Stress is more commonplace today than it’s ever been in the past. Our daily routines are so demanding that our minds are in constant state of fight or flight. We all have high levels of stress, and it won’t stop. There will always be more bills to pay, more deadlines to meet, more work to manage, and more relationships to maintain. It’s important to reduce and manage our levels of stress before they get too much to handle, and prevent our bodies from functioning the way they should.
Understanding What Causes Stress
When we think of what really causes stress, we see traffic lights, messy houses, damaged plumbing, and piles of checks before our eyes; but those are just external triggers. To understand stress at a deeper level, we must look at it from a biological and evolutionary standpoint. In prehistoric times, human beings had to face life-threatening situations like encounters with wild animals almost regularly, generating large amounts of fear. When the brain picked up on these feelings of fear and anxiety, it knew that the body was in danger, and prepared it for either attack or defense, i.e. fight or flight.
Adrenaline was released, which affected almost every part of the body. Arteries constricted to provide more blood to the limbs; pupils dilated for better vision, blood was sent to the surface of the skin to let out the excessive heat from the body, metabolic processes sped up; the heart rate increased to aid in higher blood production, and so on. All this was to prepare the body for what it must do to fight off or escape its attacker.
Our society and surroundings may have evolved, but our brain still responds in the same way to fear and anxiety. So when we see exam schedules and rent notices, our brain treats them as wild animals charging at us, and we experience a rush of adrenaline. This adrenaline eventually takes a toll on the body, causing us to experience stress.
Reducing Stress by Identifying Triggers
Now that we know what actually causes stress, we can learn to identify triggers, and alter our perspective on them. If there are certain things which are bound to stress us out, but we have no control over them; such as traffic jams on the way to work, or examinations in less than a week; we can learn to relax our minds and consciously not take on too much stress.
Identify what causes the stress, and then strategize. You need to plan out a strategy for overcoming this problem while taking on as little stress as possible. If there is an exam in a week, plan out what you will study on what days, instead of panicking and limiting your mind’s ability to retain information. Set your alarm for ten minutes earlier than usual so you can beat the traffic. Decide that one third of your salary is only for bills, and not to be touched for any other purpose.
3 Tips to Reduce Stress
1) Alter the situation
2) Adapt to the situation
3) Accept the situation
Once you know that you are stressing out, breathe, releax and focuss all your energy on getting through it without any fear or anxiety.
Effective Exercise to Reduce Stress
If you are experience extreme stress and anxiety that start to cause you to panic a simple grounding exercise can help the body and mind relax. When you “ground” yourself in the moment, the instinctual brain (reptile level brain) that wants to flight or flee the situation is shut down.
My favorite grounding exercise is “I Spy - Right Now, Right Here.”
Here at the 5 simple steps:
1) Stop what you are doing
2) Looking in front of you and name the first object you see (spy)
3) Then move to the right and name of the next object
4) Proceed around the entire room naming off objects
5) Go around the room 3 times naming of the objects you see
When you focus your mind on recalling names of objects you are activating a different part of the brain, this allows the instinctual brain that is reacting to stress to calm down. If no one is around say the name of the object out loud. Try it, you will be amazed how this simple exercise can help you to feel calmer.