We are now a few weeks into the new year and I'm sure many of you are already thinking about that next break. Your boss has probably dumped a heap of work on you and the stress is starting to build. Don't worry, you're not alone – 55% of Americans report feeling stressed at work.
This week we are going to unpack stress and look at how you can achieve a calmer year.
How does stress affect the body?
Stress is our body’s biological response to feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope with a given situation. The process starts by triggering the central nervous system, part of the brain in charge of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
This signal encourages your body to rapidly produce adrenaline and cortisol that act to increase your heart rate, induce rapid breathing, and tense your muscles in preparation for immediate action towards the stressor.
After the stressor has been removed, your brain's hypothalamus is supposed to stop producing adrenaline and cortisol. This process effectively switches off the fight-or-flight response, allowing your body to relax and return to homeostasis – a state of balance.
This may sound horrible to you as you remember back to that difficult moment at work, but not all stress is 'bad stress'. Humans wouldn't be able to perform at our best in sports, work, or life without going through this biological process from time-to-time. It is what allows us to perform at our best but it comes down to how it is managed.
The issue arises when our body isn’t able to calm down and instead remains in this heightened state after the stressor has been removed from the situation. This can result in chronic stress, which creates issues such as; insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, weakened immune system, depression, and anxiety.
How to manage stress?
Let's explore a few ways to manage our biological response to avoid chronic stress and fatigue:
- Meditation – Breathe and take a step back to assess what is causing your stress. Meditation comes in many forms, but specifically the technique of 'noting' encourages you to identify thoughts and feelings as they arise. Once you can identify the stressor you will be better able to better manage the emotion.
- Sleep – It may seem hard to think of sleep when your body is in a heightened state of stress; however, sleep is essential to allowing your central nervous system to relax and reset. Check out these scientifically proven methods to improve your sleep.
- Vocalize – Try expressing feelings of gratitude through writing lists, speaking with friends, or even positive self-talk. Each of these has been shown to relieve feelings of stress and promote positivity.
- Yoga – Exercise relieves feelings of stress by promoting healthy blood flow and triggering a rush of endorphins, the body's feel-good neurotransmitters. Research has found that breathing and mindfulness in yoga can improve psychological conditions by managing and monitoring stress, increasing positive emotions and helping maintain mental balance.
- Sex – Studies have shown that sex has the ability to lower blood pressure on top of the many benefits exercise already delivers to our body. Plus, it has a myriad of psychological benefits like boosting self of esteem and building intimacy in relationships.