What would life be like without stress?

anxiety stress Nov 03, 2020

2nd - 6th November marks Stress Awareness Week - but as you open your eyes on Monday morning and progress through the week, the team at WorkLifeWell ask you, what would life be like without stress?

We’ve all had times in our lives where we felt exceptionally stressed - but have you ever noticed that while you may be finding it difficult to breathe, your colleague, who is under similar pressure, appears to be acting like he’s on a two-week vacation. How can we all be so different at handling stress? How likely are we to suffer with anxiety and mental health challenges as a result of this stress? To answer these questions, we need to travel back to 1977 and look at the model proposed by Zubin and Spring.    

These researchers proposed a theory which suggested that we are all susceptible to suffering mental illness but our susceptibility varies due to different ‘vulnerabilities’ and our exposure to these factors. They proposed four main factors which increase our susceptibility or our likelihood to suffer with mental health issues. These were genetic, childhood experiences, lifestyle factors and environment.  

If you take a look at the stress-vulnerability graph, the further you go up the left axis the more stress you experience. The further to the right on the bottom axis, the more vulnerability factors you have. Now, you obviously want to stay wellness rather than become ill so we need to stay to the left of the line in the wellness region. For those with low levels of vulnerability, even in high periods of stress they are still seen to be in the wellness region. Contrast this with people that have lots of vulnerability and these people, even in times of moderate stress, are still living in the illness region and have left wellness a long way behind. Therefore, in order to stay well, you either have to keep your stress low or explore your vulnerabilities and whether these can be changed and improved.  

So let’s explore some of these vulnerabilities in a little more detail.

  1. Genetic  - as per usual your genes play a significant role in how we manage stress.  If you have a family history or certain conditions like e.g. bipolar disorder then you have a higher chance of getting the condition yourself.  This is because there is a genetic correlation with this particular condition.  Additionally though, our genes will determine how much stress hormone we release in times of stress as well as how active certain areas of our brains become.   Our genes may also determine the size of different areas of our brain which again will alter how we respond and feel about stress and the likelihood of stress leading to anxiety or worse.  
  2. Childhood experiences - your childhood is known to play a dramatic role in how we handle stressful situations.  A child that has been exposed to stress and trauma may be more likely to suffer mental ill health because these vulnerabilities alter how well they manage general levels of stress.
  3. Lifestyle factor - how you live your life including your job stresses and deadlines combined with the factors that keep you well including your nutrition and exercise levels have an influence on how you manage stress and whether you stay well.  
  4. Environment - the people you surround yourself with and the area you live can alter how your wellness levels.  If you live with an anxious person for some, it can make you feel more anxious.  If you don’t feel where you live is safe these are all aspects that can alter how well we are.

Now the above discussion is only a snapshot of how and why stress affects different people differently. One can see from the list you can’t change your genes and you can’t help the childhood that has already come and gone. However, our lifestyle factors are something in our control. The foods we eat,  the amount of exercise we do and whether we allow ourselves time for at least some rest and relaxation in our day are the things that we can control. So if you want to protect your mental health in times of ever increasing levels of stress see if you can turn your attention to your lifestyle and your environment and shift towards increasing levels of wellness. 

Author: Dr. Adam Greenfield, Co-founder of WorkLifeWell | Doctor of Chiropractic | Wellness Specialist

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