Life is stressful. The Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey, conducted by the Australian Psychological Society, found five million Australians reported their current stress levels had an impact on their physical health. It may be an underestimation as its seems everybody is stressed and it is having a significant impact on people’s health
The epidemic of preventable chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, over 80 autoimmune diseases, diabetes, dementia and obesity, not to mention mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, are all on the rise, and it’s not just that society is getting older. Children are not faring well either. One-third have allergies, one in four have asthma, one in 10 have ADHD, and one in a hundred diagnosed on the autism spectrum. To put that in perspective, in the 1970s the number was one in 5,000. Childhood cancer and depression has doubled in the last thirty years.
To expect no stress is unrealistic. A more realistic goal is to live a life less stressed, to build resilience, and enjoy health and wellness. But there are many stresses that go unrecognised, and yet also challenge health.
Life today requires a broader definition of stress, which includes any factor that compromises the immune system and promotes chronic inflammation, the common denominator in all chronic disease. Recognising those means people can make informed decisions, build resilience and take control of their own health.
In order to solve a problem, to deal with the stresses of modern life, individuals and organisations need to understand what those stresses are. A useful model is to identify five stresses: emotional, environmental, nutritional, postural and dental. The final stress may surprise people, but it is the story of a hidden epidemic going on right underneath people’s noses.
The key to dealing with these stress challenges is minimising them, and then to build resilience. As today’s world becomes more complicated, the solutions are actually remarkably simple. There are five pillars of health, which give an individual a model with which to take control of their health. These include sleep, breathe, nourish, move and think.
Let’s just take two of those. Sleep and breathe are key pillars. Forty-four per cent of respondents in Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey recognise that lack of sleep is a key contributor. Sleep is an individual’s non-negotiable, built-in, life-support system. It’s cheap, accessible and profound. Put simply, use it or lose it.
A consistently good night sleep boosts a person’s immune system, memory, ability to think logically, improves blood sugar important in all diseases, decreases the likelihood of a heart attack and affects positively almost every measure of physical and mental health and wellbeing, including a person’s sex life. A consistently good night sleep is a function of quantity (getting enough) and quality (breathing well). Poor sleep and breathing habits affect young and old alike, and yet the return on investment is well worth it.
If there is one goal in life, it should be to fulfil potential. Whether talking about “potential” as an individual, a member of a family, a community or, for that matter, a company, enjoying good health is central to that goal. Healthy individuals make for a healthy society, or a healthy company. It’s a society that people will want to live in, and a company that people will want to work for.
Taking control, recognising the stresses in life that break us down, focusing on the pillars of health to build mental, physical and emotional resilience to deal with the modern world is a good start to fulfilling that potential.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich is one of Australia’s leading holistic health advocates with over 35 years of clinical experience. He is the author of A Life Less Stressed: The 5 pillars of health and wellness and host of the weekly podcast Unstress with Dr. Ron Ehrlich. He gives keynotes and runs workshops on understanding stress, wellness and, in doing so, fulfilling potential.