Some ideas on how to lower stress levels
As a general rule, we feel stressed when things don’t go our way. We have too much to do, someone has said or done something unpleasant, we feel under attack.
The emotional impact of whatever is causing the stress is accompanied by a physical reaction. Stress hormones course through our body, preparing it for action. It’s the well known fight or flight response. There is also another aspect: the freeze response.
This is essential to give us the best chance of surviving in an extreme situation. Blood is diverted to our big muscle groups so we can either run as fast as we can or have the strength to fight our way out of trouble. Or else, we play dead and hope that the predator will not see us and will go after something else.
There’s a story about two men who are about to be attacked by a lion. One stops long enough to put on his trainers. “You’ll never be able to run faster than the lion” exclaims the other. “No, but I will be able to run faster than you” says the first.
So much for situations of great physical danger. We might not encounter many lions in our daily lives, but we might need to get out of the way of a bus or fight off a mugger.
The stress hormones in our system are dissipated through the exercise we took when we ran or fought. The incident ends and we can relax and go about our business.
But modern life rarely present us with physical threats. Far more often it is an emotional situation and one which is not over quickly. Pressure at work, disagreeable colleagues, a bullying boss, unsatisfactory housing, a relationship that is going wrong, old parents or a sick child, these are some of the situations that cause our bodies to be flooded with stress hormones almost all the time.
So it is really important for us to find ways of getting rid of these stress hormones, otherwise we will, sooner or later, suffer physical or emotional ill-health.
One of the quickest and easiest way is to take some exercise. Twenty star jumps, a jog round the block, going up and down the stairs a few times: any of these will make us feel calmer, less angry or upset.
It is useful to build regular exercise sessions into our routine. Walk instead of catching a bus, or get off one or two stops early and walk the rest of the way. Use the stairs rather than a lift or an escalator. Swim, dance, spend some time with the children playing on a trampoline.
Breathing for Relaxation
Another quick and effective method to de-stress ourselves is a simple breathing technique. We teach it in our “Breathing for relaxation” zap. It is really useful to practice this several times a day, regardless of whether you feel particularly stressed, and it is far better to do this breathing technique during the half minute or so you are stopped by a red traffic light rather than to feel impatient or agitated.
Some people find that reading or listening to music works well for them, but of course the kind of music we choose can greatly affect our mood. If we want to calm down we are well advised to avoid anything with a very strong beat.
And a regular meditation or mindfulness practice must be one of the best ways of staying calm in all situations, of keeping a clear head and of coping well with whatever life presents to us.