Leisure and pleasure: the only sustainable solution to stress

The festive season is almost upon us but many of us will find it surprisingly difficult to switch off and have a real break. E-mails, text messages, social media and all the other digital ways we are linked in, make it hard to step back and focus on what really matters – our health.

I have written before about the need for slow scholarship and better self-care in academia. However, a recent self-care workshop provided a wonderfully clear and targeted take-home message on stress that is relevant to us all.

Stress is a normal response to a physical or emotional challenge, which occurs when demands are out of balance with resources for coping. At one end of the scale, stress represents those challenges that excite us. At the other end, stress represents situations where individuals are unable to meet the demands upon them, and ultimately suffer physical or psychological breakdown.

Stress is caused by any change – good or bad – that triggers a stress response. Stressors can be internal or external, as well as cumulative – little things that build up.

There are two naturally occurring hormones in our bodies associated with stress: adrenalin and cortisol. Adrenalin liberates unknown energy reserves. This state is high energy, short term, physical and unsustainable. Cortisol helps people to endure adversity by keeping us going for as long as is required. It utilises survival functions at the expense of others and result in, for example, narrow problem solving, reduced memory and concentration, indecisiveness, resigned behaviour, inefficiency, the inability to prioritise and abruptness.

While adrenalin stress goes away once the stressors are removed and we have a chance to rest, it is now known (and here is the crux of the matter) that the only way to combat cortisol is leisure and pleasure.

So make the most of the festive season by reducing your cortisol levels by taking a break, not just from work but from all the forums that inhibit the ability to truly switch off from conscious and subconscious stressors.

If you need something to do, how about making a self-care plan for the new year? At the back of this wonderful booklet by New Zealand Red Cross are resources that can be used by all in an everyday context.

Happy holidays!

Sincere thanks are due to Australia Red Cross and Phoenix Australia for facilitating the self-care workshop and sharing valuable knowledge, tips and tricks. Thank you also to the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research, UOW Human Geography Society, Sydney University’s Asia-Pacific Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Research Group and the IAG’s Hazards, Risks and Disasters Study Group for financial support for the workshop.

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