What is STRESS? Stress is our body's natural response to real or perceived threat. It originated thousands of years ago to help our ancestors to respond quickly and effectively to danger. Faced with danger, the body kicks into gear, flooding our body with hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) that elevate our heart rate, increase our blood pressure, boost our energy and prepare us to deal with the problem. We call this the fight, flight, freeze response. In reality our sympathetic nervous system has been activated and put on alert. Being focussed and alert at times is of great benefit to us. The problem is that in the 21st century we face multiple issues every day that cause a stress response in our mind and body. Ongoing stress can interfere with our ability to live well . The longer the stress lasts, the worse the effects on our mind and body. We may experience fatigue, the inability to concentrate or feel irritable for no good reason. For our body ongoing chronic stress can increase our risks of experiencing burnout, heart attack and anxiety.
How can we Reduce our Levels of stress? Stress is a massive issue for many people right now, especially for those who have burned out in the past, or feel like they're on the way to burnout now. People are wondering what they can do about stress, to reduce it quickly and effectively.
5 Strategies for Reducing Stress:
1. WALK - Walk every day. You need to get out into nature, if at all possible, so that your mind can focus on something outside of yourself. Nature gives us an amazing opportunity to do this, especially if you can get near the sea or amongst trees or fields. However, even if you live in the middle of a city, if you have a park or a little bit of green, go there. Being surrounded by the colour green, or blue if you live by the sea, can help to lower blood pressure and heart rate and help the body to recover from stress. When we are in long-term stress our body's sympathetic nervous system is regularly triggered. We want to be in rest and digest, where our parasympathetic system is activated as much as possible. So try to get out and walk every day.
2. BREATHE- The second strategy is to make sure that you are breathing deeply. When we are stressed we tend to breathe shallowly, just in our chest and through our mouth. Anyone that has suffered from anxiety, experienced an anxiety attack, or felt really afraid will testify as to how rapidly we tend to breathe when in this response. This signals to the body that danger is near and we need to run.
What we need to do instead is breathe slowly, in through our nose and out through our mouth. A good technique is 4-7-8 so in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8. This signals to our body that we are in rest and digest, not fight or flight. The vagus nerve that runs from the back of the neck down each side of the body is activated when we breathe this way, which in turns helps to calm our stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. If you practice 4-7-8 three times, making sure that the in breath goes into your belly and is not just a shallow breath into your chest, you will feel calmer really quickly.
Anytime you're feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed, go back to the breath. Use your breath to calm your nervous system, activate your prefrontal cortex, (thinking brain) which in turn allows you to make calmer, better, healthier decisions
3. HYDRATE -The third strategy is to keep drinking water throughout the day. Our body and our brain need to be kept hydrated. One of the things that we do when we are stressed is forget to drink water or we just drink Coca Cola or loads of coffee, which add to the dehydration. A small amount of caffeine, lots of herbal tea and water are better. Black or green tea is actually quite beneficial in small amounts.
4. JOY - Taking time out to enjoy yourself, gratitude, happiness, contentment and enthusiasm, also known as positive 'affect', have been shown to reduce the risk of cardio vascular disease over a 10 year period. For every one-point increase in positive affect on a five-point scale, the rate of heart disease can decrease by up to 22 percent.
5. EXERCISE -The last strategy to reduce stress is exercise. Whether that means going to the gym, taking a class, swimming, dance, yoga, tai chi, boxing, cycling or any other form of exercise. Exercise increases endorphins (runners high) and it literally melts stress away. If you choose something you really enjoy doing, then you are far more likely to engage in it long term.