Unhappy, Unhealthy and Stressed
“The first wealth is health.” - R.W. Emerson
Unhappy, unhealthy and stressed - based on facts, this is the average South African.
Stress sucks! And, for various reasons, South Africans suffer larger doses of stress given our poor Mental Health statistics as measured by global organisations. Yet, individuals and corporations alike hold powerful resources to easily implement far greater health and wellbeing care and cost-effectively too. Question is; why isn’t this happening?
“This country is riddled with mental health issues, and we live in denial,” said Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba. Granted his comment pertained to the scandalous tragedy at Life Esidimeni, a Gauteng based psychiatric institution where 143 people died as a result of starvation and neglect. Following this catastrophe, the South African Human Rights Commission released a report on the state of mental healthcare in South Africa. The report found a mental healthcare system plagued by poor services, which ‘remain in silos - the left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing’.
Unfortunately, these two poignant statements loudly echo three additional, and very damning international studies, in which South Africa doesn’t fair well with respect to mental health issues. Isn’t it time to take our heads out the sand, and face this truth before a much bigger, and more tragic mental health crisis erupts?
A comprehensive new 2019 global health ranking, Indigo Wellness Index, has identified the world’s healthiest – and most unhealthy – nations out of 191 countries worldwide. This Index ranked countries based on 10 key measures, which included: healthy life expectancy, blood pressure, blood glucose (diabetes risk), obesity, depression, happiness, alcohol use, tobacco use, inactivity (too little exercise), and government spending on healthcare. Whilst Canada is the healthiest global country, South Africa was the worst. We scored poorly on obesity, drinking and life expectancy.
This is according to Gallup’s 2019 World Happiness Report ranking 156 countries by how happy their citizens are perceived to be. This report focused specifically on overall happiness and sense of community. In the last decade, South Africa has fallen 21 positions to 106, well behind Mauritius (57th) and Nigeria (85th). Finland, followed by Denmark, held top positions as the happiest nations. The happiest countries scored highly in healthy life expectancy, freedom, social support, trust and generosity, and income. Additionally, the report also set out to prove that a country’s GDP, unemployment levels and household income have no reflection on how happy citizens are.
This 2013 Bloomberg study confirmed South Africa was a mere 0.1% behind Nigeria as the most stressed global nation and Norway the least. Countries ranked by annual homicide, corruption and unemployment rates, GDP per capita, income inequality, urban air pollution and life expectancy. Most of which has declined quite significantly in South Africa since 2013. The subsequent state captures, political shenanigans, declining currency and loadshedding undoubtedly affects and stress every citizen. I believe it’s fair to conclude we’re now most likely the most stressed country globally, agreed?
- High absenteeism costs corporate South Africa in excess of R16 billion per annum - up to 15% of staff call in sick every day, largely due to employee unhappiness, stress, fatigue or burnout.
- Latest South African crime statistics (2017) confirm 52 murdered, 109 raped and 46 hijacked daily BUT a whopping 210 die of heart disease every single day. Unfortunately, day-to-day stress wrecks havoc with the healthy, functional abilities of this delicate organ.
- Most dangerous places to live - in 2019, international statistics confirm that after Brazil, South Africa is the 2nd most dangerous country globally. Living under the continuous threat of imminent danger adds enormous stress and tension to the quality of people’s lives.
- Lastly, the medical fraternity confirm up to 90% of all illness and disease (doctors visits) are stress-related.
Facts don’t lie: South Africans NEED to take Mental Health seriously. Living in denial, or wearing stress like a ‘badge of honour’ doesn’t serve one’s health and wellbeing, nor does the apathy, discrimination and stigma typically associated with mental health. Granted, stress cannot be avoided; it’s natural and normal and is vital for our human survival instincts. Therefore, how one copes and perceives stress becomes the most significant factors in everyday situations. I believe having an understanding of what, when and how automatically creates the awareness, which then motivates positive changes… this I share below:
What exactly does the ‘stress response’ trigger, and how does this affect us?
Although stress has many benefits (something I share in my Stress Gone! book and teach), what most people don’t realise is their stress response is being triggered dozens of times per day, 24/7/365 regardless of whether they are awake or asleep. This mostly occurs well below one’s conscious awareness; that’s the REAL danger of stress.
The body’s stress (survival) response is controlled by the amygdala, a tiny set of neurons located at the end of the hippocampus, and deep within the brain’s temporal lobe. The function of the amygdala is to protect the body from any threat, be it a big, small, real or perceived threat, which is picked up by any one of the six senses, including one’s emotions and thoughts.
In truth, stress is anything triggered by the amygdala. Instantaneously, the body is flooded with stress chemicals (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol) and fight, flight or freeze response is triggered. Simultaneously, other mind-body reactions are immediately set into motion, all with a protection intention:
Firstly, we quite simply ‘lose it’. Yes, the brain literally ‘flips a switch’ from the logical, rational and linear frontal lobe of the brains ‘control centre’ to the primal hindbrain, where instinctive reactions occur. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence coined this phenomenon “the amygdala hijack.”
As a result, we not only react irrationally but destructively too - often in anger, perhaps rage. This is when we suddenly catch ourselves ‘in the heat of the moment’ doing or saying something inappropriate, embarrassing or regretful. Surprisingly we then ask ourselves afterwards, “what was I thinking?” Well, no, you weren’t thinking - the amygdala hijack ‘flipped a switch’ - no thought processes can occur during this instinctive survival mode.
TIP: To regain one’s logical senses, momentarily step away from all stressful situations to breathe and feel calm.
Secondly, in preparation of either fighting to protect oneself (either physically or verbally) or fleeing a dangerous situation, the digestive system immediately shuts down, which in turn impairs and compromises the immune system. Unbeknownst to most, digestion requires enormous energy to breakdown food. Instead, this energy is now exclusively reserved for the limbs to either fight or flight. This is precisely why stressed people often suffer with digestive problems, and maybe sickly. Excessive acidic stress chemicals also create the perfect breeding environment for cancer, and other diseases to take hold. It’s now a well-known fact; gut health directly affects mental health.
TIP: To counter the effects of stress, partake of healthy doses of both prebiotic and probiotic foods to maintain a healthy gut biome.
Surprisingly, however not all stress is negative! Eustress, or positive stress, is when stress motivates and inspires one into action, to make appropriate changes, hopefully, healthier choices. I believe stress offers other benefits, such as being a catalyst for change, a teacher and guide, character building, as well as an opportunity for self-reflection and re-evaluation too. Continual, excessive or chronic stress should also be regarded as an early warning signal. Therefore appropriate swift stress management is vital, and it’s so easy and simple to get back to basics, thus reducing the detrimental and compounding impact of daily stress.
How to Use Stress to Your Advantage
Having a conscious awareness of both the typical stress behavioural patterns and biological processes can help you to understand yourself a lot more. Perhaps this will also initiate you making positive lifestyle changes that fully support your health and wellbeing. In addition to this, there are several beneficial aspects of stress, known as eustress, which you can learn to take full advantage of - this knowledge can be very empowering, and propel you from survival into thriving in all areas of your life - relationships, at home and work, etc. For this reason, I’ve created a 7-day FREE e-course: ‘the benefits of stress, and how to use this to your advantage.’
IMPORTANT daily stress relief tips – you’ll feel like a TOTALLY different person within days:
- Switch off all technology, including wifi every night.
- Sleep a solid 8 hours in a dark, quiet room.
- Enjoy copious doses of hugs and laugher stimulating oxytocin, the bliss or bonding hormone.
- Eliminate sugar and stimulants, including coffee and alcohol (they cause acidity!).
- Drink lots of pure still water.
- Exercise for 30 minutes.
- Supplement with mood-lifting, stress-busting amino-acids.
- Eat fresh, raw (organic) fruit, vegetables and nuts (prebiotics and probiotics).
As a Mental Health advocate and therapist, I take a holistic view of stress because it’s intimately associated with most psychological afflictions people face today. Stress influences anger, anxiety, panic, addictions, depression, fears, phobias, trauma, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and visa versa (see Consultations). Stress interferes with, and unnecessarily creates havoc in one’s life, at home, work, relationships, and obviously, health and wellbeing too. But, it doesn’t have to be that way at all.
As explained, stress clouds one’s rational thought process, thus problems may appear complex, confusing, overwhelming, even all-consuming. Ironically, the solutions are usually simple and straightforward. Should you find yourself caught up with stress, engage an objective 3rd party to help assess and resolve the situation.
A stress release therapy such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) also known simply as ‘tapping’ is hugely beneficial. In a mere 2 hour consultation, I’m able to help clients achieve resolution, lasting relief and emotional freedom from any psychological distress. Additionally, I guarantee a successful outcome and offer a convenient free online 20-minute pre-consultation evaluation. If you need help, let’s chat!