Control Your Stress Levels And Find Your Inner Zen
The next 2 months are going to be pretty intense, what with spending all your hard earned money on presents, spending so much time with good and bad relatives and spending more time hovering around the fridge than the previous 10 months put together.
Stressful situations and tensions are bound to crop up at any time, which is why it’s crucial that you’re psychologically ready to bat off the stress grenades, tune into your inner zen, escape into tranquility and effortlessly cope – with head firmly on shoulders.
Why should you bother to learn how to cope with stress? Just check out what happens to you and your brain when you don’t:
Bruce S. McEwen highlights the impact of stress on your brain: “The discovery of stress-hormone receptors in the hippocampal formation has fostered research showing that the brain, including its higher cognitive centers, is the key organ of the response to stressors, in terms of both perception of what is stressful and its ability to determine the consequences of stress for the brain and body via the neuroendocrine, autonomic, immune, and metabolic systems.” McEwen describes the importance of nailing stress adaptation so you and your brain are able to totally chill when faced with full frontal stressors.
He goes onto say that “the brain itself is also a target of stress and stress-related hormonal, and it undergoes structural and functional remodeling and significant changes in gene expression. These changes are adaptive under normal circumstances but can lead to damage when stress is excessive.”
Scientists are now stretching their research from the hippocampus to other brain regions such as the “amygdala and prefrontal cortex and fear-related memories, working memory and self-regulatory behaviors.” They believe stress has such an impact on the brain and body that they’re happy to invest millions into research.
Now if that’s not enough reason to train yourself to chill when exposed to stress, then we don’t know what is. However, if you’re keen on becoming the coolest cucumber in the fridge, then follow our 3 tips to find (and keep) both your zen and head screwed on this season:
- Avoid energy sappers
- Try an acceptance technique
- Control your body’s reactions to stress.
Avoid the energy sappers
Energy sappers quite literally sap your energy like sucking milkshake through a straw and swallowing it down in one gulp, leaving you milkshake-less and energy-less. They’re the type of people who can’t wait to chew your ear off at the Christmas party, telling you about the hideous story in the news last week, or the terrible rare illness their cousin’s best friend’s uncle’s friend once had. You’re guaranteed to leave their presence feeling like a full bag of dog poop. Used, stuffed, sweaty and a little bit crap. How can you avoid these energy sappers and if you do face them, avoid their sapping skills altogether? We’ve got a few tricks up our zen-seamed sleeves.
How to avoid an energy sapper:
- When you walk into a room, scan it asap. Use your intuition and go with your gut. If you sense someone’s an energy sapper, they probably are. Avoid like the plague.
- Is someone stuffing their face with big carbs and sugars? You could catch them during their sugar high, but once their come down hits – avoid, avoid, avoid! Sugar meltdowns aren’t pretty and usually end up in energy sapping.
If your judgements were off and you end up stuck with an energy sapper, there are a few things you can do:
- Introduce them to someone else and leave them together. Sorry Pauline.
- Ply the sapper with so much cake they have to leave due to feeling unwell.
- Every time they mention a sad news story, up it with a happy story you’ve heard on the same topic. Drowning them with positivity throws them off.
- Empathise with them. This is only for the strong.
Try an acceptance technique
Yes, uncle Bob is a slob, he’s rude and never says thanks, please, hello or in fact anything of any real substance. Every Christmas is the same and when he turned up uninvited to last New Year’s Eve, completely wasted, that was the nail in the coffin. But it’s times like these when you need to dig deeper than the Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas and find an inner acceptance of Bob the slob.
In fact you can start by renaming him Nice Bob.
Acceptance falls into the category of mindfulness and meditation, both of which have been shown to enhance executive control. ( Jha et al., 2007). And this includes controlling your brain’s response and body’s reaction to stress.
Dr Hanson says “It’s normal to wish that others were different, just like it’s normal to wish that you, yourself, were different (e.g., thinner, richer, wiser). It’s fine to try to influence others in skillful, ethical ways. But problems come when we tip into righteousness, resistance, anger, fault-finding, badgering, or any other kind of struggle.” These feelings lead to an inner bodily stress response and can cause many issues. Acceptance of the person or situation in hand is the key to avoid these negative side effects.
So how do you learn to accept someone you can’t stand, who stresses you out and makes your blood boil?
- Accept that you can’t change Bob. He is who he is and that’s that. The minute your brain accepts that, is the minute you automatically halt your natural instinct to try to change him. This will lessen your efforts needed when you’re in his presence and also shift your perspective. The sooner you realise Bob is Bob the better. It’s a bit like trying to zoop up an old Ford KA Zetec with a worn out engine; your efforts are kind of wasted because the damage is already done. Bob is Bob. The KA is a KA. Of course, different to the car analogy, Bob could work on himself, but it’s best to leave that up to him, for your own sanity.
- Think about his childhood. Often, people who have had troubled upbringings or traumatic experiences in the past can carry them with them into adulthood, if they haven’t come to terms with them beforehand. Empathising in this way allows you to open your mind a little more to why Bob is such an arse. A 2014 study called Childhood Trauma Exposure Disrupts the Automatic Regulation of Emotional Processing found that “early-life trauma is one of the strongest risk factors for later emotional psychopathology.”
Many childhood traumas can lead to a deficit in emotion regulation in adults. “Our results show trauma-related changes in neural systems that regulate emotional conflict’. It might be the case that Bob hasn’t suffered from childhood trauma, but give him the benefit of the doubt. He may have faced rejection from his father/mother or maybe he was bullied at school. And so the thought of getting close to anyone fills him with a fear of rejection.
Control your body’s reactions
Being able to conquer and control your body’s response to high-stress situations is an excellent skill to have. When stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure can increase, your muscles can tighten and your breathing can quicken. All of which are chemical and hormone responses which can tire out your body and brain. If you can control these reactions you can reduce your stress response and therefore limit the release of cortisol, rescue your lymphoid tissue and protect attacks on your immune function.
How do you control your body’s reaction to stress?
- Learn to truly breathe. Yes, you breathe every day, but when you can master your breath to control your reactions to stress, then that’s the ultimate in breathing. Dr Sue Morter has created a breathing technique anyone can pick up and do easily. It’s called Central Channel Breathing and it taps into the central channel that runs through your body’s core. Dr Morter says: “And this channel runs from the top of your head, through the crown center, and right down through the center of the brain, the center of the throat, the center of the chest, down through the center of the belly, down through the pelvis…” And here’s how to do it:
“Breathing through the nose, imagine the breath starting about two inches above the head, and breathe consciously, right through the center of the brain, through the throat, into the heart, and into the belly. Breathe in, and make the belly big when you do, and exhale right down through this center, right into the earth. And then a deep breath comes up from the earth into the belly, and exhale, taking your imagination straight up and down through this central channel. This opens the channel and allows us to do so much work.”
We’ve shared with you the 3 ways you can keep your cool this season, so you can go full steam ahead into that family reunion or Christmas work do, as cool as a cucumber flavoured gin and tonic. Make that a double please.
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