Let's be honest with each other. You know as well as I do that stress is not our friend. Activating the sympathetic nervous system for a 'flight or fight' response is pretty darn handy when fleeing rampant tigers a la thousands of years ago. But it is not so useful today when we activate it daily, over long periods of time at work, opening emails, dealing with difficult customers, and so on. Sure, it can be handy to help us meet that deadline and remain alert in a busy environment but, long term, activating the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a whole gamut of physical damage, a lot of which can have you ending up in hospital (or worse) down the track.
These days, to state that chronic stress damages the health is stating the obvious. But if you need more convincing, watch this simple video here which explains it well. In short, long term stress is an uninvited friend and you need to develop strategies to deal with it when it shows up in your life.
*hint*...while we can make some changes in order to minimise stressful situations, it is near impossible to eradicate stress completely! The best thing to do is have a tool belt full of strategies you can whip out when that 'friend' knocks on the door.
Here are 3 simple and effective strategies to try out over the next few weeks. The best way to do this is to interweave all three of them into your week. Find what works for you and try to practice it daily for at least a few weeks to start building it into your routine. At first you will probably try it and forget it later on. It's like remembering someone's name at a party. If you hear it once you will probably forget it. If you repeat it several times, it concretes itself in there a little more. So, if you are really serious about tackling stress and reducing it's presence in your life, why not put a timer on your phone and select designated times to perform your chosen activity. Over time, it will become routine and you won't need to set up a timer for it. It will be part of your every day life.
An oldy but a goody, we are starting with this one. Long, slow, diaphragmatic breathing immediately triggers the 'relaxation response' via the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. In times of stress, we tend to constrict the chest, taking short, shallow chest breaths - preparing ourselves for our tiger run. This activates adrenaline and cortisol throughout the body which, as explained in the video above, are not particularly helpful for our long-term health (though they are great energy boosters when used at the right time!).
Try this method: Either lie down, or sit upright in your chair, in a relaxed but open posture. Begin by relaxing your belly muscles - give them a poke to check! Holding the belly in will force the air into the upper chest which is the opposite of what you want to achieve here. So, with buddha bellies ready...take a long slow inhale through the nose. Try to inhale for the count of 5 slow beats. Hold the breath in for another 5 beats. Release the air slowly for 5 to 7 beats. Pause a moment. Then begin the process again. You should notice your belly doing most of the moving, but don't force it. Just let it fall in and out naturally. Repeat the process five to ten times and you'll notice a lighter and warmer feel to your body and mind, and your thought become more clear - this is the Relaxation Response!
Keep a diary of your stress levels. Use a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 = absolutely no stress, and 10 = extreme stress. Set an alarm and record your stress levels at certain points throughout the day. Do this over a period of one to two weeks for a complete picture of your life stressors. Doing this is a good way to check in and become more aware of your stress. It is also a useful strategy to see any patterns or triggers that may be bringing on or increasing the stress in your daily life. Once you know what the triggers are, you can start to develop some plans to work around and overcome them.
If you record a stress level of 5 or higher at any time during the day, give Tip #1 a go.
If you do notice you are being driven by that unfriendly sympathetic nervous system response, get moving! Typical signs: shallow breathing, tense shoulders, tight jaw, clenched butt. Use that energy that is flooding your system right now. Release it, and move on.
If you're at work, try and find a quiet place to jump down on the floor and do ten situps or pushups. Or stretch your body up and out, and swing your arms in a gentle fashion. Or go for a short walk. It doesn't have to be for long. A brisk five-minute walk around the office or up and down the stair-well will use up the energy you've been releasing.
After that short release, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Step into the centre of your awareness, slow down your breathing and activate the parasympathetic response with ten slow belly breaths.
As I said, stress sometimes shows up uninvited. Becoming aware of when you want it to hang around and when you'd rather chill out alone is important for your long term health and wellness. Give the tips above a good go and see if you can bring these changes into your routine. Let me know how you go!
* Remember! Long term changes are best made through ongoing coaching and behaviour change. Call or email Ruth today to schedule a free 15 minute discovery session to see how she can help you deal with your long term stress*
Note: Please see your GP if you are concerned about stress and anxiety or any of it's related symptoms and diseases.