What Impact Does Stress Have On Our Body & Mind?

Updated: Apr 4, 2020

In this Mindful Conversation, Davina speaks to Karen Kwong, Founder of RenOc - watch the full interview above or read the article below.

Karen shares what the effects of stress are on our mindset and what we can do to ease ourselves when faced with loss whether it’s personal or professionally during these times. As a former finance professional that has been through the GFC and now organisational coach she shares how to skilfully navigate these choppy waters.

Some snippets from our conversation can be found here:

2:00 mins - Karen talks about all the advice that is being given but doesn’t necessarily pay bills

4:50 mins - Karen talks about how the body is impacted by stress

8:15 mins - Karen shares that many people don’t even know when they’re stressed and whether they are making good decisions or not

13 mins - Davina shares a one minute meditation tool to deal with stressful situations

Why is knowing what stress is important?

Why is this important?

There are already so many blogs and articles about this topic out there, it’d be understandable if you started rolling your eyes at yet another tip on managing stress in world of #selfisolation and #socialdistancing. It really is amazing how much is being written out there and taking after my grandmother, I am hoarding every article like it was loo roll!

On a serious note, having spoken with clients and friends, what worries me is that there is a real disconnect between people ACTUALLY realizing that they are stressed and what that looks like on them in practice, and therefore how they will receive those tips and tools. So while there is all this fantastic advice out there, many are wondering how it is relevant to them. Some have even told me that the articles patronising and insulting.

Let me illustrate...

If a portfolio manager running a pension fund which has just tanked by over 20%, or if you’re self-employed, or you’re about to lose your job, and/or you can’t pay your mortgage, or your business has to shut down – it would seem incredibly insensitive and tone-deaf to advise practising yoga or writing in a gratitude journal. At first glance, they’ll wonder how it is going to help and in fact, it will mostly likely further enrage.

What is going on is unprecedented, it’s like going through grief and it is painful. Kubler Ross’ famous model of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

If we understand a little more about stress and the outcomes of stress, the more we can understand why certain tools and techniques help and how to use them more effectively for you. They won’t pay mortgage but they will certainly help you navigate the challenges that you face more effectively, perhaps even turning around your sinking business through implementing an innovative and bold new strategy

So what happens when you’re stressed?

In a heightened state of stress, your body perceives that you are being threatened so you literally transform into fight/flight mode, ie you transform into Superman/Wonder Woman mode – biologically and physically. You’re faster, quicker, more alert etc.

This happens because your adrenals have been kicked into action and the blood diverts vital energy required into helping you fight off that stressor/threat. This leads to an increase in heart rate, increase in breathing (lungs dilate), decrease in digestive activity, increase in glucose for energy from the liver. Here is a link if you want more details on this. Once that threat has been subdued or vanquished, things will go back to normal. However, the thing to note here is that the biological and physiological responses you have are to deal with VERY IMMEDIATE threats and to help you find the most effective way to QUICKLY get you out of a particular bind.

If you are dealing with acute stress and especially for the longer term, ie chronic stress, your body is out of sync – biologically and physiologically. Blood that was previously diverted away and is still being diverted away from vital organs to help you out of a bind, is now causing you harm. Too much focus on one area and too little in others, ie one area will be flooded and another in drought. Essentially you are shutting parts of your mind and body down – as if it were in lockdown

In reality this means paralysis, unclear thinking, substandard and unhelpful thoughts which leads to panic, impulsive, erratic and destructive behaviours. These contribute to a vicious circle of poor sleep, nutrition, increased conflict, ill-health etc. This is disastrous for you, your team and your business, as well as your families.

Lived experiences with my clients

I frequently see this particular phenomenon with my clients, and this is pre-COVID19! My clients are senior leaders with high potential. However, what I observe in them is that particular stressors can really impair their judgement which in turn impacts their performance – for their funds, how they interact with their team members or other teams, and even with clients!

None of them intend to be this person but in that haze of stress, they are often unaware that they are self-sabotaging. Even if they are, the very fear of looking bad in front of bosses or peers, is actually making things worse!

So what?

With the current environment, now is not the time for your mind and body to be put into lockdown as well. By letting stress hijack you, this will lead to rigid and dogmatic thinking, hunkering down and reversion behaviours, and a withdrawal & reduction of emotional intelligence.

Here’s an example of good intent, albeit misguided. With elderly parents or grandparents, I am sure you will have had to have the chat about taking away their car keys because of dangerous driving. Their judgement is for various reasons, clouded hence fighting to keep their keys. However, we all know that’s not a good decision for them. They are unable to see that there are other ways to prove their independence or get their shopping or visit their friends.

We’re here to help give you the tools and techniques to help you stop reacting and to start making conscious choices, to make better decisions, whilst understanding that you are unique and you have different needs for what will help you deal with stress, ie act not react.

Your power does not lie in controlling everything around you. The fact is, you can’t control what is happening out there but you can control the way you respond

What simple and unintimidating steps can you take to start?

The first thing is to acknowledge that you’re only human, that these are particularly challenging times and that you can turn to people for help – from your friends and family, from your team members, your peers, colleagues, online communities or even ask for a coach!

Collaborate and ask for ideas too. You don’t have to do this alone. It’s amazing how much creativity and alternative ways of thinking lead to new solutions if you have different perspectives. Even if your ego won’t let you ask for help due to a ‘mental health’ stigma, think about this from a competitive stance. Why wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to ensure that you had and could continue to have, the psychological and competitive edge?

In short, find some small but meaningful ways to create new habits such as achievable exercise goals, eating more healthily and practising mindfulness.

The reality is that there is too much noise going on in our heads. In order to listen clearly to ourselves, we need to quieten the noise by taking a pause. That’s what being mindful means. That’s what practising mindfulness means. Pausing for long enough to notice your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental way so that you can work out what you’re thinking and feeling and go from there. You know what you need to do to get you out of particular binds, you just need clarity of thought. Otherwise, you’re just firing randomly hoping to hit bull’s eye when you’re trying to make important decisions.

Meditation is a great form of practising mindfulness. Among so many benefits, it has been proven to reduce anxiety and to increase one’s ability to think creatively and more empathetically. This has been proven through numerous studies with leaders in large corporations globally.

The aim of this programme is not for anyone to feel intimidated or to offer something that isn’t practical or something that does not resonate. We will always offer alternatives and different options in ideas and tips. The tools only work if they are appropriate for you. This offering is for you so we would welcome any feedback and ideas for further episodes.

This article originally appeared on RenOc and Karen Kwong can be reached through her website.

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