Stress in a ‘switched on’ world

Stress in a ‘switched on’ world

Stress affects everyone in some shape or form. This is not always a bad thing as some stress can be beneficial. Consider the sportsperson that is stepping onto the field. A certain level of stress elevates their ability to concentrate and react. Even in our general lives, without stress we may become lethargic and listless. However, the experience of excessive stress or the inability to control it is problematic.

Our bodies’ responses are controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System, which is activated unconsciously. Within this, we have the Sympathetic Nervous System that is activated in a threatening situation: think of the reflex we have to catch a falling object, or the increase in heart rate if we hear a loud noise. This response is activated very rapidly. On the other hand, we have the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which constitutes the relaxation response. Equally, we need this response as to be always on alert would lead to exhaustion. However, activation of this response lacks the immediacy of the ANS, and may take 20 minutes to come fully into effect. Simply put, we need to take time to relax, it doesn’t happen simply because we want it to.

We now live in a world where everyone is busy. How many times do you greet a person, asking them how they are, and they’re response in along the lines of ‘oh, really busy at the moment’. We also live in a world that is connected and always switched on. Mobile phones, tablets, television and advertising constantly stimulate us. So many of us check work emails at home before bed, or we fret over how many likes our Instagram post got. Once that phone beeps, we become alert again. We may not physically be back in work or in a dangerous situation, but we once again become ‘switched on’.

The great challenge for us is to unwind, to take the necessary time to destress and allow our Parasympathetic response to kick in. This will help us avoid the associated effects such as anxiety and various physical effects such as nausea, sleeplessness and even stomach ulcers. It is much easier said than done. The switched on world doesn’t want us to take this time for ourselves. It constantly demands our attention. A great way to fight this is to develop a Stress Management Programme. What this is will differ for every individual.

We all need to achieve a balance in life that accepts the positive effects of stress, yet effectively manages these levels and allows us to employ techniques that bring about relaxation. A personalized Stress Management Programme will help us achieve this. For some people, it may mean removing work emails from our mobiles. It may mean taking up that yoga class in our local gym. It may mean taking a bit of time to prepare a healthier eating pattern. Yes, the world around us in constantly ‘switched on’, so we must take control and be able to switch ourselves off.

Valerie Kilkenny & Eamonn Boland