Why is Stress a 21st Century Health Epidemic?

April is Stress Awareness Month. In this blog I’ll be explaining why the World Health Organisation has called stress a 21st Century Health Epidemic and the impact it can have on our mental and physical wellbeing.

I must start off by saying that not all stress is bad. Short-term stress is actually good for performance. That’s what gets the adrenalin pumping when we have to give a big presentation, or why we can start an essay the day before it’s due and pull it off! It’s chronic stress that causes us problems.

To understand why stress has become such a big problem, we need to know a bit about how the brain works. Our brains were designed back in caveman days, when the kind of stress we faced was being chased by a wild animal or fighting another tribe. So, our brains were great at reacting to that kind of threat. You would be out hunting, and your brain would be on high alert. At the first sign of danger the adrenalin would pump round your body so that you could run away or fight back. However, once you were safely back in your cave, you would have a long period of recovery and rest before you had to go out again and face another danger.

These days it’s a different story. Most of us are lucky enough to have never been chased by a wild animal (does a cat count?) but we do face stress on a constant basis. Rather than one big dose of stress, we face small (micro) doses of stress all day long. The alarm goes off, jolting you out of a deep sleep, that’s your first micro dose of stress. You hit snooze and 10 minutes later it wakes you again, that’s your second dose. The first thing you do is check the news, and Brexit sends your stress levels soaring! So, for some light relief you scroll through Facebook where you see a picture of a starving dog. You get the point. Before you’ve even left the house, you’ve experienced maybe 10-15 micro doses of stress, with no time built in for recovery. We live our lives at 100 miles an hour.

Why is this a problem? Because chronic stress is bad for us. It actually damages every single cell in the body! Chronic stress:

  • Increases blood pressure – leaving you more at risk of heart attacks and strokes
  • Lowers the immune system – meaning you’re more likely to get ill
  • Affects sleep, which is vital to good health
  • Leads to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression

Last year, stress accounted for 50% of all sick days. 1 in 5 of us went to the GP with stress!

Why are these numbers soaring? Because our brains simply aren’t designed for the way we live our lives today. Thanks to advances in technology, our lives are evolving much quicker than our brains!

This may all sound like bad news, I mean we can’t change our pace of life, can we? The good news is there is a solution. While our caveman ancestors faced big threats and had long periods of recovery, we face smaller threats and so need to build in smaller amounts of recovery. Over the coming month, I’ll be sharing daily tips to show you how on my Facebook page (Step Ahead Hypnotherapy). These will be published in another blog at the end of the month – check back here at the end of April to access my free giveaway – which will help you reduce your stress levels!

Have a good month!