Investing in Health and Wellbeing Programs is on the radar for Australian Employers as Safe Work Australia has reported that absenteeism and loss of productivity related to stress is costing employers more than $10 billion dollars.
We all know, and many of us also personally experience, symptoms of being over stressed including
- memory problems
- inability to concentrate
- poor judgement
- seeing only the negative
- anxious or racing thoughts
- withdrawing, procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
Of course spending a day outside the workplace, in nature, with calm, healthy and happy horses is a great way to begin to de-stress, unwind and supports general wellbeing. But in an Equine Assisted Wellbeing session, horses are also there to be the role models and teachers for developing life skills that support health and wellbeing, including presence, embodied awareness and self-regulation.
Research shows that for the majority of our day we are not focused in the present moment. Our mind wanders. We are distracted by the worries or regrets of past experiences and/or our thoughts are on planning or wishing for things to be different in the future. This natural human behaviour is one that can hold us back from achieving our goals.
Horses, however, only live in the present moment, they do not focus on the past or the future. Being fully aware of the present is in fact an essential survival skill for a prey animal like a horse.
Horses use all of their senses to read the environment around them. They are great readers of body language and energy/emotions. When you are in contact with a horse they can help you to see yourself more clearly, notice how you truly show up in the moment. They can help you to examine your true thoughts, feelings and intentions. Are you, in that moment, feeling angry, distracted, worried or are you calm, confident, joyful. The more aware we are then the more choice we have to examine if these feeling are serving us and to choose a different response, which is usually one that creates less stress.
Our nervous system isn’t very good at differentiating real threats to imagined threats. If we think an anxious thought then a flood of stress hormones are released to create a fight/flight response, which has the effect of shutting down our rational mind.
Being in contact with healthy and calm horses, in an Equine Assisted Wellbeing workshop can help employees tune in and practice noticing body sensations, or as I call it ‘embodied awareness’. Tensing muscles, holding or shortening our breath, rapid heart-beat are all examples of how our body reacts we are when stressed.
We get used to living our lives with high levels of stress and so are often are unaware of what we are holding onto or how this is impacting our ability health and wellbeing and our abilities to think clearly and act with awareness.
If we can learn to become an observer of our own bodies, can identify our stress responses when they happen then the more support we can give ourselves in those moments to self-regulate and return to a state of calm and clarity.
Healthy horses that live in herds and are free to express themselves, like the ones we work with in all of my Equine Assisted Learning programs, have innate capability for releasing stress in the body and settling the nervous system as soon as a threat has passed. They let go with deep snorts, outbreaths, shaking, rolling so as to bring themselves back to a place of calmness and preserve their health for the long term.
Whilst I am not advocating getting down on the ground in the meeting room and rolling around(though would be a good tension release for all!) there are a lot of practical techniques that we teach in our programs for how to work with your body not against it so as to regulate your emotions and your stress level and preserve your health for the long term, as the horses do.
To book a consultation with Jackie to discuss your needs for an Equine Assisted Wellbeing workshop for your organisation Email at firstname.lastname@example.org