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Control and reduce stress by committing to these five pillars of good health
Life is stressful. The Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey, conducted by the Australian Psychological Society, found that five million Australians reported their current stress levels had an impact on their physical health. This may be an underestimation as it seems everybody is stressed and this is having a significant impact on the health of the population as a whole.
There is a growing epidemic of preventable chronic health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, over 80 different autoimmune diseases, diabetes, dementia and obesity, not to mention mental health issues such as depression and anxiety – and it’s not just because a large percentage of the population are 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 100 have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). To put that in perspective, in the 1970s the number diagnosed with ASD was one in 5,000. Childhood cancer and depression have doubled in the last 30 years.
To expect to have 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 our health.
Today we require 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 these stresses 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 the 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 our noses.
The key to dealing with these stress challenges is to minimise them, and then to build resilience. As today’s world becomes more complicated, the solutions are actually remarkably simple. There are five pillars of good health, which give an individual a model for taking control of their health. These include breathing, sleeping, nourishing, moving and thinking.
Let’s just take two of those. Sleep and breathe are key pillars. Forty-four per cent of respondents to the Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey recognised that lack of sleep was a key contributor to their stress levels. Sleep is an individual’s nonnegotiable, built-in life-support system. It’s cheap, accessible and profound. Put simply, use it or lose it.
A consistently good night’s sleep boosts a person’s immune system, memory and ability to think logically. It improves blood sugar levels, which is important in all diseases, decreases the likelihood of a heart attack, and positively affects almost every measure of physical and mental health and wellbeing, including a person’s sex life. A consistently good night’s sleep is a function of quantity (getting enough) and quality (breathing well). Poor sleep and breathing habits affect the 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 one’s potential. Whether talking about the potential of an individual, 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. This is the type of society that people will want to live in, and the kind of company that people will want to work for.
Taking control, recognising the stresses in life that break us down, and focusing on the pillars of health so we build mental, physical and emotional resilience to deal with the modern world are a good start towards fulfilling that potential.
Dr Ron Ehrlich is a leading holistic health advocate with over 35 years of clinical experience. He is the author of A Life Less Stressed: The 5 Pillars of Health and Wellness and hosts the podcast Unstress with Dr Ron Ehrlich. For more information, visit www.drronehrlich.com.