stress in body and mind

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stress in body and mind

Right after the Easter holiday I was invited to give a workshop for an international group of PhD-candidates at Maastricht University. It was an experiment for the candidates and a try-out for me. The subject was ‘stress in body and mind’, to which I added ‘and how to find balance’. There were thirteen candidates from India, South-Africa and Ghana and several European countries including The Netherlands. At the start they reported being in constant overdrive and they confirmed that body and mind need maintenance to function well. They generally were not sure how to do this.
Stress is a highly subjective phenomenon that defies a definition. Generally it is perceived as a mismatch between demands and resources. It has been proven that continuous high stress levels may damage the relaxation respons (vagal nerve and hormonal balance).
The goal of the workshop was to explore the origins of stress, to find new openings for stress reduction and to feel good in the end. Participants tended to interpret stress as unhealthy pressures and demands coming from the outside. They also tended to primarily locate stress in the mind. In the workshop we explored stress origins from inside, such as ambitions, expectations, emotions and behavioral patterns. We distinguished between healthy and unhealthy stress. Furthermore we watched the ACT-video about the ‘struggle switch’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCp1l16GCXI. This video explains why emotions such as anxiety get amplified when we try to avoid or fight them. The video encourages us to accept and embrace (even painful) emotions, so they can pass freely and we won’t create unnecessary suffering.

We did a few breathing exercises to experience the body and bring down the stress level. At the beginning a quick and dirty stress test showed that the average reported stress level was
2,92 on a scale of 1-5 (1 being completely relaxed and 5 being completely stressed). After a three minute breathing exercise the reported stress level came down to 2,09. Furthermore we explored signals of stress and pathways for stress and relaxation in the body, such as the (autonomic) nervous system (accelerator and brake pedal), hormones, heartbeat and heart rate variability. Finally we explored multiple tools and options to improve personal resilience and balance, such as a healthy lifestyle, social support, time-management, accepting your emotions, sleep, and heart coherence through slow breathing.

For the candidates it was quite a lot of information to digest, but as Doctor-to-be they are well trained in digesting a lot of information. They confirmed the gain of new insights and new openings for stress reduction. And the exercises did lead to stress reduction. So the try-out has been succesfull, and I hope the candidates will use the new openings for their personal resilience and well-being.