Understanding stress and 10 ways to a calmer, more resilient body & mind
Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992 as a way to increase public awareness of our modern day stress, the causes and effects of it, and to provide people with strategies and tools to manage their stress effectively.
Stress is a common experience for many people - more so than ever today in our modern world - and it can have negative effects on both mental and physical health if left unmanaged. This blog aims to encourage individuals to take proactive steps to reduce stress in their lives and improve their overall well-being and to live a healthier, happier life.
Modern day stress is everywhere and it’s chronic. Stress used to be acute situations that were few and far between. For example, the stress of our ancestors was the need to fight or flee from a tiger whilst out foraging for food. This was a REAL threat to their survival, which activated the body’s stress response, now commonly known as “fight or flight”.
Today though, we are no longer running from the odd tiger when out foraging for food. Instead we are CONSTANTLY faced with factors that our brain perceives as threatening situations as we go about our daily lives.
What is stress?
Stress is a natural physical and mental response to any threat (to survival), demand or challenge that a person faces in their daily life. It can be triggered by a wide range of situations, including work-related pressures, financial problems, relationship issues, health concerns and major life changes, such as losing a loved one, moving house or starting a new job. Stress can also be caused by external factors such as noise, pollution or traffic, and internal factors such as negative self-talk or unrealistic expectations. Other stressors include physical ones such as blood sugar imbalances, infections, illness and even mould exposure.
What is the “fight or flight” (stress) response?
When your brain perceives any kind of stressor, such as those mentioned above, it signals to your adrenal glands to release stress hormones, adrenaline first, shortly followed by cortisol.
This is the so-called "fight or flight" response and it’s the body's way of preparing for and handling (fighting or fleeing) a potential threat or danger. It causes physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and tense muscles as your body floods your extremities with oxygen and glucose for action. If the stressor/threat is acute, e.g., faced with a tiger and having to run to safety, the physiological responses are switched off, your stress hormones return to normal and calm physiology returns. However, if stress is persistent and/or chronic, we can start to run into problems - for both physical and mental wellbeing.
Therefore, it’s really important for people to be aware of their stress levels and take steps to reduce their stress load where possible whilst ALSO supporting their body to better handle the inevitable stressors. For example, incorporating restorative and relaxation techniques into our daily lives, getting regular exercise, seeking support from friends and family, and making time for enjoyable activities are all things that can calm your nervous system and therefore reduce your stress hormones.
Even just 5 minutes of some restorative practices sprinkled into your days can make a significant difference to the way you feel.
Here are 10 ways to support a calmer, more resilient body and mind:
1. Deep breathing
Deep breathing is a simple and effective technique to reduce stress. Sit or lie down in a quiet place and take slow, deep breaths, focusing on your breathing. We love doing a few minutes of the 4:6 breath ratio technique, where you breathe in to a count of 4 and out to a count of 6. The longer out-breath is what signals to your brain that all is well, switching off “fight or flight”.
Similar to above but meditation involves more focusing of your attention on a particular object, sound, breath, or sensation to calm your mind and reduce stress. When your mind wanders away from the focus and over to thoughts, simply bring it back to your chosen focus and continue like this for the duration of the practice. Even just 5 minutes per day has been found to be beneficial.
3. Restorative movement practices
Yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong are great ways to move your body whilst also promoting calm and relaxation and reducing tension in the body. These movement practices have been shown to calm the nervous system and lower stress hormones.
Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment, without any judgment on it. It can help reduce stress and anxiety. You might choose to mindfully do the washing up, wait in the queue at the supermarket or people watch for example.
5. Being in nature
Being out in any kind of green space, whether a park, common, woodland or forest, has been shown to benefit mood and stress levels. The key though is to do it mindfully. It’s all very well taking yourself for a walk in nature whilst making a call or listening to music, but being more mindful of the sounds and sights around you has been shown to be even more beneficial.
Regular exercise can help reduce stress levels by releasing endorphins, which are natural mood-boosters. Exercise can be whatever you want it to be as long as it gets you moving. You don’t have to force yourself to join a gym or running club if this really isn’t your thing. Perhaps you’d enjoy a dance class, brisk walks outside, yoga or swimming instead.
7. Time management
Effective time management can help reduce stress by helping you prioritise tasks and manage your workload. We love using the Pomodoro Technique where you break your workday into 25-minute focus periods followed by five-minute breaks and then a longer break after more than 4 focus periods. This can be a real game changer, not just focus and productivity but for your mental well-being also.
Getting adequate is essential for supporting your body to deal with stress. The stress hormone cortisol is also involved in the circadian rhythm, the body’s sleep/wake cycle, and so the two things really do go hand in hand.
9. Include a daily dose of calm in a bottle with our ZEN range
Our ZEN range is designed to support and calm the nervous system and improve resilience to stress, with nutrients that have been carefully chosen to help calm the body, reduce the stress response and restore balance. Hero ingredients include the calming amino acid L-Theanine, anti-inflammatory, turmeric root and ginger and soothing Aloe Vera.
10. Social support
Talking to friends, family or a therapist can provide emotional support and help you cope with stress. A problem shared really is a problem halved and the simple act of talking can be extremely relieving and therapeutic.
We hope you’ve found this blog informative, helpful and practical. Feel free to send us a message over on Instagram @wearejunius or drop us an email, we love hearing from you!