All worked up? Learn how to stress less

Uncategorized May 31, 2022

How are you feeling right now? Start with your jaw. Are you perhaps clenching it? It may even be aching or throbbing from grinding your teeth last night. And your neck? Your shoulders? Are you hunching them up? And that 'gut' feel – are you feeling at peace, or are those butterfly flutterings keeping your heart racing, perhaps even palpitating? If you answered no to these questions, then you’re part of the fortunate minority. The sad reality is most of us are carrying stress with us, even while we sleep. So, very often, if not mostly – it’s subconscious stress.

The good news is that we can retrain ourselves to be more mindful and AWARE of how stress manifests physically in our bodies and minds. That is how we can learn to counteract, or at the very least, minimise the negative impacts whether in the workplace or at home. Below are two mindfulness exercises that can easily be done at your desk. They are just 60 seconds each. So, set your timer (perhaps give yourself an extra 5 seconds just to settle and relax) and do one or both:

  1. Sitting at your desk, close your eyes – do this without putting any pressure on yourself to change anything. Notice how you feel, and if you wish to relax any tension then that’s great. Start from your scalp, move down, to your eyes, your chin, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, arms, pelvic girdle, your upper legs, knees, calves, and down to your feet, and to the very tips of your toes. If you’re feeling self-conscious, find a quiet place in the office, the garden or courtyard, or even your car.
  2. The next is noticing your breath cycles. Set your timer for 60 seconds. Close your eyes. Bring your awareness to how many breath cycles you take in the minute. One inhale and exhale is one breath cycle. If you find your mind wondering, gently bring it back to your breath. Aim to take 8 or less breath cycles per minute as this may help to create a sense of calm despite the chaos around you.

We must control our stress levels because not only does it feel horrid to be stressed, but it's bad for us from a health perspective. And when I refer to health, I’m giving an equal rating to physical, emotional, and mental health – they are as important as each other.

Stress was (or is) intended to protect us. When confronted with a grizzly bear protecting her cute little cub, our body needs to make a plan. And let's be honest, any of us would welcome some help when faced with giant size paws, a maternal instinct, and an impressive set of teeth. This is when the fight-or-flight stress response kicks in. I’d most likely go with the flight option in this case! I have a sneaky suspicion the mama bear might come out tops in a fight.

So, let’s delve into the science behind our ingeniously created bodies and how stress is intended to protect us:

  1. When you realise that the reason you can see the mama bear's teeth so clearly, isn't because she's smiling at you, your hypothalamus which is situated deep in your brain, sets off an alarm system.
  2. This system prompts the adrenal glands, and a cascade of hormones that include adrenalin and cortisol are released.
  3. Adrenalin increases your heart rate, increases blood pressure, and heightens your senses and emotions. Your pupils dilate, you may perspire and your muscles tense up.
  4. Cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream, enhances the brain's use of glucose, and ups the availability of substances that repair tissues. It also halts nonessential functions that may be disadvantageous in a fight-or-flight scenario. This includes immune system responses, suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. Communication is also sent to the part of the brain that controls motivation and fear. Now your body is set to run like your life depends on it – which it does!

So, in this instance, stress aids us. The body's good intentions go wrong when the prevalent stressors in today's world keep the flight-or-flight switch permanently flicked up. The long-term activation of the stress-response system can disrupt almost all the body’s processes causing a myriad of health challenges: anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, heart disease, weight gain, and poor sleep, memory, and concentration.

My first recommendation would be to move to an island and swing in a hammock to an orchestra of lapping waves. Who's coming? Ok, so before we all escape to our island utopia, let's look at how to keep stress in it’s timeout corner:

  1. Healthy diet
  2. Exercise
  3. Solid sleep
  4. Breathing techniques
  5. Meditation and mindfulness (like the one we did together earlier)
  6. Carefree activities with friends or family
  7. Giving back and kindness – this gives perspective and gets you out of your head
  8. Professional counselling

And most important? Add more playfulness and laughter! This includes within the workspace. If we are to manage our stress, we need the lightness amongst the seriousness of meetings and pressing deadlines.

If you are not yet familiar with my WELLCULATOR, I encourage you to do the assessment. Points 1 – 5 that we’ve just gone over are lifestyle choices addressed in the WELLCULATOR. All other points (there are 10 in total) are related to other aspects of wellbeing such as strategic rest, cultivating joy and movement. My clients have all found this exceptionally helpful, and I’m sure you will too. You can sign up and receive the assessment as well as the opportunity to receive a weekly nudge, helping you to make the common knowledge more common practice. If all of this wellbeing stuff was easy, we would all be healthier and happier, but it isn’t, so let me help you to stay inspired and have fun along the way too!


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