Is Stress Sabotaging Your Well-being?

Well-being is all about taking a holistic approach to health. Perhaps in a backlash against the punitive and shaming language that can dominate discussions around health and fitness, the concept of wellness takes into account your happiness and the need for self-acceptance as part of overall health.

Stress is the major barrier between people and true wellbeing, even becoming the source of health problems that people embark on healthy lifestyles to resolve. People who hope to become healthier through eating well and exercising can sometimes find anxiety in feeling that they’ve done something “wrong” if they fall away from this plan.  This can be very counterproductive, and by dealing with stress, wellbeing can become much more achievable.


What is stress?

Stress is the body’s way snapping itself into an emergency mode in the face of danger. At times, it can be very useful, giving you the edge that you need to achieve. Its primary function, however, is to save your life in threatening situations. Stress is the thing that helps you jump out of the way of a car that you didn’t see when crossing the road, or move across the room at lightning speed when your toddler is about to pick up something sharp and dangerous. It does this by-

  • Inundating your body with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, giving you an energy spike.
  • Tunnel vision- by minimising your ability to think beyond the immediate problem, stress can give you extreme focus.
  • Increasing your heart rate
  • Redirecting energy to primary survival functions. It neglects the high-energy process such as digestion and anything that’s unnecessary, such as memory formation, in our brains.

This system has worked well for the majority of human history, but in the modern world our stress response is being triggered far too often by comparatively benign events. Our bodies, inconveniently, have trouble distinguishing between a work deadline and real danger, and therefore react as dramatically to both. Furthermore, as life is full of these pressures, we have no time to recover and can be in emergency mode constantly.

Let the stress begin!
Let the stress begin!

How can you tell if you’re stressed out?

 It seems strange that you can be pulling your hair out with stress and still only perceive the feeling as a kind background noise, but sometimes we don’t know how stressed out we are. You can grow so used to being frazzled that you begin to see it as the normal state of affairs. When we are rushing between all our commitments, taking a few moments to stop and assess how we are really feeling is something we rarely do.

Taking this time is one of the first things you can do to get an insight into your mood. By taking yourself out of a situation, for example in a quiet moment amidst the demands at work, you can see beyond what you might consider business as usual and ascertain how it’s influencing your life.  There are also tell-tale signs of stress you can pick up on, such as grinding your teeth, having trouble dropping off to sleep even if you are exhausted, or finding yourself short tempered and snappy, that indicate you are carrying more stress than you find comfortable.


What’s the impact?

 Sustained stress has striking ill-effects on health, both directly and indirectly. It can contribute to-

  • Accelerated ageing
  • Heart disease
  • Weight issues
  • Unhealthy coping behaviour, such as smoking.
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Depression and anxiety


There’s a reason why top politicians seem to age at three times the rate of other people. Unrelenting pressure and chronic background stress not only has a negative impression on your emotional wellbeing, it effects your physical health as well.

Dealing with Stress

Part of dealing with stress is acknowledging what you can and can’t control. There may be steps you can take to change your life so it becomes less stressful, like a discussion with your boss if you have started taking on responsibilities far outside your role and paygrade, or allowing yourself a lazy evening a little more often.

Unfortunately there’s other parts of life that are outside of our control, and it seems to be these parts that our brains jump on and worry about the most. It’s difficult, but learning to stop this kind of worrying in its tracks with the acknowledgement that you can’t change the situation may stop you from wasting hours fretting over it.

Meditation is something that can also help in this aim. As well as physically reducing the size of the stress centres in the brain, meditation helps your mind, body and nervous system to achieve a deep rest that are difficult to find in other parts of life. This rest gives people the chance to break out of their hyper stressed state, with key stress chemicals falling by up to a third.

Fitting 20 minutes of meditation into your day could make you calmer throughout, and in a better frame of mind to face challenges and recognise what kind of thinking is productive and what’s useless worrying. Becoming happier should be the primary goal of any healthy lifestyle, and by reducing your stress levels you’ll put yourself in the best position to make the right decisions for yourself.


This post was written by Holly Ashby, a writer who works for Will Williams Meditation, a meditation centre offering courses on Vedic meditation in London.

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