(R.H.) WHAT IMPACT DOES STRESS HAVE ON OUR BODIES AND MINDS?
(S.D.A.) Stress often comes with an experience of tension which leads to frustration and ultimately results in erupting situations with those around us. Visible symptoms include neck rubbing, hunching over with stomach pain, and/or the development of tension in the jaw and forehead.
Studies suggest that most people with stress disorders actually have breathing problems. Stress causes an increased sensation of breath which changes the carbon dioxide levels in blood and the oxygen levels in the cerebral spinal fluid.
As muscles tighten, teeth clench or breathing patterns change, there is a message that goes into the amygdala, or deep centre of the brain. The message says there is trouble coming and the amygdala informs the back of the brain, the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus gets in touch with all nerves and the adrenal system and causes a fight-or-flee reaction. At this time, the body is downloading approximately 1600 neurochemicals in order to prepare for the apparent tragedy that is about to happen.
It is important to remember that each person is different. The body talks so each person should have a look at their own physiology. Is the stomach pain produced by a download of cortisol and adrenaline? Is the neck pain a muscular or physiological experience? Above all, stress impacts relationships, the way we work, and our productivity in a huge way.
WHAT STRATEGIES DO YOU RECOMMEND TO REDUCE STRESS?
Paying attention to the breath and correcting any problems actually alleviates much of the (physical) experience of stress. It is important to focus on where the breath is coming from and how it is impacting the body. It makes sense that a shallow breath triggers the brain to signal stress. Practice breathing into the abdomen to the count of five and exhale to the count of five. Yoga, tai chi, and biofeedback are excellent ways to learn how to breathe.
When I am working with clients, I ask them to think about the stressful situation to see if they are able to move from the emotional part of their brain and reconnect with the frontal cortex so they are able to ask these two questions: Is this problem the problem? Or is it the significance that I am giving to the problem that is creating stress?
When stress is experienced it is very healthy to be with someone who has been able to find their way through similar situations as it helps the motivation to change from a state of muscular tension. One breath in of gratitude and appreciation can change everything.
HOW CAN FARM FAMILIES WORK TOWARDS A LIFE OF BALANCE?
I have worked with hundreds of families who run their own businesses and live in the same context day and night. It is really important to set some boundaries around the business. I live and work with my husband and in our relationship, we have certain areas of the house where we can talk about our work and other areas are dedicated to sacred family time. For us, sitting at the table is not a time to talk about business but is a time to fill up on what we need both nutritionally and relationship-wise.
During both busy and slower times on the farm, it is important to notice the surroundings and be able to breathe in appreciation and gratitude. We know from research that those who experience a sense of gratitude experience less stress. Take a break — without stopping the tractor — and think about what is close by that is appreciated. It is said that an attitude of gratitude prevents a life of stress.
It is also critical to try and find some balance. During busy times like harvest, take a short break with a loved one. It is a small distraction from the pressure of having to finish the job. Eating well, getting enough sleep, and fitting in some kind of relaxation for the eyes and mind is also important. If the job involves sitting all day, get some physical exercise — even a 10-minute walk often burns off the stress that may have built up.
In busy seasons, do not lose sight that the urgent workload is only temporary. Once a pattern of resiliency and adaptation is built, it is easier to accept that things like the weather and workload cannot be changed but can be adapted to.
WHERE CAN FAMILIES SEEK HELP AND GUIDANCE FOR STRESS-RELATED ISSUES?
Nobody in the family is objective so it is important to look for a registered professional to work with. All family members should attend an appointment so each individual has an opportunity to talk. With a good family therapist, it usually takes three to four sessions to have the family realize where the roots of their relationships have become toxic or damaged and be able to heal so they can continue to live wholesome lives together.
The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (www.aapb.org) acts as a bank of research in the area of stress. Biofeedback, which actually shows breathing and brain wave patterns, can be read about online and carried out by a registered professional. I also recommend the tools and apps available at www.heartmath.org to improve breathing. •