What's the tell-tale sign you're feeling stressed? Whether you're prone to headaches, tight breathing or tense shoulders, the key to reversing these responses is recognising what your body is telling you. Only then can we take a step back and begin the relaxation process.
"The stress response isn't just 'bad', it's actually motivating and aroused when we're excited about anything," Charlotte Watts, author of The De-Stress Effect, told us. "So yes, you can feel energy galvanising to get that project finished, but if you see it tripping over into signs that your body has had enough – pay attention. Tight breathing, irritability, headaches across the eyes and shoulder tension need to be listened to."
And if we don't listen? There could be serious health implications.
"The other route of just ploughing through regardless of the signals your body is giving, is unsustainable and leads to symptoms like anxiety, IBS, depression, fatigue, insomnia and weight gain," Watts added. "A few simple tools to be able to intervene when we feel that jangly, heightened stress state, can be the difference between sailing through with grace and good health, and crashing and burning."
So, while it's almost impossible to eliminate anxiety from our lives, we can do something about the negative effects stress has on us. Here are Watts' five tips on how to do just that:
1. Running your hands under water actively engages your calming parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to self-sooth and 'come down'. As this often also means taking ourselves away from a situation to a bathroom, it can be a really useful intervention when we need space in the face at stress. We're not at school, no one is going to say you can't go to the toilet!
2. If you can lie down. When your whole body is supported by the ground, it gets the message that it doesn't need to hold up anything to stay there and tightness can start to release. If you can lie, sit with your knees open and drop your torso onto your legs like a sitting child pose. Wherever you are, breathe into your whole body – body awareness gives the energy-hungry analytical left brain a break.
3. Take a few deep breaths and really sigh out. There's a reason we do this naturally when under pressure as it lengthens the out-breath to calm the body. We can choose to do it and feel more movement in our diaphragm as we breathe. Stress has us breathing up into the top chest and shoulders, so even lifting the shoulders with an inhalation and dropping them fully with the exhalation has the effect of release down into the lower body where breathing is less tiring.
4. If your brain goes into sugar-seeking mode when stress appears, soothe it with healthy fats. They help to balance neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) without producing the highs and lows that sugar does. Nuts, coconut, avocado, Greek yoghurt and oily fish are great sources, depending on whether you need a meal or a snack. Try to include these with every meal to also provide the protein that allows your brain to best function, making work itself less stressful.
5. If you tend to lean on caffeine, try green tea instead. It still provides a little caffeine to stop you dealing with a come-down at the office, but also contains calming L-theanine, which allows us to handle those challenges with more ease and mental acuity. Try the Sencha variety - with toasted brown rice – for a nutty flavour or chai varieties also contain antioxidants to add to those in green tea and protect our bodies from the ravages of stress.
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