Updated: Feb 2
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 or flight, response. In reality our sympathetic nervous system has been activated and put on alert. Being focussed and alert at certain times is of great benefit to us. However 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 has been linked with chronic conditions such as ME, Fibromyalgia, and and post viral fatigue.
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 quickly Reducing Stress:
1. WALK - Walk every day. It is great to get out into nature so that your mind can focus on something outside of yourself and your body can activate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. 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. Studies have shown that as little as 20 minutes of being in a park can reduce stress levels. 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 over activated. We need to down-regulate it as often as we can throughout the day or week.We work best when our system is in rest and digest, safe and social, which is active when our parasympathetic nervous system is activated. 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 upper chest and often also through the mouth. Anyone that has experienced an anxiety attack, or felt really afraid will testify as to how rapidly we tend to breathe when in this response. This rapid shallow breathing signals to the body that danger is near and we need to run.
Instead of breathing rapidly, shallowly and through the mouth we need to breathe slowly, in and out through our nose. A good technique 5/5/5. (Breathing in through the nose for 5 seconds, out through the nose for 5 seconds for up to 5 minutes). This is called resonant breathing and quickly helps us to feel calmer, more relaxed and able to tackle whatever is in front of us. When we breathe this way our body signals to our brain that all is well so we can quickly move out of sympathetic nervous system activation. Our body is in rest and digest, not fight or flight.
Anytime you are 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.