Dr Libby Weaver is a busy woman. The acclaimed nutritional biochemist, author and media personality isn’t impervious to stress, but she has learnt some techniques to ensure it doesn’t get on top of her, and now she wants to share her insights with others.
“If my brain has attached itself to a list of tasks I have to get through in a day and there’s a sense of stress and overwhelm building, I pause and think, what’s this showing me? I realise it’s not about the tasks,” she says.
“Sometimes I’ll catch a glimpse of what’s really going on, but sometimes it will take me longer to think about it. If I go a bit deeper I can see it’s a conversation I’m avoiding because I’m going to find it really difficult, or I have to say no to something… or I’ve got six phone calls to return and one will make me feel really uncomfortable and there’s a risk I might not be seen as kind.”
The idea that much of our stress is a result not of having too much to squeeze into a day, but the quality of our relationships, is an interesting one. She discusses it in her new book, The Invisible Load: A Guide to Overcoming Stress & Overwhelm.
“What most people do is make what they do every day full of urgency, keeping people happy and constantly getting approval,” she says. “We need to look at our perceptions of ourselves and who we need to be in the world.
“It’s pretty nuts, the situations we get ourselves into. We have to keep everyone happy, we’ve got forehead words – words written across our foreheads that describe how we want people to see us – efficient, selfless, reliable, intelligent.
The list of traits that describe how we want to be seen is endless. We’re not taught to look at this stuff at school. It’s wired into us that love, approval and acceptance are essential to our survival.”
For many of us, the need for love and acceptance can become detrimental to our health, especially when we become people pleasers. “When you’re a people pleaser, you have no flexibility in how you can be seen. Of course, everyone wants to be seen in a favourable light, but with non-people pleasers, their self-worth is not dependent on how someone else sees them. They know they have a beautiful heart.”
Dr Libby says life is getting faster and people are feeling more overwhelmed than ever before. The body starts to alert you through whispers, but these whispers grow louder if you don’t listen.
“It might start with tension in the shoulders, and you might put up with that. Before, you may have been happy having a glass of wine on a Friday night; now you can’t wait to have a drink at midday.
“Before, 80 per cent of the time you made nourishing food choices and now you feel you have no willpower. Instead of two biscuits, you have 10. Once, you were pretty even in nature and now you notice you’re really withdrawn and you don’t want to talk to people, including family members, or you get really snappy.
“You might start to get daily gut problems, your blood pressure is constantly elevated, you might have challenges with your thyroid gland, you can’t sleep properly, you don’t wake up feeling refreshed, your hair starts falling out, eyebrows start falling out.
“You realise you’re in a state of overwhelm when you feel like there’s almost no light at the end of the tunnel and you can’t see a way out.”
While everyone can suffer from stress and overwhelm, Dr Libby says women in particular tend to take on the mental load of running a family, which has detrimental effects on their health.
“It’s not necessarily gender specific but I’ve found women tend to be the rememberers of all things. They’re not the things that can be written down; it’s all in our heads and we just pull it off all day, every day. You’re just on automatic.
“It can result in problems with PMS and perimenopause. Very few women transition from menstruation to menopause smoothly. For a lot of women it’s a really tough time and it’s not supposed to be.”
Dr Libby says it’s important for women to do plenty of stress reduction work in the lead-up to menopause, and the techniques she shares are applicable to everyone.
“The thing that lowers our stress hormones fastest is slowing our rate of exhalation, particularly the out breath.
“You also need to have conversations with other people in your environment who can help. You need to say ‘I’m struggling here’.
“If your fulfilment in life has been sacrificed for too long, it has a massive ripple effect on your health.”
Dr Libby will present Overcoming Overwhelm at the Innovation Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast on Thursday September 5. Visit drlibby.com and click on ‘events’ for more.