Body & Fitness

Fresh thinking about Stress

Screeds have been written on ways to combat stress. Sarah Laurie distils it all into six simple tips to help put you back in control

We are living through a wellbeing revolution, yet today we’re more affected by stress than ever. There is so much rich and wonderful information available to help us to reduce stress; however, the statistics aren’t improving. When we delve into universities and laboratories, we are able to better understand it, but for the most part this fascinating data is not reaching our communities. After spending time at University of California, Berkeley working with a neuroscientist who specialises in stress, I’m passionate about changing the way we think about it. Here are six key points to remember to get you started.

Work deadlines, constant rushing, a busy family, and relentless pressure may be the cause of your stress, but changing these lifestyle factors is not the best way to eliminate your stress. We will eliminate our stress when we switch off our stress-response – and this occurs in our brain.

Your brain sees stress as a danger. It doesn’t discriminate between deadlines, toddlers, late-night emails or rush-hour traffic. Your brain recognises danger, so it will deploy its stress response. For this reason, regardless of your stressors, it is important to signal to your brain that you are safe.

It’s not what you do, it’s how often you do it that is the key to countering stress. Pausing, breathing well, being optimistic and meditating are ways of signalling to your brain you are safe. However, you need to do these things consistently. Set your alarm to go off at 90-minute intervals and for just 60 seconds do one of these activities. Think of this as essential as opposed to optional.

You are in control of your stress, not the other way around. When you feel stressed, remind yourself that your first responsibility is to signal to your brain that you are okay… take a breath, turn your attention to something good, know that you’ve got this.

When you’re stressed you may find it difficult to use stress-relieving techniques. Sometimes, when you attempt to stop and breathe well, or clear your head, or meditate, you feel even more anxious. This is because your brain thinks you are in danger, and to do these activities goes against your biological mechanism to keep you safe. It’s not a sign that these activities don’t work; you simply need to start with small steps.

Your exhaustion, lack of focus, intolerance and inability to think clearly are caused by your stress response, not your performance. When your stress response eases so will these symptoms.

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