The Physical Stress Response
During the initial waves of a stress attack, the adrenal medulla produces and releases the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.
These hormones increase blood sugar levels, rapidly supply the brain and muscles with energy, accelerate the heartbeat, increase blood pressure – basically, your entire body enters a state of defensive readiness. During these initial waves of stress, the body may also experience a rise in libido. This often results in headaches for men.
In order to calm the body from this first wave of stress, the hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol helps calm your nerves and prevents inflammation.
Chronic stress, however, means too much cortisol in the blood and this can have devastating consequences for your health.
Imagine, for a moment, a room on fire. You call the fire department, they rush to the scene and extinguish the fire with tons of water. The fire is put out, but the water has destroyed everything in the room.
Think of cortisol as the water that douses a fire.
Large amounts of cortisol can destroy your immune system over time.
It reduces the ability to fight pathogens and thus you become susceptible to every disease under the sun, from heart disease to memory disorders to depression. If you have had cancer in the past, your recovery can be negatively affected.
Stress has been shown to physically alter blood vessels and alter the brain.
Cortisol also affects your desire to eat. It blocks your appetite and suppresses neurotransmitters (leptin), which, in turn, leads to an awakened appetite and the secretion of insulin. When insulin levels are high, the body screams for sugar, like sweets, chocolate, cakes, etc. These cravings for sweets begin to overwhelm us and we feel powerless and out of control.
Do Women Experience More Stress than Men?
Did you know that women are more prone to mental illness than men? When it comes to depression, eating disorders, anxiety disorders and sleeping problems, women lead the pack.
A study of more than 13,000 participants in 25 countries, sheds light on the fact that:
- Women still do three times more housework than men, even when they have full-time jobs.
- Women in Europe do better, stress-wise, when they spend more time at work and less time doing housework.
Women handle stress differently than men.
“Men drink, women worry.”
That’s an old slogan used by Anglo-American psychiatrists.
But now that women make up a large percentage of the workforce, alcohol consumption by women has increased exponentially. And there are many physicians that are concerned about women drinking more and more, particularly during pregnancy.
While bullying in the professional world enjoys much of the media spotlight, stress of child rearing is, comparatively speaking, given little attention.
As long as political recognition goes to how well women fulfil their roles as providers in the home – for children and the older generation – the imbalance of women suffering from mental illnesses will remain unchanged.
Stress, Feelings and Thoughts
One group, particularly susceptible to the pressure of stress is mothers between 30 and 60. I don’t want to tell you that there are no other people with stress. Stress is not related to a specific age or gender. The underlying problem is similar for all. So, dear reader, if you are a man, read this book and find examples for yourself.
Mothers are often under extreme pressure to be perfect: to perfectly balance careers, child rearing, household duties and, of course, their appearance.
In fact, in terms of their physical appearance, the media sends the message that all mothers should be sexy, that they should look at least ten years younger than they really are.
Indeed, many mothers get the message through the media and politics that it’s very easy to balance their career, children and body.
Women have to be happy, good looking, always in a good mood, sexy, and always appear 10 years younger.
There is a whole industry that tells women what they should look like. One hero of that industry is supermodel Heidi Klum, who after four kids still manages to have a perfect size 6 figure. “What is wrong with me that I don’t wear a size 6?” you may ask yourself after your first or second child. “Why am I still a size 12 or 14?”
And when it comes to parenting: what is parenting nowadays anyway? You, of course, want to be a good mother, but how will you know if you are a good mother? You may be worrying about whether you should have your child start learning Mandarin at the age 2, whether your child is clean enough, whether your child has the right clothes and toys. How long children should be supported?
My mother-in-law always told me stories about her son and how she managed to keep him so clean when he was only a year old.
I remember another mother once telling me that her son listened to operas with keen interest at the ripe old age of three. And my son? He was still listening to simple children’s songs. “Am I being a good mother?” I wondered. And suddenly, I was uncertain about everything. “How can I be better? How can I give my child the best?” I thought.
These spinning thoughts lead to a single question: What types of children have good mothers? Superstars? Surgeons? A top university students? In our culture, the answer to all those questions is yes. So we work ourselves to the bone to produce “good” kids.
So what if your child has no interest in school or learning? What if your child smokes and hangs out with the “wrong” crowd? What if your child doesn’t behave at the table, hates piano lessons, plays truant all the time?
In our society, we suffer from competition addiction. We are addicted to being better than others because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s a way to strengthen our ego with the result that often the fear of not being „good enough“ gets stronger and stronger.
Imagine the above-mentioned is true for your inner child, a small voice inside your head, maybe begins to gain power: “Am I good enough?” it asks.
Then the voice gets louder and a landslide of negativity is unleashed: “You’re a failure as a wife. You’re a failure as a mother. Just look at you! Your child is a failure. And look at your hair? And your weight! No wonder your husband looks at other women so often! And what about your job? Have you even advanced one step in your career?”
The shame, the feeling of not being good enough, is widespread. Shame has nothing to do with guilt, but rather with the feeling of being a failure and not being good enough.
But why is this? Neurobiologists suspect that our sense of shame is rooted deeply in the amygdala. In the Stone Age, there was no space for the individual: everyone had to conform to the group to survive. In the Stone Age, being an individual meant being expelled from the group and facing certain death.
Shame, when balanced, allows us to develop empathy and regulate our emotions and behavior. Problems arise when shame becomes excessive or when we feel no shame at all.
So how do we deal with the problem of shame? There are helpful strategies: becoming your own best friend and radical self-acceptance.
Tara Brach, therapist and meditation teacher says„… a moment of radical self-acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom.
By learning to hold yourself with loving compassion, you free yourself from suffering from the ‘something is wrong with me’ syndrome.“
If you like to have more stress in your life, than nourish shame, self-doubt and unhappiness in your life, (of course you won’t but just imagine it) then compete with yourself – tell yourself you need to or have to be “better”.
I remember a client whose mother tells her that she should compare herself to those who are better than her. One needs a role model! And she still finds herself taking her mother’s advice: She is constantly comparing herself to others.
And that is stressful – it makes her unhappy and requires a lot of energy. So what does she do when she realizes that she’s not „good enough“ or others seem to be „better“? She eats. And eats. And eats. She gives herself love, affection and understanding through food.
For many people, food becomes a replacement for affection, love, passion and sex. But you know what? It’s all a lie – food will never love you and if you eat because you feel shame, guilt and „not good enough“ you will become fatter and fatter.
To feel something is not proof that what you are feeling is true. Don’t believe everything you think.
Do this exercise when you find yourself feeling, for example, that others are more intelligent, better, happier, or if you think that you are boring, nobody cares about you, that you are a failure, that you are a fake and are just waiting for others to figure this out.
Ask yourself: is that really true what I’m thinking and feeling? How do I know that? Is there real proof for my “knowing?”
To be your own best friend helps you to love and respect yourself as you are and to have the body that fits you.