- Deep breathing – Pause, breathe and take time to just focus on your heartbeat at least once a day. Deep breathing stimulates the Valgus nerve which triggers the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Essentially, this tells your brain that the stress has gone and you can return from a fight or flight or stressed state as you are safe.
- Inflammatory foods – Limit foods that are stressful to you. Inflammatory foods add stress in their own way. Some examples of this are sugar, processed foods, alcohol, too much caffeine… and any that you could be allergic to.
- Replace a bad habit – Reduce the need to self-medicate…you can give up or cut back on that thing you want to… and it will make life easier. Alcohol, food, smoking or anything that you can’t stop doing that has a negative effect is often used to distract for the moment but does nothing positive in the long run. Replacing a bad habit with a positive one is an excellent strategy, going for a walk instead of that second glass of wine for example.
- Focus on relaxing – Give yourself an hour a day to do something that relaxes you.
- Meditation – Look into meditation, the gold standard of de-stressing.
- Expel energy – Find an outlet for your fight response: lifting some weights, boxing, running etc tells our primal brain that you have done something with the response which signals the body to down-regulate.
- Make time for YOURSELF – the busiest people always find some time in the day when they have really needed to do so! Audit your time across your last 24 hours and be creative.
- Slow down – diarise in rest periods just as you would meetings.
- Read – Read a real book when needing to press pause.
- Walking – Go for a walk, ideally in a forest, nature is the most powerful stress reducer we have.
- Be present – When you are socialising, be 100% present. They are the most important person at this precise moment. You are NOT missing anything elsewhere.
- Cull social media – highlight reels of how well people are doing out there, minus the negative, can make us feel that we are behind in some way.
Take some time out tonight to do some work ON your life, rather than being IN your life:
- Where could you free up space to de-stress, and relax OFTEN?
- Breathe, rest, digest and relax at regular intervals during the day.
- Plan to be ready for a fight or flight response: focus on some ideas of physical activity you could do as close to the event as possible. A walk outside or even some squats or push ups work!
How to deal with stress at work
We all experience stress daily in one form or another, so taking some time to understand our response to its stimulus can be a powerful way to manage the negative effects.
There are two types of stress, negative and positive:
- Positive stress, otherwise known as eustress, drives us to improve or grow. It is what pushes up to go for a promotion, meet new people, or try new things. Examples of this include challenging our muscles in the gym, the body responds to the stress positively by adding muscle, mobility and strength, or the pressure to better oneself with self-improvement.
- Negative stress, or distress, is a state of fear or worry where in response to a dangerous threat. This is the fight or flight reflex, and has been an excellent survival trait for millions of years for us…and most animals for that matter!
What makes us feel distressed?
Stress caused by something trying to kill us needs a quick burst of adrenaline, cortisol and fast reactions to fight if in a corner or run away.
This response makes us overly alert, anxious, nervous with a tunnel vision focused on the threat and that alone. Cognitive power, reasoning and problem solving all drop back, our heart rate increases and we become overly reactive.In this state, blood moves to our skeletal muscles away from all non-vital organs such as our digestive system, hormones fly out of balance to fire up our senses, hide any pain we may have that could slow us down, and get us aggravated and ready to react.
This isn’t the state we would learn, digest and perform at our best in at work in, is it?
Being stressed at work
We all have those moments when something happens that raise our stress levels at work from time to time. Things get missed, mistakes happen and sometimes tempers flare up!
This is ok from time to time, IF we get periods of calm in between to reset and move to a more relaxed state.
But…if this is ongoing this can be detrimental to our health, our relationships and even our careers as a whole.
Why do we have a stress response?
If a tiger was running at you, I doubt you would stop to admire its beauty, draw a picture, contemplate its lineage or write a poem, would you?
We have two parts to our autonomic nervous systems (automatic bodily processes):
Parasympathetic (PNS): The parasympathetic system is responsible for stimulation of “rest-and-digest” or “feed and breed” activities that occur when the body is at rest, especially after eating. It is in this state that we learn well, focus on tasks, problem solve effectively and improve.
Sympathetic (SNS): Primary process is to stimulate the body’s fight or flight. It is, however, constantly active at a basic level to maintain homeostasis so an important system, however as you will see below it is better kept at a low level.
When our sympathetic nervous system is working hard the parasympathetic nervous system lowers activity.
This is another amazing symmetry our body produces to keep us alive, however this adapted when situations that fired up our sympathetic nervous system were of less duration and less often:
- Fight off an attacker then recover and rest, or be dead
- Run after prey or away from becoming prey
- Run away from natural disasters
Our ancestors would only have to endure this stress for a while then get some recovery time.
This same response is triggered in our lives now: on the go, faster is better, deadline after deadline, emails, texts, traffic, crowds, financial worries and responsibilities everywhere (exhausting, isn’t it!?).
Apply the last point to what our body must be going through, too much time in a highly stressed state with no release often ends in burnout.
The release we SHOULD get is actually in the physical response that we would have got if we did run or fight. This is rare in an office environment when that threat comes from a difficult email or conversation.
What is burnout?
‘Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you have worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time’
When we are at the limit of out stress tolerance for a prolonged period of time, our bodies can be affected in the following ways, leaving us drained, experiencing low mood or feeling trapped, helpless and defeated:
- Our sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive, meaning our adrenals are excreting adrenaline and cortisol is raised. Whilst these hormones are useful when needed…elevated for too long is damaging to our body as impairs the communication between the endocrine and immune system, increasing chance of illness and disease.
- Muscular tension increases, and unreleased can cause chronic painful conditions such as back pain and migraines/ tension headaches.
- Shortness of breath and rapid breathing can exacerbate existing respiratory conditions.
- Repeated acute stress and persistent chronic stress may also contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system, particularly in the coronary arteries, and this is one pathway that is thought to tie stress to heart attack or high blood pressure.
- Gastrointestinal system can be negatively affected with bloating, indigestion, nausea, excess gas as stress can impact our gut biome (mix of friendly bacteria) and this can affect mood as the guts nerves and bacteria strongly influence the brain, and vice versa.
The more we know about how our bodies respond to negative stress the more we can offset where possible and spot the signs. Stay close to how you are feeling physical and mentally and never be afraid to speak up where needed…help is always at hand to help you find that breathing space.