Everyone is made up of matter, we know this. We need oxygen to breathe, and various other elements to stay alive.
Chemicals (hormones) gush through our bodies and nervous systems: the vast majority benefiting us on a short-term basis. But, you can have too much of a good thing.
Take cortisol. Often called the ‘stress’ hormone, this chemical can have a range of functions: it can help regulate blood sugar and salt in the body, improve memory function and control our blood pressure. If we have too much cortisol in our bodies, though, it can interrupt our sleep patterns, affect fertility, cause muscle weakness, and much more.
Research has shown that we have more cortisol in our systems that our parents and grandparents carried. We have learned to react to a 24/7 world, which means we don’t spend as much time relaxing as previous generations did. And we don’t mean being physically relaxed; for many of us, even if we sit down to rest, our minds still turn over the things that worry us. And in this instance, your body will still produce cortisol – as it gears up for what it thinks could be a ‘fight or flight’ situation.
In a 2017 study, 40% of the employees questioned said they experienced ‘excessive pressure’ at least once a week. Do you imagine your parents or grandparents would have said the same? Yes, they lived through traumatic periods, no more so than during world wars, but outside of these horrific incidents, was life for them as stressful on a daily basis?
Have you ever fallen ill when on holiday? On a daily basis cortisol keeps our wits sharp, its stirs our adrenaline, and it makes sure we function well, but constant overproduction can affect our immune systems long-term. One reason why people in demanding jobs often get sick in their downtime is because the sudden drop in cortisol production causes an inflammatory response.
Mindfulness is a word that’s been batted about in recent years, though there are still many of us who don’t practise it. It’s not a New Age practice, but the simple act of slowing down and clearing your mind for a short while. Your brain is a muscle; we would gladly rest our legs if we’d been on them all day – why should our minds be any different?
Ten minutes meditation/mindfulness once a day is a help, but for long-term benefits, and so we can avoid the cortisol time bomb going off – which has the potential to explode into a breakdown of some kind – we need to flood our systems with positive chemicals. These include dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins, which are all part of a group often called ‘the happiness chemicals’. With an amygdala full of ‘happiness’ hormones, we react to situations calmly and with a positive attitude. If cortisol overrides these chemicals our reactions tend to come from a point of anger and frustration.
Incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives is not a case of jumping onto the latest self-help bandwagon – it has real effects on our effectiveness and productivity. Consider this: the number of sick days employees take from work each year, due to anxiety and stress, costs the economy £29bn.
So, how do we increase our happy vibes? How do we ensure there are more happy chemicals in our systems?
Well, they don’t derive from having the biggest house, the latest designer handbag, or the flashiest car – sorry! Research has shown that people are happiest when they “feel good about themselves and what they’re doing”. According to Fredrickson et al, happiness stems from gratitude, love, inspiration, awe, hope, pride and more.
These positive emotional states improve our decision-making, productivity and resilience. Another significant benefit that comes from increasing these chemicals in our systems is better life expectancy: studies show that happy people live 7-10 years longer. These people don’t have better circumstances, more money or greater health than the rest of us, but they exercise acceptance and gratefulness for what they do have and can do, rather than stressing about what they haven’t got or what they’re unable to do.
Our Jigsaw Development Tool is useful in this instance. It can help you understand in which scenarios in life, and within which aspects of your personality, improvements could be made – to achieve a greater balance between cortisol and happiness chemicals. We’re all a work in progress; increasing the flow of endorphins and its stable-mates won’t happen overnight. They will only come with effort and from forming new habits. For example, gratitude is a state of mind; experts recommend taking a few moments at the end of each day to consider what you’re grateful for from the last 24 hours and recording it in a journal, so that it’s more tangible. Doing this often enough will create a habit, and before long, you’ll be exercising gratitude throughout the day, not just when you’re winding down to sleep.
This quote from Abraham Lincoln sums it up: “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
How happy do YOU want to be? How happy do you want your EMPLOYEES to be, when you realise the effect it will have on them…and your business?
For further information contact Michelle on 01924 898930 or firstname.lastname@example.org