Stress puts you in a heightened state of alertness. It is an entirely natural reflex, which is even healthy, as long as it is brief. Your body is primed for a survival response: fight or flight (or freeze). But a restless mind or a relentless sequence of triggers can turn stress into something that does not go away. When body and mind become unable to return to a natural resting state, stress has become a chronic condition. Well-being will diminish as a result, as will resilience and even general health.
A natural response
The stress response originated in nature. But in the jungle, threats tend to be both ferocious and short-lived. This is not what our reality is today. Still, our mind sees a lot of threats and often feels a lack of control. In our day-to-day lives, our survival system is sometimes triggered so often that it never returns to a resting state. The body then keeps producing stress hormones, leading to chronic stress.
The price you pay
We all know the price we pay for stress: an uneasy feeling and loss of enjoyment, creativity, and productivity. A sensation of alienation, as if our activities and our schedule are running our lives and we are less present in the moment. Society as a whole also pays a huge price for stress. A recent study by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) has shown that roughly 1 million people in the Netherlands suffer burn-out symptoms, costing the economy billions of euros. Stress seems ineradicable. But is it?
Stress is not an external force
Stress management courses teach people to organise their time more efficiently, to dare to say no, and to communicate clearly. Fine, but there is something these courses are overlooking. Not the busy outside world, but the mind is the real causer of stress. When the mind doubts its ability to cope with something, it will activate the stress mechanism. This happens without you realising it: you only suddenly notice that you are stressed. If we focus our attention on this mental switch, we can make sure it is never flicked.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction
One way of getting to the switch that activates the stress mechanism is to train our capacity to be mindful. This will make you aware of the mind’s tendency to fret about the past and the future. You will see that you have a choice. A choice between blindly going along with the automated thought patterns and being mindful of them. In the latter case, you will worry less, and the stress mechanism will be activated less often. Mindfulness makes you go back to the source. This will allow you to reduce stress effectively.