Chef Network is working on a range of initiatives that address ways that we can improve our industry. One area we are looking at is improving the health and wellness of chefs and later this year we will run a series of practical workshops on this topic. In the run-up, Wellness Coach Maria Caldwell will share a series of short blog posts with practical tips on dealing with stress and improving health & wellness.
Please do share your own thoughts, tips and feedback in our Health & Wellness discussion thread
Personal Wellbeing - DEALING WITH STRESS – A 2 part blogpost
In every article, book, course, documentary about wellbeing and wellness one particular subject looms large – more than diet, exercise, heart health, sleep.
It’s a small word, that encompasses so much. Too much, in fact, to distil into a couple of short blog posts. So rather than talk about everything, we will instead look at the key ways stress impacts us on a daily basis; being able to recognize the signs of stress, and the key things we can do to both prevent stress from taking hold, and to support us when we feel overwhelmed.
The focus of the first of these two posts is to explain a little bit about the types of stress we face regularly; common stressors (or stress triggers); and what actually happens in our body when we experience stress.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY …. Part 1 of 2 part series on STRESS
At its core, stress refers to how we feel when we are faced with a situation or a demand that we are not sure we are able deal with. Effectively – it’s the balance between what you have to do and the resources you have to do it with. Stress does not always arise from an actual threat; but if we perceive a situation to be a threat, then it's a threat. In times like this, the body has a way of protecting us – the “fight or flight” stress response.
When (some) stress is OK….
Moderate amounts of stress at specific periods in our life can be beneficial. This “good stress”, often referred to as eustress, is the feeling we have when we are excited about life – like the first day in a new job; or going on a first date, or participating in a fun physical challenge like your first 5k run.
This kind of stress is vital because it motivates us, helps us rise to challenges, discover our strengths and helps to build resilience. Consequently, eustress is considered “good” – it keeps us feeling vital and engaged.
….and when it's not OK….
Acute stress is short term stress – usually arising from a sudden or unexpected event or (perceived or real) threat – being stuck in an unexpected traffic jam on your way to an appointment; having an argument with a family member; receiving negative feedback from colleagues at work…. This is what we typically refer to as “stress”. Our blood pressure and heart rate increases, muscle tension increases, breathing quickens. Again acute stress in itself is not intrinsically damaging if, and it’s a big IF, we find ways to relax quickly or return to normal afterwards.
….and when its toxic….
But, if we take longer and longer to recover from episodic stress; or when we are persistently exposed to stressors this takes its toll. This is known as chronic stress and it is toxic to our health and wellbeing – physical, mental and emotional. Taking the examples above - if you are in a bad relationship where you are fighting constantly with that family member; or you are constantly feeling under stress at work - then our bodies ability to recover is weakened and we start to burn out.
Common Stress Triggers
We all experience stress differently and have individual stress triggers that set off our fight or flight responses. This is what makes stress highly personal, and difficult to deal with in a generalised way. But, we don’t need a degree in psychiatry to identify common events in our daily life that can cause stress:
Personal & Health
Work & Study
- Illness or injury
- Pregnancy & becoming a parent
- Long-term health problems
- Getting married
- Going through a break-up
- Difficult relationships family or friends
- Being a carer
- Losing your job/unemployment
- Difficult issues at work
- Starting a new job
- Lack of security or homelessness
- Poor living conditions,
- Moving house
- Difficulties with neighbours
- Worries about money or meeting bills
What happens when stress happens?
The stress response (often called the “Fight or Flight” response) is the body’s in-built way to help us cope when we are faced with an imminent real or perceived threat (the stressor). Our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and adrenaline and cortisol surge through our body – our heart rate increases, we breathe faster, our senses are heightened, nutrients are released into the bloodstream, energy floods through the body – this happens so fast that we don’t even realise it. Once the threat/stressor passes the parasympathetic nervous system slows down the stress response; the adrenaline and cortisol drop, our heart rate goes back to normal, and we return to homeostasis.
But we live in a world where “being under pressure” and “being busy” is worn almost like a badge of honour – and we are living in an almost constantly stressed state. The daily demands of life and the always-on culture mean we are in a cycle where the opportunities for “rest and digest” - to recover and slow down are few and far between.
Over time, chronic stress can lead to serious physical ailments and often manifests itself on the lower end of the spectrum with a weakened immune system – or “being run down”, to devastating health problems including heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, high blood pressure and depression.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. We can learn very basic behaviours to help us activate the rest and digest response such as taking Breath Snacks or taking more downtime - being in nature or reducing screen-time; and trying to improve our sleep.
Being able to recognize stress means that we can start to develop our resilience against it – and in Part 2 we will discover how stress can manifest in our thoughts, bodies, emotions and behaviours; and what practical things we can do to help minimize the impact of stress.
If you feel that you have difficulty coping with stress, please talk to someone. If you are not comfortable speaking with your family – then reach out to a friend or your GP. Help is available and you are not alone. Some really good online resources are:
*In addition to the websites above, other sources researched for this article are:
About the Author:
Maria Caldwell, Green Wave Wellness
Maria Caldwell is a yoga teacher with almost 15 years experience teaching public, corporate and one-to-one classes. Her classes incorporate a mix of movement, breathwork and meditation. She teaches dynamic yoga, restorative yoga, yoga for sports, and practical mindfulness.
In 2015 she qualified as Health Coach - certified by the American Council on Exercise, where she is currently studying a specialism in Nutrition for Fitness. She has a 360 approach to wellbeing - movement, nutrition, mindset and rest.
In addition to yoga she likes to surf, hike, lift heavy weights and cook!
Find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram