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Man Chilling

Stress is good! 

We just need to learn how to manage it. If it was not for stress, we would never get anything done. Cortisol and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) are released during stressful situations they help you to focus and to get the job done. DHEA is thought to have an antagonistic effect on cortisol and both have been seen to rise in people with chronic anxiety problems (M Boudarene et al. 2002).    

Stress is good, when controlled the benefits are incredible, so long as it is kept under control. Cortisol is most powerful in short doses, so we need to work on management strategies to handle the ebb and flow of cortisol. We need to learn to embrace the situation, be it an important presentation, home-schooling, or just a long day at work. To manage cortisol levels correctly you need to be in control, this can be difficult as cortisol can soon gain the upper hand, long periods of stress can be extremely detrimental to health both physically and psychologically (Hannibal and Bishop 2014). 

Stress, however, has become something that is misunderstood as a result we can very often end up in a never-ending circle of stress, compounded with more stress, we then pass the stress on to others leading to arguments and yet more stress!  This self-perpetuating loop is a certain road to physical and mental illness or complete burnout.   It is important to learn about stress so that you can harness the extremely powerful aspects that help you to perform at your A-game, but recognise the signs that things are spiralling out of control. It is then important to learn strategies to help manage this.   

Stress, or more accurately cortisol, and other stress hormones, flick the switch and get you ready for action performance increases, glucose is released, you become primed and ready for action! (Schmidt and Genam, 2020) Chronic stress however leads to obesity, decreases in the effectiveness of your immune system, increased blood pressure to name but a few, these are just the physiological responses. When we look at what happens to the brain, stress interferes with the connectivity of the frontoparietal brain areas leading to a decrease in working memory and problem-solving abilities, prolonged stress will shrink those memory banks forever, anxiety levels increase which in turn can lead to depression and other psychological problems.

So how can we manage stress levels?    

What can we do to help break the loop, bring our cortisol levels back in check and rest and recover ready for the next time we need to save the world or login for the next home-schooling session!   Do something fun! Laughter is a crucial player in reducing cortisol levels. Next time you are engaged in a heated debate at work, try to drop in a little quip, timing is everything, not only will this reduce your cortisol levels but also the cortisol levels of those around you. We find that doing the chicken dance in the dark is a great remedy! Seriously though try it and watch the faces of the people around you it will give a short micro-break from stress and you will see people instantly relax. Fun and laughter are crucial for stress relief (Louis Brooke and frets 2016). Simply find ways to put some fun in your life, if you are feeling stressed do something that will make you smile.    

Rest - Take time out, getaway for the day, or take a holiday, just remember, leave the stress behind, stress will follow you so you need to find a way to not let it sneak in the suitcase! Rest does not need to be a full-on holiday it can just be the walk around the block or a trip to the supermarket, it just needs to simply be time to yourself, embrace yourself and show yourself some love.      

Meditation and mindfulness both play a part in reducing stress (Sharma 2015 and Janssen 2018).  Let's start with a simple meditation technique, I love to do this when I go for some of my time in the mountains, I like to head off on my own, go for a hike and find complete solitude. This cannot happen every day! That said, meditation can, and it is very powerful, take just 5-minutes, I do it as part of my wind down at night, I will talk about that shortly, now focus on your breathing close your eyes breathe in for 7 and out for 11 focus on nothing else but your breath, the 5-minutes is not relevant, time should be irrelevant, do it until you feel the stress and anxiety of the day slip away. The main point here is that you breathe out more than you breathe in.   

Mindfulness; now I'm going to take a slightly different stance on this. I am not disputing the effects of spending time on a mindful walk listening to the birds and truly looking at the fauna around you. Spending this time is incredible and a strong tool in aiding your relaxation.   I'm going to briefly talk about being more mindful of self and others, reducing friction points in life helps you to sail through with less judgement and as a result, you become less stressed I'm going to use one example that can be applied to almost any situation. I'm going to use driving as most of us do it! Driving can be stressful but when you are mindful of the people around you it can dramatically reduce the stress of the situation this is an overall summation… leave more space between you and the car in front, let someone out at the junction, pay attention to the people around you and reduce friction points, let others progress in the traffic whilst you progress too, break less, smile more and enjoy the ride. Should you manage to annoy someone then let it wash over you. Reducing friction is not about being soft or a pushover it is about letting it go when it is not necessary to get angry or annoyed. Allow yourself to move on, smile, take the higher ground and it helps others move on too, in essence, be the first one to forgive. It will amaze you how been courteous to the people around you make both them and you less stressed, happier with more smiles all around. Reducing friction is both easy and hard to do, it takes a lot of practice but it is very worthwhile, you need to spend time looking at people, reading body language and doing little things that make the people around you happy, the results are incredible, go for it create a friction-free life be kind be grateful and see where it gets you. Less friction is more flow.   

Winddown time at least 60 minutes before bedtime, I recommend creating a wind-down process. Oddly as I'm writing this my phone has told me it is now winddown time! I will now stop receiving notifications, I'm shortly going to grab myself a Horlicks (not every night) and run through a routine, the more mundane and boring the better! I always like to read before I go to sleep it helps me switch off. You need to find your own winddown but one thing I will say is sleep must be effortless, if you are trying to go to sleep you are likely stressed, and it is even more important for you that you find a routine that will help you to switch off before you head up. Maybe meditation or some mindfulness practice will help here are my main pointers: 

  • No exercise before bed  
  • Reduce or stop stimulating conversations.  
  •  Make it as dull as possible.  
  •  Meditate  
  •  Cooldown (make sure the heating is off before your wind down your blood vessels in your hands and feet dilate to reduce the core temperature, so it is important to keep cool)   

I hope this has helped you to learn how to embrace and manage your stress levels in equal measure. In the long run, these techniques will help you to Excel in life and work above all else create less friction, love and laugh more embrace stress and perform like a superstar again and again.