Millennials (18-33 year olds) and Generation X (34-46 year olds) are now called Generation Stress. That’s because for the last three years, the American Psychological Association’s research on stress has found Millennials to be the most stressed demographic in America, with Generation X coming in a close second.
Both generations report almost twice the level of stress that’s considered safe from serious health risk. Fifty-two percent of Millennials and 45 percent of Gen Xers say their stress has continued to increase over the last five years. Over 40 percent of both generations say they’re having problems with anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression, and over 70 percent of Millennials say they are not getting enough sleep. This is not only holds serious ramifications for our younger generations, it also bodes poorly for companies in need of breakthrough innovators to maintain competitive edge. Stress blocks the brain function that generates creativity.
If you are a Boomer (48 to 66) or a Mature (67 and older), you’re probably not fairing much better. The APA found that Boomers and Matures stress levels were higher than they consider healthy.
The good news in all this bad news is that there is a lot we can do using very simple approaches to turn this picture around, and in a few short weeks. If we have a problem with stress, it’s because genetics and past traumas have wired our brain to over-react to stressors and problems. We can change the way our brain is wired by making a specific shift in attitude.
What is discouraging is the finding that 83 percent of Americans are doing little of nothing to alleviate their stress. It makes no sense when you consider the huge impact of chronic stress on mind, body, and soul. Chronic stress means the stress response system is turned on nearly full time, flooding the brain with toxic hormones that are quite damaging.
- Stress hormones shrink higher brain.
- They cause you to make bad decision-making and dampen your ability to sustain goal-directed action.
- Chronic stress locks the brain into an automatic response mode that has you performing the same unproductive actions over and over, blocking more suitable, creative, and potentially beneficial responses.
- Stress hormones switch your emotional set point to negative, impair the immune system, ruin the cardiovascular system, and damage your DNA, leading to the production of cancer cells and prematurely aging the body.
Obviously, stress isn’t something you should someday do something about. You need to attend to it today.Reversing these problems is simpler than you might believe and change can happen quicker than you might now imagine. Here is an example of a simple, proven tool that goes a long way to frame a great day, instead allowing stress to take charge. It’s called Starting the Day in Quiet. This tool is an antidote to the frenetic, early morning rush out the door. It encourages you to set aside a few minutes first thing in the morning to consciously frame a dynamically positive and peaceful mindset to meet the day’s challenges. Quiet, centered, and positive is not usually how people start their day, even though it can make a big difference. When I ask executives I coach how their mornings begin, most say they jump out of bed, gulp down cups of coffee, help feed and dress the kids, get dressed themselves, and then drive straight into the morning traffic jam. Starting the day in quiet avoids the downward spiral into stress by helping you consciously evoke a higher frame of mind to lead you into a new day. Here’s how it works.
- Start your day by rising 10 minutes earlier, ahead of the morning rush.
- Sit quietly in a place where you won’t be disturbed.
- Close your eyes, tilt your head toward your heart, and follow your breathing. The idea is to feel each breath opening your heart and mind wider, empowering heart and mind to work in concert.
- Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life. It’s not guaranteed. Feel gratitude for another day with the people you love.
- Set your intention to have a great day, filled with achievements. Equally, commit to a great state of mind to face the day’s ups and down with a dynamically positive and peaceful attitude.
It might be hard to believe that this simple, five minute step helps change the course of the day, but I teach this tool in high pressure organizations and people swear by it. In these trainings, people initially complain that resolving the stress in their life is “easier said than done.” But it only seems hard at the beginning. The more you apply tools that help you make the choice to be peaceful and positive instead of stressed and depressed, the easier it becomes … and the easier life becomes. Greater calm leads to greater creativity and optimism, which enables you to face stressors and problems with confidence.
I present 20 simple but proven approaches in my book, The End of Stress, Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain. All of them are neuroplastic in nature, meaning that – with practice – they can rewire the brain to sustain a relatively stress-free life. The work I do is grounded in neuroscience, but I also speak from experience. A brain tumor taught me about the power that comes from making this shift. It helped me generate the mind-body connection to come through my ordeal without the disabilities the doctors had predicted. I wrote about it in another of my HuffPost articles this year (http://bit.ly/huffpost-storm-of-stress). If a change of attitude can change the course of a serious illness, it can also change the course of a stressful life.