And What To Do About Them
How to Deal With the Physical Signs of Stress
Stress is part of everyone’s life. Every person has moments when they’re running late, missing a deadline, or staring at a stack of unpaid bills. Even sitting in a traffic jam can evoke your body’s stress response.
The Source of Stress Symptoms
Your body has an efficient way to respond to stressful situations. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals the release of several hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. In turn, these substances prepare your body for a physical response: heart rate and breath rate increase. Blood pressure rises. Less critical systems like your digestive tract slow down.
This type of preparation makes sense when you face a physical attacker, but it’s not always helpful when a work project is due. Triggering this response frequently during the day can cause stress symptoms like a lack of focus, trouble sleeping, and an upset stomach. Stress can also make you nervous. After a stressful event, you may feel tired and depressed. As Dr. Hans Selye, an important figure in stress theory, put it, “It’s not the stress that kills us. It’s our reaction to it.”
The Need to Reduce Stress
High levels of stress can cause behaviors that you may not be able to explain. During stressful episodes, some people will start eating junk food that they would never normally consume. Even though they’re tired, they might sit watching television or online videos into the early hours. Allowing stress to control you is not a sustainable way to live. For this reason, I’ve looked for stress reduction techniques that will help maintain better physical and mental health for myself and others.
Stress and Breathing
When the pressure seems too much to bear, a deep breathing technique reduces stress that will slow your body down. Many physical responses to stress like heart rate and blood pressure are out of your direct control. Once the stress response kicks in, they happen automatically. However, if you’re mindful, you can control your breath rate. When I feel anxious, I like to take three deep breaths to slow things down and get my bearings.
A meditation practice when you’re not under pressure can prepare you to deal with high-stress situations. If you have practiced slowing your body and calming your mind, it will be easier to find your rhythm when you’re struggling.
How Does Exercise Reduce Stress?
Exercise is another stress-busting practice. The fight-or-flight response prepares your body for a physical reaction. Your blood sugar rises as your body releases some of the energy stored in fat cells. Going for a brisk walk, jog, or any physical activity will help your body return to balance.
It’s not always practical to leave the office during a stressful time. However, there are plenty of options you can do indoors. If you can find a private space, put in your earbuds and dance for five minutes. Drop to the floor and do 20 pushups. Burning off some of your excess energy can restore you to a calmer place.
Foods That Reduce Stress
When most people think about stress-eating, they imagine unhealthy foods. The stress response converts the simple sugars in your bloodstream into energy for your muscles. For this reason, many people find themselves craving sweet foods after a stressful event. The pattern of experiencing stress followed by consuming unhealthy carbs can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of diabetes. Keeping some whole-grain carbohydrates like a healthy granola bar or a piece of dark chocolate nearby will give you better options.
Another healthy choice for dealing with stress is drinking a cup of herbal tea. Peppermint and chamomile teas are popular choices for a relaxing brew. It’s not just the flavor and smell that are calming. Preparing and drinking hot tea makes you slow down and enjoy the moment.
Creating a Culture of Calm
High-stress work culture may show some short-term results. However, over time, it leads to burnout, high turnover, and a loss of productivity. You can improve your workplace by modeling positive behaviors. Opening time and space for recovery from high-stress events will also improve your culture.
One way to reduce stress in your workplace is organization. A poorly-designed workflow creates a stressful situation. When people clearly understand their roles and know your expectations, they’ll feel a greater sense of control over their work.
Navigating a Stress-Filled World
Stress is not all bad. Too little stress can be just as detrimental to productivity as too much. You want to find a balance where you’re challenged enough to be engaged but not so much that you’re overwhelmed. My goal as a coach at the Leonard Productivity Intelligence Institute is to give you the tools you need to navigate a stress-filled world successfully.