It’s not the Load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.
Right, so we understand the main causes of stress, its impact on bodily functions and affect on pain sensitivity when we have an injury. How do we learn to cope with different types of stress? What can I do to make it easier? A “stress free zone” may be impossible but a “stress reduced zone” is better than nothing.
You might notice your muscles getting tighter when training in the gym. To prevent a strain of the muscle and relieve the tightness, you would stretch or use a foam roller. The same applies to emotional stress. We all respond differently to stress and it sometimes can be the subtle changes that we need to recognise.
Changes like shallow breathing, palpitations, tense muscles, perspiring. If things like this start to happen it’s important to stop for a moment and consider “is this stress benefiting me or another person?”. Remember, stress is a system to save us or someone else from a life threatening situation.
Question your stress – is the feeling beneficial to me or someone else?
Stress is a great response to have, for example if someone was chasing after you with a knife or you needed to save someone from being run over. Consider the stress felt if you’re receiving more emails than normal, having relationship difficulties or have demanding kids. Is this stress response beneficial to anyone?
Look at the following strategies, some may be easier said than done but if it helps alleviate a small amount of stress it’s a start:
- Take charge of the situation, make changes where possible, including the way you react to it
- Tune out negative thoughts, adapt to more moderate/positive views
- Step back from the situation to gain perspective
- Take regular breaks – diffuse your brain from constant activity
- Set realistic Goals
- Keep hydrated, healthy eating and sleeping
- Find a healthy outsource to down regulate, exercise, deep breathing, meditation
Strategies for dealing with stress
Focusing on something as simple as breathing is a way to off load demand on our nervous system. Allowing full expansion of the lungs changes the flow of blood through the body and the stretch response on the lung tissue decreases the sympathetic nervous system allowing stress factors to be relieved (1).
Sitting down, place a towel around the ribs and hold it tight at the front. Breath down to the lower ribs to get them to expand. Take in a slow but normal deep breath and exhale at the same speed.
We’ve heard 8 hours of sleep is good for us. How many of you stick to that practice? Sleep deprivation impacts our hormones that regulate stress levels (2) and can have many other health implications (i.e. diabetes, obesity).
Structure your sleep, be consistent with when you go to bed, try not to eat 2 hours before hand, avoid staring at a screen 1 hour before.
*There should be no guilt with napping. Your body clock (circadian clock), follows a rhythm through the day and twice our body temperature drops slightly to prepare us for sleep. Once in the evening and 8-10 hours after we wake up (mid-day slump). Our busy lives during a working week restrict us from napping. But at weekends a siesta can be of benefit (3,4).
Cortisol is a stress regulating hormone in the body and has been found to increase when poorly hydrated (5). Trying to maintain 2 liters of water a day, obviously more if you have been training.
Giving your self time to step back from your busy life and switch off can be hard. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels (6). Meditation can come in a number of forms; from formal classes, youtube videos, even to walking or running in the park. The idea remains the same, to switch off your overactive brain.
Exercise comes in all types and it’s been well published to help not only with physical but also mental health (7). Find a way of fitting in some exercise each day whether it be high intensity, a team sport or just getting out for a run.
Many of the suggested strategies are essential to our own existence. But how often do we think about full diaphragmatic breathing, prioritising sleep and hydration? These are suggestions to reduce stress levels, the causes of stress will continue to be demanding if not changed.
- Eckberg, D. L. (2003). The human respiratory gate. The J of Physiology
- Spiegel (1999) Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet
- Murphy (1997) Night time drop in body temperature: a physiological trigger for sleep onset? Sleep J
- Monk et al, (1996) Circadian determinants of the post-lunch dip in performance. Chronobiol Int
- Maresh Et al (2006) Effect of hydration state on testosterone and cortisol responses to training-intensity exercise in collegiate runners. Int J Sports Med
- Schmidtman et al, (2006) Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders The J Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences
Anderson et al, (2013) Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety Front Psychiatry