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Stress & Modern Life

“Authors on socio-economics, such as Naomi Klein and Joel Balkan, suggest that within our current environment we’re experiencing a state of increased competition and consumption driven by advertising.  As a result, we’re working too much. There’s been a 15% increase in people working over 48 hours per week.

It seems that the natural male drive and mission for freedom has been hijacked and has become a time absorbing, highly pressurised, materialistic and, ultimately, unfulfilling direction, which leads to misery.

When we feel pressure, we think about the future and live there in our minds. This often creates anxiety. Similarly, when we give up and quit our mission, we begin to ruminate about the past, leading to depression. The solution is a simple one.  Be present.” (Source – Masculinity, mindfulness and male mental health)

Stress itself is not a mental health problem. The stress response is an evolutionary survival strategy that keeps us safe from danger. When threats arise, this activates our amygdala (the part of the brain that controls emotions such as fear and anxiety).

When this happens, our primitive brain takes control and the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. This floods the blood with glucose which provides the body with a surge of energy. This enables the muscles to respond in one of two ways; flight or fight.

In modern society, it is natural for us to feel a certain degree of stress. It drives us at work, when under pressure to hit deadlines or dealing with difficult customers. At some point in life, we all go through significant events such as moving home, such as marriage, divorce or the loss of a loved one. Our exposure to greater levels of stress on a daily basis compounds the effect of these stressors.

The simple work commute on today’s overcrowded roads and unreliable public transport systems can prove to be highly stressful. Media overload (particularly social media) disconnects us from our external world. It creates whole new stressors that we are only just beginning to recognise. Financial issues, increasing competition, materialistic society and a constant bombardment of messages to work harder and consume more, further compound our experience of stress.

These seemingly small and innocuous stressors have a cumulative effect if they are not addressed. This constant triggering of the stress response leads to a state of chronic stress. Eventually, we become overloaded and the person who pushed in front of us in a queue, or the driver who cuts us up on the way home becomes the subject of our ire. Anger and rage consume us and we become more easily triggered until we are consumed.

This constant triggering of our fight or flight response leads to a state of chronic stress. Our energy diminishes and our health and wellbeing suffer. Decision making becomes impaired and ultimately disease takes hold. This can lead to an ever-downward cycle of suffering with seemingly no way out.

The most recently evolved part of the brain is the prefrontal cortex (PFC). It is responsible for the regulation of the amygdala, blood pressure and heart rate. It plays a role in higher executive functioning, allowing us to learn, plan, concentrate and make judgments. According to research, the number of adverse events a person is exposed to correlates with smaller PFC grey matter. Chronic stress in humans also weakens PFC functional connectivity and PFC regulation of the amygdala. (Source: The effects of stress exposure on prefrontal cortex: Translating basic research into successful treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder).

Research into the physiological effects of chronic stress shows that it increases the risk of addictive and destructive behaviour. It also increases the risk of developing anxiety and depression. Which then lead to other mental health problems. It increases the risks of physical health problems including heart disease, insomnia, muscle pain and damage to our immune system.

Yoga, when practised mindfully both on and off the mat offers an antidote to this problem. Consciously connecting to the breath to bring stillness to the mind and balance to the body has freed me both internally and externally from the constantly ‘wired’ state where life feels like a daily onslaught.