DS: Stress is produced internally by our adrenal glands. We tend to think of it as being an external ‘thing’ that happens to us, but in reality it’s an organic response to triggers we experience (and interpret) in our immediate environment. As for controlling these reactions, that’s largely done through how we eat, sleep, relax, exercise, interact and use the outdoors.
The reality therefore is that different people will have different baseline stress levels due to contrasting lifestyles: someone with a high baseline will generally respond poorly to a high stress environmental trigger, while someone with healthy cortisol levels will respond far better. What we really want to avoid is a position where we’re constantly suppressing natural emotional or mood responses – because this is literally exhausting. Instead, what we want to create is an internal environment where these responses don’t tip into emotions such as anger or sustained frustration.
We often forget that our brains are organs. We tend to think of the quality of our minds as being some kind of hand we’re dealt at birth, alongside characteristics such as being “short tempered”, “grumpy” etc, but this is a fallacy: Mind is simply a function of the brain, and just like the degree of musculature in a bicep, you can enhance the quality of cerebral outputs. We have control of our minds health, how it performs, how it develops and ultimately whether or not we maintain its fitness into our later years.
If we focus on quality outputs such as concentration and memory, we naturally improve our health as well as our personal performance. What’s more, if we look after the brain then all other outputs including mood are optimised. This is easier said than done: just asking the grumpy chap in the corner to cheer up doesn’t always work!!
Experience also suggests that for a typical member of the working population there’s a clear mental performance continuum: At one end there’s the coping and basic survival mentality, and at the other we have optimum mental performance. People don’t appreciate how easy it is to move from one end to the other if they get things right or wrong. To stay at the right end, you need a bottom up approach. By this I mean that a person’s reaction to the pressures caused by a demanding job aren’t going to be solved by a mindfulness workshop. Instead the solution starts with sleep, nutrition, movement, and then progresses to your physical and social environments.