Anna meets...Neil

This month I'd like to introduce Neil Shah, Director (and Chief De-Stressing Officer) of the Stress Management Society. When I say Anna meets...Neil, it's stretching the truth somewhat, as I didn't so much meet him, as saw him on TV. His interview covered one of my pet topics, stress. I was greatly impressed by his enthusiasm for his subject as well as his general joy for life, not to mention his wonderful red patent shoes! Neil kindly agreed to answer some questions for the feature today.

For those who didn't see it, can you summarise what your appearance on BBC Breakfast covered?
We were talking about recent research which discovered the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for things such as emotions, stress and our ‘fight or flight’ response, is also linked to heart disease and stroke.
What's the relevance of stress on the body, and what impact might it have?
Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, such as blood being diverted to muscles and the shutting down of unnecessary bodily functions like digestion. This is why we experience things like a pounding heart, faster breathing, heartburn and indigestion.
Am I right in thinking that appropriate stress is good?
Stress is a natural instinct given to us to help protect us hence the ‘flight or fight’ response. Stress can be extremely useful in certain situations. It can be a great motivator as it can focus and sharpen our minds so we can achieve a desired outcome.  The problem is where we live in a longer term state of stress or get stressed in situations where it is not the most appropriate response.
I suffer from a stress related disease and have found that the understanding of appropriate stress is key. I place myself under a daily dose of appropriate stress every day by sea swimming, but realise that’s not possible for everyone. What other activities would you recommend as de-stressors?
Humans were designed to be active. Not only does exercise keep the heart healthy and get oxygen into the system but being active can burn off the stress hormones, boost your feel-good endorphins and take your mind off your daily worries. Most notably, exercise produces beta-endorphins, which improve mood.
Whether you are building muscle or stamina, all types of exercise relax tense muscles and tissues which can contribute to stress-related aches and pains. Yoga, martial arts, swimming and walking have all been proved to have specific benefits for stress relief.
Is meditation on its own a useful tool against stress?
Meditation is a useful tool in our armour against stress as it helps us to focus on our breathing. When we are stressed and in ‘fight or flight’ mode, our bodies release hormones from the adrenal glands that result in an increase in our pulse rate and breathing. Meditation will help to slow this all down. Is mediation on its own enough? Well it will certainly help, but ultimately the cumulative efforts of everything we do to combat stress is what makes the largest difference.
Are we as a society exposed to more stress than say, our parents were?
The changing ways we communicate via technologies like phones and watches has compounded our stress levels, as we are constantly contactable and have less downtime.  For example you receive a complaint, or a message from a manager adding to your workload by email at 9pm and you end up losing sleep over it! In the past you wouldn’t even find out about it until you got to work in the morning and had the opportunity to immediately address it. We actually spend the bulk of our time worrying about scenarios that may not actually happen! When it comes to worrying the actual concern represents 10% of the situation, the remaining 90% is how you react to it. React positively and you will find that its impact is far less detrimental!

Shoes by Dobell see here

Your recent interview with the BBC touched on the subject of your bright shirt and snazzy shoes. I'd really like to hear you justify my love of dressing up and embracing the fun of colourplay as part of my own anti-stress campaign.
Being able to express yourself is really important. People don’t always find it easy to express themselves, which might explain why mental health issues are epidemic. The quickest way to change your psychology is to change your physiology and the best way to do this is to move, be active, laugh and enjoy yourself. So if fashion gives you enjoyment and is a channel to express yourself…then why not! 

You can see the BBC Breakfast interview along with others that Neil has given by clicking here
To find out more about Neil and the Stress Management Society click here.

Many thanks to Neil for our virtual meeting. We're none of us living a stress-free life nowadays, but we can at least avail ourselves of the various techniques on offer to help reduce the impact on our health. The Stress Management Society website has a 10 Step Stress Solution that's a useful guide to start with (follow the link above).

Anna x

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