Stress and how to manage it

stress Apr 27, 2022
Chelsea Potteneger

You don't hear your alarm on the day you have an important presentation. Your boss keeps loading on the work with a deadline of yesterday. It’s peak hour traffic, you’re late for a meeting, and it just started storming.

Did any of those get your heart racing or your breath quickening? Stress is a natural feeling that triggers your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. A healthy amount of stress can increase your awareness in difficult situations or be a motivator to get things done. But when stress is constant and consistent, it can seriously impact your mental and physical health.

The science behind stress

The brain is a powerful thing. Every time you learn something new, your brain makes a new synaptic connection. Physical changes to your brain like this are what scientists refer to as neuroplasticity. These connections literally change the way your brain looks, thinks and acts.

Once you reach adulthood, your brain starts letting go of old connections to make room for new ones. While the brain changes when you learn new concepts or have something positive happen, it also changes when you go through a negative, stressful or traumatic experience.

Studies have shown that stress can cause your brain to decrease its cognitive functions, impact your memory and even atrophy. Extreme trauma can lead to psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder (ASD), dissociative disorders and depression. In addition, chronic stress can impact memory, cognitive function, the immune system, cardiovascular health and your ability to fight disease.

Your brain can be one of the most vulnerable parts of your body, thanks to neuroplasticity, there is always hope for healing, retraining and resetting.

Tools to relieve stress

So how do you relieve stress when it feels like the world is falling apart?

If you’re someone who constantly replays stressful work conversations and interactions, you could be doing yourself more harm than good. Every emotion has a chemically induced life-cycle of 90 seconds. If left alone, the emotion will arise, peak and be flushed out of your mind and body within that time period. However, if you feed the emotion by talking about the situation or thinking about it again, you’re physiologically re-enacting it, and it will stay around much longer than 90 seconds.

Observe your thoughts
When worry or a negative-feedback loop arises, if you can simply observe them without running away from it and take a deep breath with the emotion, the worry will dissipate within 90 seconds. However, if you fuel it, you are, in effect, forcing the emotion to outlast its natural 90-second life-cycle.

Read More: Three strategies to reframe negative thoughts

Label Your Response
Recent studies have shown that when we label our emotions, it makes us learn to be emotionally responsible and can even make anger, sadness and pain less intense. Try regulating your immediate response by acknowledging it, accepting it and allowing it to be digested. If you are angry, try saying, ‘I feel angry right now after you told me that.’ Then feel it for 90 seconds and let the emotion go and move forward.

Practise Deep Breathing
Deep breathing for as little as one minute can decrease your cortisol levels and calm down your emotional brain. It can also connect you to your body and get you out of your head.

Journal
Journalling brings perspective and peace. When you are stuck repeating a story inside your head, actively think about the situation looking through your eyes, their eyes and then a fly-on-the-wall perspective. It will better equip you with clarity on the situation.

Practise Gratitude
Studies have shown that those who practise gratitude on a regular basis are more likely to curb rumination and live with lower stress as they more actively live in the moment and appreciate the good they have in their lives. It is impossible to be grateful and worried at the same time. It is impossible to be grateful and angry at the same time. Try it.

For more tips on how to prevent and relieve stress, Chelsea's book, The Mindful High Performer is now available. It is the ultimate guide to living a positive and focussed life, jam-packed with science-backed tools and techniques that are proven to work. 

Buy Now.