5 ways to combat stress
Stress causes a physiological response called fight or flight through the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The primary reason for this bodily response is due to the primitive brain thinking we’re in danger and gearing us to either run away or fight for our lives. Today our brains still use this survival mechanism to protects us from what it perceives as a life-threatening situation and overreacts to stressors that cause us no harm.
A small amount of stress can be beneficial for focus, motivation and being in the flow. But increased exposure to stress time and time again is when stress starts manifesting not only in the mind but the body. When experiencing the stress response, your cortisol and adrenaline levels rise, your cognitive function is affected and your breathing rate increases as the body tries to distribute oxygen as quickly as possible. All of these symptoms are the tip of the iceberg. Being in a constant state of stress causes havoc with the rest of your physiology, leading to breakdowns, anxiety and illnesses.
The better you are at managing your stress, the more effective you will be at banishing it. To do this, you need to understand which techniques and tools are the most effective for you. Different methods work for different people. Sometimes I have to get through all of the below to destress. You might find that certain techniques work sometimes but not others.
Turn your attention into the present moment. What can you hear, what can you feel, what can you taste, what can you smell? If we’re stressed out and thinking of the multitude of things that needs to be done, your attention is in the mind. You are not present. Becoming present and focusing on purely being in the now means that you move your attention from danger to safety.
There are many breathing techniques you can use, but for stress, you can use specific breathing exercises that calm the body down. The two I would suggest is box breathing and nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) as the main techniques to help ground you.
Along with the release of endorphins, exercises such as yoga requires focus and attention on how you move your body, giving you space to leave your mind and leave any worries behind. On the other side of the spectrum running outdoors is a handy trick I keep in my back pocket if I need to literally run away from my problems and to feel anything but the stress in my body. Running, especially outdoors, frees up a lot of the excess energy you are carrying which is exactly what the stress response creates.
Meditation shuts down your flight or flight response by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. This means that it releases stress and your body goes back into its rest and digest mode. Meditation triggers all of your happy hormones and neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin that reduce cortisol levels. Find out how to start meditating here.
Fun fact: when you meditate you increase an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) which is the primary defence against bacteria and viruses.
Getting all your thoughts, emotions and worries down on a piece of paper is a really powerful tool for releasing all blocked up energy that might be causing your stress. It gives you a way out, where you can fully express exactly how you feel and let go of it. Specifically for emotional stress, writing is probably the most effective tool. Everything you write is for your eyes only, so you can be completely honest and open with your writing.
Relax, take it easy.