There are some periods in our life that are unavoidably busy. We have an impending deadline, or a flurry of events we’ve committed to one after another, or it’s school holidays and we’re trying to meet the needs of our children and work—all at the same time. But for too many women these days, this busyness never subsides. They’ve got to-do lists longer than their arms and they never seem to be able to cross everything off. As a result of this, women are wired. And they’re tired. Tired yet wired. They feel as though there is never enough time in the day to get through all the things they need to do and they’re in a frantic rush to do everything. Not to mention feeling the pressure of being all things to all people. This relentless urgency and this perception that there is not enough time, combined with a to-do list that is never all crossed off and a striving for ‘perfection’ in everything they do, is having such significant health consequences for women.
Sex hormone-based health problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, infertility, and debilitating menopauses—not to mention exhaustion—have never been greater, and the role of stress in all of this is undeniable when you look at both the body’s chemistry and the scientific research. Our body cannot keep up with the rate of change the world now asks of it and it is imperative that we understand this and take steps to counteract the effects.
The past two or so decades—which have included the birth of the Internet and the invention of mobile phones (not to mention smart phones)—have unleashed the most rapid period of change in human history to date. I’m sure there are many of you who can remember a time when you could leave the house and be unreachable until you got home. Fast forward to today and, not only do our smartphones ring at all hours of the day and night, they alert us to the arrival of emails and ping through the latest headlines, online shopping sales or social media updates. Most people I know don’t sit idle when the traffic lights are red… they grab their phone and scroll through social media or check their email. Once upon a time when the lights were red, we noticed the colour of the sky or felt grateful or listened to a great song on the radio. There was naturally, without effort, more soul food and downtime in our lives.
For too many people, life now involves a daily double shift of work, day and night. Given that women only entered the workforce in large numbers around the time of World War II, from an evolutionary perspective, this is still a very new way of living. Of course we are mentally capable of it. Of course we can do this. All I want you to truly appreciate is this is the first time in all of human history that we have asked our bodies to live at such a fast pace. And for many, this is resulting in health consequences.
At a cellular level, we basically have the same human body as our ancestors. Every generation evolves ever so slightly to be better equipped to inhabit its environment. This rate of evolution, however, is nothing compared to the change of pace in our world. Our conscious, thinking minds may have developed to keep up with the times, so that we are able to flick off an email while we talk on our phone while remembering that we need to book the car in for a service—but biochemically we are much the same as we were 150,000 years ago. Still the same, too, is our subconscious mind, which research suggests is one million times more powerful than our conscious mind.
Your subconscious mind is the part of your mind that you cannot access with your thoughts, the part that makes your heart beat and your hair grow, and knows how to heal a cut without you having to instruct it to do so. Don’t you think those processes alone are truly amazing? I do not believe that our nervous systems, which enormously affect every cell of our bodies, every hormonal system, every organ, every aspect of fat burning, and our perception of urgency, have been able to keep up with the rate of change that this time in human history demands of us.
Probably without realising it you now ask your glands and organs, your liver, your gallbladder, your kidneys, your adrenals, your thyroid, your reproductive system, your brain, and your digestive system to cope with your busyness or perceived need to rush. We are not wired to cope with constant pressure, perceived or real, nor are we equipped long-term to eat poor quality food and lead sedentary lifestyles, strapped to our computers, mobile phones plugged into our ear sockets. We need to make some changes or science, and common sense, tells us there will be consequences.
I’m not saying for one second that there are not things to be done in the day! My goodness no! I live in the same world as you with a to-do list that is never all crossed off. And I LOVE to cross things off lists… The problem is not the tasks to complete. It is often the attitude with which you approach them that influences your health. And behind that attitude is a belief. If you have eight hundred things on your to-do list, you can either approach it with an amped up, stressed out, freaking out on the inside attitude, or you can feel your feet connect to the earth, take a breath in and out that lasts for more than eleven seconds, and acknowledge that you have eight hundred things on your to-do list. Your headspace, whether it is pent up or calm, does not change what you need to get done in a day. It is what it is. But you can choose your approach. For calm and centred to become the natural centre of gravity from which you operate, you need to practice. You need to support yourself with lifestyle choices that promote calm (such as not relying on three double shot lattes to get you going in the morning!) and explore what has led you to live in an anxious state. Is it physical/biochemical, such as too much caffeine before lunch, is it emotional, or is it both?
When you examine what stresses you out (I’m not referring to trauma here) it is often relatively small, non-life threatening things across the day, such as your emails, or that to-do list, or running late. Yet if stress is the achievers’ word for fear, then what is it about running late that stresses you out? The next time you find yourself in this pent up state, do your best to pause and curiously wonder that if there is truly something that frightens you here, what might that be? And what we all see when we pull that veil back, is that what most people are frightened of is what other people think of them. So, bring compassion to your big-hearted self and see that you only rush because you care. Just don’t let that caring hurt your own health.
Credit: Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, Dr Libby Weaver, Hay House UK, £12.99
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