The experience of stress is a perfectly natural and normal facet of being human, in fact our stress responses are biologically designed to keep us safe via the fight or flight mechanisms. However, the relentless output of stress hormones in chronic stress (long term stress) is linked to a variety of health challenges commonly seen in today’s society. While avoiding stress altogether is neither possible nor necessary, it is important to figure out what causes you to feel stress excessively. By learning strategies on how to minimise the intensity of your stress response you will be able to negate some of the impacts stress has on you and will be ablet to bring your being back into a balanced state.
Here are some suggestions.
Everybody knows, but no one wants to hear it. Caffeine has an almost immediate effect on your stress response. Once in the body, caffeine blocks the receptors in the brain that help to slow down our nervous system, so they can’t work effectively, it also activates the stress axis, sending a signal to the adrenals to make adrenaline (stress hormones). That heart racing anxiety, feeling wired after too much coffee? That’s adrenaline. If you can’t cut the caffeine right out, scale it right back and don’t drink coffee in the afternoon.
Perceptions around pressure and urgency
Spend some time exploring your perceptions around pressure and what you believe is urgent. Strange as it may sound, having lots of unanswered emails in your inbox, flashing voicemail lights and sitting in heavy traffic day after day can elicit the same flood of stress chemicals through your body as if you were being chased by a dangerous animal in the wild. That’s the biology of stress, it’s been hard wired into our brains throughout our evolution. It’s ok though, there are solutions! To begin: without judging yourself, become mindful of what triggers a stress response in you. Once you know what sets you off you can work on dealing with it appropriately.
Boundaries. Prioritise what is important for you and learn how to say ‘No’. instead of feeling that you never have time for anything, change to; “what is my priority” vs “I don’t have time”.
When you look at your to-do list, be grateful for all the things you ‘get to’ do rather than you ‘have to’ do. Be wise with your time, commit to what makes you happy and aligns with your values and aspirations.
Breath work and slow movements
One of the main things that is known to reduce stress is to breathe deeply and slowly from your belly. Take some time to quiet your mind and focus on your breath. Feel your belly rising and falling, noticing the breath coming in and going out. Breathe in slowly through your nose and then slightly extend the exhale so it’s longer than the length of the inhale Combining breath and movement can also be very calming to the nervous system. Mindful movement practices like yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais can help to switch your system into rest and digest mode - the opposite of stress mode.