Imagine you're in a peaceful forest. All around, you can hear the gentle workings of the natural world. A leaf spirals down from a tree. Small animals scurry quietly through the undergrowth. A bird chirps in the distance.
Now imagine the sound of a loud crack in a falling tree.
If we’re the forest, then stress is the metaphorical crack, shattering the calm.
A world of stress
Our lives are busier and more stressful than ever before.
Once upon a time, when we left work at the end of the day, we could leave it behind, but the rapid development of technology means our working lives can now easily seep into our home lives.
With our mobile phones, social profiles and email accounts keeping us tethered to the outside world, it's harder and harder to switch off and find a place of calm.
The digital world overwhelms us with information, often far more than we’re able to process. Social media can also be a breeding ground for anxiety, leaving us distracted, competitive and strangely empty. We spend time worrying about how our lives look to others, rather than appreciating the lives we have and the people around us.
And if you care about the environment and the planet we’re leaving our children, this too can be a source of stress in the modern world.
All of this can take a toll on our health, sleeping patterns and spiritual calm, but there are ways to navigate these issues.
Stress and the microbiome
Every day, we encounter a hundred tiny micro stressors, and these can have an impact on the microbiome, the natural ecosystem of bacteria that resides in our gut and influences many aspects of our health.
In recent years, we’ve begun to learn about the intricate relationship between stress and our microbiome.
It's believed stress can alter the composition of the microbiome, affecting both the number and balance of beneficial bacteria.
As with any natural environment, we should aim to keep our microbiomes balanced, healthy and diverse.
Preventing fallen trees
It doesn't lie within our power to remove all stress from our lives, but we can learn to control its influence on our mind, body and spirit.
Whatever the source of the stress, its effects accumulate in the body, so regular physical exercise is one of the most effective ways to tackle it. Exercise helps purge the body of unwanted chemicals, centres the spirit, and encourages sounder sleep.
If your sleep is fragmented, you should also turn off your devices at night. Our bodies use the sun to stay in rhythm, so evening exposure to blue light can confuse and disrupt our natural sleeping patterns.
A healthy diet of fresh, high-fibre foods is another good line of defence against stress, providing our bodies and microbiome with sustenance to support our immune system.
And don't neglect your mind and spirit. Put down your phone, step away from social media, find a place of natural beauty, and allow yourself some quiet time to reflect, away from the noise of the modern world.
Our fellow animals are yet another great solace in a stressful world.
Along with encouraging exercise, pets can improve our heart health, reduce stress, and put a smile on our face.
Walking a dog prompts us to go outside and reconnect with the natural world, and that boundless canine enthusiasm reminds us to live in the moment.
And petting or stroking your pet isn't just a good stress reliever; it's also supporting your microbiome, transmitting microbes and increasing your exposure to good bacteria.
Listen to your stress
It may not seem like it, but your stress is trying to help.
Stress is how we try to bring important things to our own attention. If we brush it aside or ignore it, it will remain unresolved and continue to manifest. If you turn off the fire alarm, it doesn't put out the fire.
So, listen to your stress. Find out what it’s trying to tell you. Is it something you can change for the better? If so, how? If not, can you make your peace with it?
Tell your stress you've listened. And once you've stopped the tree from cracking, you'll start to reconnect with the parts of your being that were drowned out in the noise.