Stress Ages Us & Makes Us Sick
It won’t be news to anyone that stress is not good for your health, but the extent to which it impacts our bodies is quite shocking. Ever noticed you get sick easier when you’re stressed out? Or begin noticing a few extra greys appear? It’s not surprising when you know what’s happening to your insides. According to an assessment of scientific research carried out by the Health Sciences Academy, severe stress esentially destroys the gut, inhibiting nutrient absorption, which then impacts our immune system. It also shortens our telomeres – little wrappers on the end of our chromosomes like plastic on shoe laces – leading to premature ageing.
Why am I even writing about stress? I live on the beach in Australia right? What ever would I have to be stressed about? Granted I have been very very lucky not to have had to deal with any serious stress so far in my life, however the “lesser” stresses that are part and parcel of modern living can be just as damaging.
Although stereotypes would have it that the Aussies have a super laid back lifestyle, never working longer than 9-5 and taking things pretty easy in the office, this is not true. Sydneysiders work just as hard as Londoners, and can be just as hard on each other. Workplace stress is as much of an issue here as it is at home.
Still, it came as a surprise to me when I landed in a work related situation that caused me to become stressed to the extent that it was impacting my personal life. Not fun, and not what I moved to Australia for.
Meditation is Scientifically Proven to Lessen the Impact of Stress
Looking for answers, I dug out my notes from some resilience training that I’d previously attended and found that I’d noted the name of a little app called Headspace. A guided meditation training app.
Now – don’t be put off. This is not a hippy thing (I’m certainly not a hippy), it’s not airy fairy nonsense. Rather than searching for something spiritual, meditation for me is simply about the practice of accepting everyday stresses and experiencing the present moment. It’s about learning to live in the now rather than living deep in your own inner world of whirling thoughts, memories, fears and to do lists. This, I’ve since learnt, is called mindfulness.
The feeling of stress triggered me to begin incorporating 10 minutes of meditation into my daily routine whenever I could. On the bus to work, in the park at lunch time, on the plane back from client meetings, in my favourite armchair in the evening. I try for once per day but realistically make it three times a week.
The first thing I noticed was that I felt taller! My neck felt longer as my shoulders relaxed themselves. I didn’t even realise they were tight. As I worked through the sessions there were other benefits too. My head felt clearer and my ability to concentrate improved. Sleep began to come more easily that it ever has in my life. I also felt even closer to Ollie as I started really listening to him rather than half worrying about what was going to happen at work the next day, or that I must remember to buy olive oil at the shop tomorrow. It helped me to remember what’s really important in life. And that’s definitely not olive oil.
My anecdotal evidence aside, scientific research has proven the benefits of meditation in reducing stress and anxiety, increasing creativity and improving focus and interpersonal relationships. Neuroscientists have found that meditation actually causes your brain to reshape! After just 11 hours of practice, structural changes occur to the part of our brain that monitors focus and self control. In fact, any practice that elicits what’s called the “relaxation response” -such as meditation, yoga and prayer – actually modulates the way your genes are expressed, improving things like energy production in your cells.
For me – the stressful situation still rears its head at times but it now bothers me less. I let it go more easily rather than carrying it round for days on end. Aside from ramping down the refined sugar in my diet, meditation has been the biggest wellness game changer for me yet. Spend 10 minutes less reading work emails at home to make 10 minutes of time to meditate (don’t be shy!) and tell me the world isn’t that little bit sunnier as a result.