It’s never been so important to actively implement techniques that can help you manage stress. The reality is that stress is unavoidable in the modern world. We are exposed to stressors on a daily basis & it can take many different forms… these could be work stress, negative news, eating processed food, too much social media etc. This is on top of a global pandemic too.
These ‘micro-stressors’ are information for the body and signal to the brain what state we are in. Being in a stressed ‘fight or flight’ state causes a biological response including the release of cortisol, the most famous stress hormone, which overtime can impact our health.
The good news is that ‘micro stress buffers’ can make a BIG difference to how you feel & how your body copes with stress.
Here are my top 5 ‘micro-stress buffers’ that could be helpful on a stressful day.
1. Take a lunch break away from a screen Research shows you will be more productive in the afternoon if you take a lunch break. Let's face it, a proper break is needed even more on a stressful day. It has SO many wins – an opportunity to move even if it’s a 5 minute walk, an opportunity to get some daylight which is really important for your circadian rhythm (the sleep/wake cycle), and time away from your screens. Even if you’re eating the healthiest lunch, you won’t be reaping the benefits if you’re eating it in a stressed state at your screen as the nutrients won’t be absorbed as much. Our digestive system likes to be in a ‘rest & digest’ state to work effectively. Schedule your lunch break in the work calendar and make it a priority! 2. Watch out for caffeine Caffeine can be great to increase alertness, however be mindful it can also stimulate the ‘fight or flight’ stress response. Caffeine also blocks receptors in the brain which are responsible for sleep. Too much will affect the quantity & quality of your sleep. Sleep is essential for restoring a stressed out body and mind. The half life of caffeine (the time it takes for the body to eliminate it) is 6 hrs and the quarter life is 12hrs which means if you're drinking coffee at midday a ¼ of the caffeine will still be in your system at midnight! As a general rule of thumb, stick to one coffee per day and try having it before midday. Switch your afternoon coffee for green tea (which has theanine in it – keeping you both relaxed and alert) or herbal tea like mint, chamomile or ginger. 3. Smarter snacking Food can be a stressor too, particularly if it’s high in sugar. On a stressful day try to opt for snacks that are rich in protein and healthy fats instead of being high in sugar. Examples include hummus, nuts, energy balls, fruit with nut butter. These will keep your blood sugar more balanced, provide better energy and won’t be an extra stressor on the body. 4. Simple breathing Deep and slow breathing is a proven effective tool to help our minds and bodies cope with the stress response. I like using the Box breathing technique. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. As you do it, visualise drawing a box as you go through each step. Do it as many times as you need but even doing it once will help. This can be great to do if you’re feeling particularly anxious or maybe try doing in between Teams video calls. 5. Stay active Movement is one of the most effective stress relievers, however it is important to tune into your body to see what type of exercise is appropriate for you on a stressful day. Intense exercise can also be a stress on the body, so for those particularly stressful days, restorative exercise such as yoga, pilates, stretching, a gentle jog or a walk might be a better option. Even better if it can be outside as you will have the added benefit of being in nature too (even if it’s your local park) which has been shown to lower cortisol levels. It’s probably unrealistic to do all of these things on a busy, stressful day. I recommend picking one thing that is easy and realistic for you to do. Write it down so you have it as a reminder the next time you’re feeling particularly stressed.