In this article Kate Griffiths explains why wellbeing is not just a nice to have but an essential in any organisation that wants to succeed and sustain their success. She explores new scientific evidence that shows how stress can kill you and touches on Dr David Hamilton’s research into kindness and compassion.
By now you are probably familiar with the random acts of kindness campaign and the pay it forward philosophy but did you know that kindness can actually prolong life whilst getting angry and stressed can shorten life? Powerful stuff! Let me unpack that for you.
Almost equal numbers of men and women suffer from heart disease and heart disease accounts for almost half of all deaths in Britain. Every seven minutes in the UK someone dies of a heart attack. So what does that have to do with stress? Last week researchers discovered that those working in stressed environments have raised levels of white blood cells. Monocytes and neutrophils are the technical terms for these cells. They combine with fats and cholesterols to build plaques on the walls of blood vessels, which if they break loose can cause blockages in arteries. These kinds of blockages prevent oxygen rich blood from flowing round the body, which can cause a heart attack or stroke. In addition, Dr Nahrendorf has discovered that when the levels of noradrenaline, the stress hormone, are raised then stem cells in bone marrow prompt the production of monocytes and neutrophils. This is because the stress hormone is preparing you for danger, like to fight when you are injured. However with chronic stress there is no wound to heal so a dangerous build up of immune cells in the arteries is what occurs.
Interestingly this fits neatly with the common perception society has of a stressed male manager keeling over the desk at work. What has been discovered is that the number of women in the UK with heart disease that die each year is greater than the number of men – 82,000 women to 79,000 men. It appears that it is emotional strain that is the primary cause of heart disease in women but it is much more difficult to detect. It is often not detected on angiograms taken for women because rather than the main arteries getting clogged it tends to be due to the failure of tiny blood vessels that branch off from the large coronary arteries.
This all builds quite a frightening picture and yet there is an easy way to reverse this trend and that is to start managing your stress. It is why I advocate mindfulness practices and spend a lot of my time teaching these techniques to corporate clients. After just one session, a recent client’s anxiety levels dropped dramatically and the result was that they got deeper and greater amounts of sleep at night, which had a positive benefit on all areas of their life.
If you cannot afford to learn mindfulness there is another way. Research cited by Dr David Hamilton in his books has shown that increasing your levels of kindness and compassion to others can have a very positive impact on your health. Let me share an example. Hamilton talks about an experiment carried out by scientists on rabbits. The rabbits were given 60% more fat than they needed in their diet and within a matter of weeks their health was suffering as a result of their fat intake. That is all except four long eared rabbits in one particular cage. This baffled the scientists for quite a long time, as the conditions for all the animals were the same so there was no logical reason for the results to be inconsistent. Then one day a woman who used to clean the labs after everyone went home mentioned how she had been drawn to the long eared rabbits and how she could not help but pick each one up in turn and stroke it for a few minutes each night when she had finished cleaning. The scientists conducted another experiment where they paid this woman to stroke specific rabbits. They got the same results.
So how does this work? Why is giving love through hugs and caresses so beneficial to animals and people? Here’s the fantastic bit. It releases oxytocin in both the giver and the receiver. Oxytocin is called the bonding hormone and it has amazing impacts on your health. Therefore one could make the argument that spending time to create the kind of environment at work where people feel relaxed and cared for will pay dividends for the business in terms of productivity, efficiency and fewer days off work. Do get in touch if you want me to help you create this kind of workplace or help you reduce your personal stress levels. Feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below, I love to hear from you.