Stress, along with cancer, is one of the great epidemics of the modern age. It is without doubt the single most common problem I see manifested every day among my clients at Phoenix Coaching & Therapy. Even with those who initially approach me for help regarding another issue, such as smoking cessation or weight loss, there invariably turns out to be some form of stress lurking in the background. Problem behaviour, such as smoking and other forms of addiction, is merely a symptom of a deeper underlying issue, which is almost always stress-related. The Covid-19 pandemic has only added to people's anxiety, plunging the economy into recession and putting millions of jobs at risk, whilst social distancing requirements have cut many vulnerable people off from their much-needed support networks of family and friends. The resulting mental health epidemic could end up being just as serious as Coronavirus.
We live in a society that is already over-anxious, panic-stricken and burdened with worry, even though we enjoy many luxuries and conveniences that our ancestors could have only dreamt about. But why now? What is it about the way we’re currently living which is driving people to their GPs in record numbers to be prescribed pills for anxiety? The financial crises of recent years have undoubtedly taken a huge toll on many. An austerity-driven agenda of relentless cost-cutting in both the public and private sectors has led to vast swathes of job losses, mass unemployment plus burgeoning workloads and longer hours for those “fortunate” enough to have kept their jobs (and I use the word “fortunate” in the loosest possible sense). The cost of living has continued to rise whilst wages have been squeezed, leaving many people worse off than they were a decade ago. Official statistics confirm that the UK is a nation that is overstressed, overanxious, overworked and insecure.
Economic turbulence, austerity, budget cuts, zero-hours contracts, the overhaul of our benefits system, the rising cost of living, concerns about the impact of Brexit and world affairs, wage freezes and redundancies have all had a catastrophic impact upon the lives of ordinary people. UK employees now work some of the longest hours in Europe, and over half of them are living in a state of near-permanent fear for their jobs. This is economically disastrous. Sickness absence alone costs the economy an estimated £100 billion a year, and longer hours are associated with worse productivity. We are caught up in a self-defeating spiral of stress and it’s destroying the quality of our lives.
Everybody experiences anxiety at some level. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, old or young, outgoing or shy, rich or poor, well-educated or not. Stress is a perfectly normal human reaction and it’s impossible to live without it. In fact, it’s an important part of our body’s defences for dealing with short-term pressures and danger. The problems come when those pressures last for too long and exhaust our body’s coping resources. That’s when stress can lead to illness. We’re simply not designed to be in top gear the whole time. Our bodies and minds need to switch off periodically in order for our batteries to recharge. Failure to do so will lead to us becoming overwhelmed and burnt out. We don’t expect mechanical devices to keep on going indefinitely without some degree of recovery time to ‘power-up’ again. So why should we expect that of ourselves?
Ten years ago I was left physically, mentally and psychologically broken by sustained, chronic workplace stress. I was completely burnt out to the point where I could no longer function. This situation had been brewing for several years, during which I’d been fighting desperately to keep a lid on my burgeoning stress levels, bottling them up until the internal pressure was no longer sustainable and the lid blew off in quite spectacular fashion, leaving me a total basket case. The good news is that I managed to find my way out of the black hole. Now I spend my life showing others in similar positions how to do the same.
I know from personal experience that it’s vitally important to recognise that you’re not alone. It might seem that way at first because stress can be an extremely isolating condition. Many people feel embarrassed to admit to it and therefore to talk about it. I know I did. Some become skilled at putting on a brave face to disguise how they feel. This is a particular problem among young men who feel a need to adhere to outdated stereotypical concepts of masculinity. But the truth is that anxiety is a far more common problem than most people realise. A quarter of people across the world suffer from stress at any given time. And latest statistics show that almost a third of GP visits in the UK are due to people seeking help for stress.
Anxiety causes a wide range of frightening physical symptoms, including unexplained physical pains, dizziness, breathlessness, nightmares, numbness in the arms and legs, choking, chest pains, agoraphobia and loss of appetite, to name just a few. When you first start to experience these things, it can be really scary. I’d had no idea that stress could cause such a wide variety of alarming physical symptoms. It happens because of what’s known as the ‘fight or flight’ response which is our body’s way of dealing with a physical threat or opportunity. Anxiety happens to everyone at times of danger and is the body’s natural response to prepare us to cope with sudden threats. It is a primitive alarm reaction inherited from our ancestors who had to contend with savage predators such as the sabre-toothed tiger.
But the world has changed, and so has the nature of the problems we face. We’re less likely to find ourselves in the kind of short-term life-threatening situations that were commonplace for our ancestors. You’re not going to run into a snarling sabre-toothed tiger on your way to Tesco’s (we hope!). The modern world has created a whole different battery of anxieties though – workplace stress, money worries, bullying, fears of redundancy, constantly evolving new technology, worries about the long-term future and how you’re going to pay the bills, relationship difficulties, an illness in the family – to name just a few. But our physical reaction to these perceived threats is exactly the same as it was for our ancestors when faced with a predator – because our biological response hasn’t evolved. We’re still using a prehistoric defence mechanism which was created for a whole different type of situation. And because many of the problems we face now are more long-term in nature, our body doesn’t get the same opportunity to power down and recover.
Fortunately help is at hand and there are many techniques you can deploy and lifestyle changes you can make to control your stress levels and turn your life around. The subject is covered in full in our new Phoenix eBook, Stress - The 21st Century Epidemic, part of the Phoenix Personal Development Series, available to buy and download instantly from our online store. The book provides a wealth of advice ranging from the warning signs to watch out for to symptom management and includes stress-busting exercises and techniques to get you started on the road to recovery. In our online store you'll also find a wide range of guided meditations and hypnosis audios, specifically designed to help with stress and anxiety.
Helping people to overcome stress and anxiety is at the absolute forefront of the work we do at Phoenix Coaching & Therapy where we use a vast spectrum of different tools and techniques to give clients the coping resources they require. These include meditation and mindfulness, hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Integral Eye-Movement Therapy (IEMT) and sound therapy, all of which we’ve found to be powerfully effective in not just alleviating stress but also empowering people to go on and live the best and most fulfilling lives possible. Some of these methods, such as meditation and hypnosis, continue to be the subject of a great deal of confusion, suspicion and misconceptions, which is why we’ve devoted a number of other books in this Phoenix series to explaining the very real science underpinning them and the profound therapeutic benefits that they offer.
If you’re interested to know more about our work at Phoenix, or would like to take advantage of our wide range of therapeutic and coaching services, check out our website at www.phoenixcoaching.co.uk or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org