Stress and what to do about it

Is stress our natural state? Surely not! However you’d be forgiven for thinking that, when you reflect on what each and every day holds for most people. A sharp or demanding email, an unexpected change in the day, requiring you to drop all that you had planned in order to focus on something new, can all increase our negative responses to stress. Research has shown that the more often we check our email, the more stressed we become.

We tend to have a negative hereditary bias, meaning that we can make negative assumptions about a stimuli in our environment more readily that a positive one. This is evolutionarily adaptive; we would have avoided the dangerous threat in our environment in previous ages, by paying attention to our negative emotional and visceral response. However, it seems that now the feeling of stress can come from many different sources: our morning commute, followed by emails from colleagues who don’t work with us, but must interact with us. The news headlines manipulate our adrenal system, with the ever-present disaster reporting. The omnipotent sound of traffic, with its sirens and horns beeping, all increases our daily perceptions of stress.

What can we do about this? What techniques are readily available, and easy to implement to help us manage the potential overwhelm of our day? Research suggest that the breath and the emotions or closely linked. When we are anxious, our breath is shallow and short. When we are calm, our breath is long, steady and slow. Breathing is a tool we have on hand at all time, whether we are in the traffic or in a meeting. Breath techniques have been used to treat veterans suffering from trauma, as well as athletes and teenagers. Regulating the breath means you are regulating the stress hormone, cortisol.

Next time you have a sense of being overwhelmed or anxious, try to notice what your breath is doing. If you’re able to notice your breath, you can then actively work to slow it down. By taking calm deep focused breaths you will be lowering your levels of cortisol, help your body bounce back form a stressful situation, and you will feel calmer when you need to tackle the next thing.