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Now before we go any further I would like to say that I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be one on the Internet, if you are experiencing serious bouts of anxiety and stress please go and see a doctor who can refer you to a mental health professional.

Author: Christian Baker, a professional speaker and nutritional specialist, talks about the rise of stress and anxiety among the population around the world. He explains why nowadays we are more stressed than ever and gives practical advice on how to reduce stress and anxiety naturally by getting back in touch with our parasympathetic nervous system.

 

It's no big secret that stress and anxiety are on the rise

According to the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics:
  • 45% of all Australians have a lifetime mental health disorder (a mental disorder at some point in their life).
  • 20% of all Australians have had a 12-month mental disorder.
  • Anxiety is the biggest contributor, this includes a variety of conditions such as agoraphobia, generalised anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Here's an interesting snapshot taken from Google Trends:

stress and anxiety search term interest by region
Google Trends is a tool which helps you look up how certain words and search terms are trending around the world. It's free and quite fun to use. 

You can look up all kinds of things, for example:
  • The most searched for term that includes the word "sandwich" is "chicken sandwich".
  • The term "David Hasselhoff" is searched for more in Austria than in any other country on the planet.
But I digress.

In the picture above the blue represents stress and the purple represents anxiety.

Now given these are words written in English and the word "stress" is also used by people in other languages that may be a factor in stress being such a highly searched word throughout Europe and South America.

However, look at the purple, these countries represent the "New World" e.g. Western Countries who are the most developed such as the USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

I consider Europe still very much the "Old World" because they hold on to a lot more traditions such as taking long lunch breaks, afternoon naps and more family time.

They also take long holidays of up to 6 weeks away from work without feeling guilty compared to the US and their famous 2 week or "too weak" holiday which, if people actually take it they usually end up spending most of their "relaxing holiday" feeling anxious about losing their job.

Why are we feeling more stressed and anxious than ever before?

The anomalous past year aside, there are many potential causes.

One is that as humans we are using old hardware in a new environment.

Our bodies and minds were fine-tuned to help us survive in a world of hunter and the hunted, kill or be killed, fight or flight.


We haven't evolved a whole lot since then. 
Yet our environment has changed significantly.
 

We used to have very clear-cut routines to our day which made it easy to respond in an appropriate way:
  • Sleeping
  • Having Sex
  • Hunting
  • Eating
  • More sleeping
We were great at switching off and switching on and knew the difference between the two.

  • For example, when the sun came up, it was time to switch on our bodies and minds and when the sun went down it was time to unwind and prepare to sleepBut thanks to candles, lanterns and eventually the light bulb, we can now manipulate our environment to be filled with light 24 hours a day if we like, shifting our natural sleep patterns.
  • Sex was something we did when we found someone we wanted to mate with and create offspring, we got it done and moved onThanks to internet porn, dating apps, strippers and prostitutes, there are now countless distractions appealing to our inner animal and encouraging us to indulge in it at every opportunity.
  • Hunting was a period of intense hard work and danger that required us to be hyper-focused and ready to react in a split second. But once the hunt was over, we could relax once more. Now with smartphone notifications, automatic send/receive email and long traffic commutes, we are constantly on our toes ready to react to something and it's becoming exhausting.
 

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems

To help you better understand how your body works in these situations I would like to introduce you to two important parts of your nervous system: sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

According to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine here are their definitions:

  • The Sympathetic Nervous System: "The sympathetic nervous system prepares your body for physical and mental activity. It makes your heart beat faster and stronger, opens your airways so you can breathe more easily, and inhibits digestion."

  • The Parasympathetic Nervous System: "The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for bodily functions when we are at rest: it stimulates digestion, activates various metabolic processes and helps us to relax."
sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
Image Source: Backyard Brains

So in short, the sympathetic is our "fight or flight" action-oriented system and the parasympathetic is our "Netflix and chill" relaxation system.

Going back to what I said earlier, back in the caveman days, it was easy to switch between being in "sympathetic" and "parasympathetic" mode because there was such a clear distinction between the various tasks and situations in our daily lives.

But in our modern fast-paced world, more people are spending the majority of their time in the reactive sympathetic mode and not much time at all in the relaxed parasympathetic mode apart from perhaps when they're sleeping.

This is a big cause of not only mental health problems like anxiety but may also be contributing to physical issues such as high blood pressure and premature ageing.

Wondering if you can teach your brain to respond to stress? Find out how to down regulate the nervous system at times of high stress.


Reduce stress and anxiety by getting back in touch with your parasympathetic nervous system

Here are 2 suggestions:

1. Offence 

This doesn't sound very relaxing but what I mean by this is to attack the problem head-on by taking back control of your life and reducing distractions.
  • Put your phone on airplane mode while you sleep, not only will this eliminate anxiety inducing buzzes and dings but it will also reduce electromagnetic radiation which may in turn improve your sleep quality. (And yes, your alarm will still go off when on airplane mode, you can test it first if you're worried).

  • Turn off ALL instant notifications. This means no auto send/receive on email, no Facebook, Instagram, Tinder or any other app, you can always check them later but at least you will be in control and not the other way round.

  • When you're doing non-work related tasks such as going to the gym or working on a hobby, either leave your phone in the locker or put it on airplane mode, stop letting yourself be interrupted, try focusing on something for once in your life.

  • Stop saying YES to everything, if you don't have much planned for next week and then you get invited to a concert, out to coffee or to go shopping, just stop, take a deep breath and think "am I saying yes just to be nice or because I actually want to do these things?". By saying no to more things, you are able to take back control of your own schedule and truly do things you want to do rather than things someone else thinks is a good idea.

2. Defence

This means building up some "relaxation reserves" and actively working on relaxing before letting anyone else get into your head or in your way each day.

  • Meditate. 
Did you know that Wolverine actor and Aussie icon Hugh Jackman used to suffer from debilitating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and was able to get it under control by using Transcendental Meditation (TM)? 

Did you also know that Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates aka. The biggest hedge fund on the planet with over $16B USD under management meditates twice per day?


Time and time again, if you dig into the routines of successful people who perform well under pressure most of them engage in some kind of regular meditative practice.


Thank you to our lord and saviour 
Tim Ferriss for pointing this common trait out amongst his podcast guests and all of the people he has interviewed for his wildly successful blog and best-selling books.

Now, at first meditation may seem like some crazy, deep spiritual thing which is hard to get your head around but it doesn't have to be that way.


Even meditating for just 5 to 10 minutes in the morning can make a difference and can help you to get in touch with your parasympathetic nervous system.

 

Another great way to get started is to try out the free app Headspace.

The cool thing about Headspace is that it's a guided meditation involving an English gentleman by the name of Andy talking you gently through the meditations.

The man is a legend and has been a full-time monk in multiple countries yet is super down to earth and a pleasure to listen to.

Give it a go, it's free and it's fun.

Also, another great tool for creating a good meditative environment is the website Calm.com.

It also has guided meditation but my favourite feature is their white noise generator, you can choose environments such as gentle waves breaking on the shore or soft raindrops falling in a forest. It's magnificent.

  • Go for a swim.
If you absolutely cannot think about sitting down to meditate without feeling anxious there is another option for you.

One of my favourite authors, Mr Ryan Holiday does not meditate but instead, he swims, he says that to him, under the water is the last truly quiet place on earth.

He wrote an excellent article on his personal routine which can be found here: Forget Meditating, Just Go For A Swim.

Looking for more stress management tips? Try these 10 biohacks to relieve stress.

Wrapping it up

These strategies require constant effort and practice but they are absolutely worth it, just take it one day at a time and don't be too hard on yourself. 
 
If you do one you can get results. If you do them all, step by step, a new one each day, within a week you'll almost certainly experience a drastically different world each day.

Now, I'm no saint, I'm writing this blog post because anxiety is an issue I personally struggle with and it takes constant practice to keep it under control.

So if you have any great strategies of your own, feel free to share them with me because I'm always ready to try them out.

You can leave all suggestions as well as any questions you may have in the comments section below.


Also, if you are suffering from serious anxiety issues please go and see a doctor.


Most doctors are able to refer you to an appropriate mental health care professional.

Also, a great feature of the Aussie healthcare system is that if you go see a doctor they can refer you to a therapist and you can get up to 10 therapy sessions completely free of charge (good job Aussie government).

And that's it.

So remember to work on spending more time in parasympathetic (relaxed) mode and less time in sympathetic (reactive) mode.

You can do so by using the following strategies:
  1. Put your phone on airplane mode regularly.
  2. Turn off all notifications on your phone including email and social media apps.
  3. Stop taking your phone everywhere you go.
  4. Stop saying YES to everything and start using the power of NO.
  5. Try to meditate.
  6. Or, if you don't want to try meditation, start swimming regularly.
Until next time,

Live with energy and embrace your parasympathetic nervous system.

Christian Baker

P.S. By using the advice from this post and all of the content here in the blog I am confident that you will be able to fight fatigue, sharpen your focus and deal with stress. 

Guest Author
Guest Author

This article was contributed by a guest author with expert knowledge in their field.



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