You know the feeling ….
Breathing is shallow, so oxygen gets into your blood quickly.
The heart races, carrying oxygen and fuel to the muscles.
You perspire, cooling the body because immediate action is required.
There is a queasy feeling as your stomach slows digestion.
Why is this happening?
And it isn’t all bad.
As human beings, we are designed to cope with short-term stress.
You’ll know the body’s reaction as ‘fight or flight’.
In an emergency, the amygdalae deep within the brain react: they flood your body with adrenaline and cortisol so that you are ready to face the oncoming crisis. They work together to speed the heart rate and increase blood pressure until the danger is over, then everything returns to normal.
Constant stress though (where the body can’t return to normal) IS bad.
Your ability to think clearly, to make good decisions and to remember well are all affected.
“Chronic stress,” says researcher Professor Clive Holmes of the University of Southampton, “leads to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive decline as well as to depression.” (Read the research.)
You will experience stress. Life in the 21st century guarantees that!
‘How you react to stress is the key to protecting your brain’ says Dr Allison Lamont, Memory Foundation. These six steps will help you lower your stress levels and build the emotional resilience that will help you regain control and perform better on a day-to-day basis.”
The 6 best ways to Conquer Stress:
- Learn to relax. This is not easily accomplished when you feel stretched to breaking point but it is the most important action you can take to counteract stress. Relaxation helps to quieten a busy mind, decreases blood pressure and breathing rate, and generally increases a sense of well-being.
Try the ‘calming technique’. Close your eyes and, in your mind’s eye, see yourself take a step back. Inhale deeply, and as you slowly exhale say to yourself ‘Calm mind’. Visualise your mind calming and emptying itself of all the busy thoughts. Take another deep breath, and as you slowly exhale, say to yourself “Relaxed body”, feeling the tension leave your body and running out through your hands and feet.
- Think positively. How you ‘see’ difficult situations makes all the difference to whether you will become chronically stressed or not. In a study at Harvard University, students were taught that the stress they felt before an exam would actually improve performance. What do you think happened? Yes, compared with students who were not told stress would help them, the taught group achieved consistently higher scores both in the mock and real examinations. Changing the way you look at situations, and taking steps to change the situation where you can, helps you regain control and resilience.
- Stay connected to other people. When you are stressed, social connections just seem to disappear. When you are overburdened with just trying to get through each day, it is so easy to let personal contacts slide. Make time for friends and family. They can be the best buffer between you and stress. There is plenty of research to show that social engagement is a vital factor in physical and mental health, and for brain and memory to function well.
- Go out for a walk. Exercise releases endorphins – the feel good hormones – into the brain. Exercise counteracts the effects of stress and, as a bonus, boosts memory. Exercise also promotes sound sleep, reduces the likelihood of depression, and boosts well-being. So, put on those walking shoes and find a park, beach, or interesting route to walk. Or perhaps you prefer swimming, cycling, or a round of golf. Try exercising with friends and enjoy the benefits of staying connected with other people.
- Take control of the situation. Stressful situations can leave you feeling powerless to do anything about them. Look at the situation from every angle and see if you can change it. If necessary, enlist help. Taking control builds confidence – you can handle anything that comes your way.
- Enjoy humour. Enjoying a good laugh does make you feel better. This is because laughter lowers the cortisol and adrenaline levels resulting from stress. Studies have found that even thinking about something funny has a positive effect in reducing stress.
You can’t always change the stressful situations but you can learn to manage them.