, but you can’t be stressed because that would show a lack of self-control! That’s certainly the point I got to in my old advertising life, smiling sweetly whilst in absolute panic and working myself into the ground. Often, when it doesn’t feel possible to control life, we look to other areas for control, perhaps our diet, our exercise, our house etc, so we can start to see the links between other mental health issues like eating disorders or OCD for example, as we desperately look for control in an uncontrollable world. The Human Need to feel loved is so powerful that we can often put ourselves through torture, just to try and prove our self-worth.
I know how awful this sounds now, but I remember feeling so stressed and depressed that I would see an ambulance and want to be in it, want to be the one who was being looked after and not ‘able’ to work, because then quitting wouldn’t be my fault. It’s an obvious answer to the absolute fear of failure, wanting out, but not being able to get out. As awful as it sounds, I almost hoped that something dramatic would happen to me, so that I didn’t have to quit, but I could leave. With hindsight, I probably wasn’t far from creating that dramatic situation myself. And what I have seen since, is that the human body is very clever – if we don’t take ourselves out of the toxic environment, then our body will eventually force us to, in some way.
The trouble is, the only thing scarier than leaving, was the fear of was the starting again and trying to figure out who I was and what I really wanted – better the devil you know, right? So, we either go back, or work through it.
The irony of feeling like I had won the lottery when I got that grad scheme, and then considering such dramatic measures to find a way out, is just one example of stress. And I honestly feel that if I had the tools that I have learnt from yoga now, and applied them then, I could have been happy in that environment. And, if I allow stress to get hold of me, I can feel exactly as I did, being a yoga teacher as I did in advertising. It’s not the external, it’s the internal… Which is why I am so passionate about psychology, and yoga!
THE STRESS RESPONSE
when we were cavemen, we needed the stress response to keep us safe from tigers and bears. The adrenaline would pump around the body, which heightens our awareness so we can hear a twig snap a mile away to give us time to run from the tiger. The same thing happens today when you hear a noise in your house, adrenaline floods your body so suddenly the washing machine sounds more like someone robbing your TV… We don’t have tigers or bears anymore, but we do have deadlines, and bosses, and exams (rooted in the need to achieve to be loved) – whatever the stressor, our response to ‘danger’ is the same: our body is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol.
So, we have some options – fight, flight or freeze. We can get angry, run away, or hide in bed.
CHANGE YOUR LENS
So how can we change this? FIRST, we have to change our lens so it’s not danger in the first place – so it moves from a threat to a challenge or opportunity! That will kill the stress response in its tracks, suddenly it’s not a have to but a want to. We have to practice letting go of the fear of failure, make loads of mistakes, get messy, and learn that we are not loved for our achievements, but that we are enough, just as we are.
If we cannot change the lens and we’ve gone into fight/ flight/ freeze then we need to rid the adrenaline and cortisol OUT of our bodies, which is maybe where we see this increase in exercise addiction too; fill ourselves up with stress hormone all day and then burn them off in the gym all night. Our poor bodies… our organs are on absolute overload creating all these hormones to keep us safe and then have to burn them all off, every day! That level of stress we put our body under physically, because of the level of stress we put ourselves under mentally, is not sustainable, and the body will get sick.
Our bodies are only able to mop up cortisol for 30% of the day – how many of you feel stressed more than 30% of the day? So, the rest of those toxic chemicals are not mopped up by your organs and so stay as excess in your body. This is what causes aging and an acidic environment which damages our immune system and leads to inflammation (anything ending in ‘-itus’ including ‘arthritis’…. and autoimmune diseases) the level of acid that builds up in our body as a result of stress changes our blood. If we are out of balance, we are in dis-ease, and so we experience disease.
How can yoga help AS A WAY TO REDUCE STRESS?
Physical benefits of yoga on stress
We need to move our body so that we get rid of stress hormones, but we have to do it in a way which doesn’t create more stress… so we need to exercise in a way which is nurturing, not depleting. Yoga is designed to realign and re-centre your body, detox your organs, and mobilise your spine, without impacting your joints or bringing you out of natural alignment, like so many other exercises today!
Mental benefits of yoga on stress
Hopefully your yoga teacher will weave in the psychology and philosophy of the practice, which eventually rewires your brain to give perspective, subconsciously reminding you that you are safe, and healthy and the rest becomes less important. As you focus your mind (meditation) on your breathing and your posture, you can’t be thinking about all the other stuff you usually worry about. Yoga allows us to quieten the mind and come out of thinking, giving your brain a break from the constant chatter of the human mind (vriti). As you breathe deeply (pranayama) into your belly, you increase your oxygen levels and decrease the acidic carbon dioxide build-up, so you change the chemical make-up of your body. If you practice gratitude for what you have (abundance mindset), it stops us focusing on trying to achieve what we haven’t got (lack mindset). We cannot feel grateful and stressed at the same time! And, we learn to fall over and get messy, to let go of perfection and for that to be okay! We learn to love ourselves just as we are now, so the pressure to achieve in order to be loved is off. And, community. Studies show that the best medication for anxiety and depression is social prescriptions (gardening together, walking together etc) because as human beings, we need to connect, we need to have authentic relationships and conversations to feel understood and to not feel alone. In the right yoga studio that community is there to tap into.
UNLIMITED YOGA FOR FREE at soul sanctuary for national Stress Awareness week
There are many more tools to help with stress, but yoga for all the reasons mentioned above, saved me. So, I’m determined to help as many people as possible get access to yoga and see if it can help them too! That’s why we are offering UNLIMITED YOGA FOR EVERYONE THIS WEEK (Monday 4th – Sunday 10th November). For both Members and Non-Members, you have access to Unlimited Classes for Free to experience for yourself the physical, mental and emotional benefits that Yoga has to offer. We really do hope you enjoy!
Soul Sanctuary has also partnered with our local Mind charity @springfieldmind. We are raising awareness and funds in donations for Springfield Mind all week!