Stress is a natural physical response like breathing or eating…quite simply you wouldn’t be here without it! The baby needs stress on its system by the birth process squeezing its body to pushes the liquid out of its lungs so it can breathe when its born. And this stress begins what will be your stress reaction for all long as you live - breathing. Science now knows that Oxytocin, the so called ‘love hormone’ which is a stress buffer can only work if there is a certain amount of stress in our systems. In fact, Dr Sue Carter, the scientist who discovered the relationship between social behaviour and oxytocin says; "Oxytocin works best when there is a context of stress…its elicited by stress."
But the word stress has become short hand for the detrimental effects of chronic stress – that is, it persists for a long time or is constantly recurring. Stress is managed by your nervous system which acts like a spirit level to keep you on the straight & narrow. And it works optimally in short bursts! When your brain and nervous system detect uncertainty they kick off a stress response to give you a boost of energy to bring your environment under control. Keeping your physical body in the 'Goldilocks zone' of homoeostasis your nervous system not only keeps you alive but thriving. From a nervous system perspective this works the same way - we all have a set point to which we want to rebalance to as soon as possible. When we feel angry or scared for example, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in making our hearts beat faster and redirecting blood flow from our organs to our large muscles to get us ready to fight or flee so we can feel safe and calm again. This all happens at lightning speed.
The reason it can work so quickly is that the brain is essentially a prediction machine. It uses your past experiences to predict millisecond by millisecond what will be required of you and the body & brains energy quota. Each day the body overall has a certain amount of energy to use to get you through life that day and the brain is like the manager of this precious resource. It is constantly allocating resources as required to the most relevant teams. Lisa Feldman Barrett Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School calls this process managing your ‘body budget’. Because like any good Financial Director you brain needs to manage it budgets over time to ensure the company in this case your body & brain perform optimally to bring in the dosh!”.
But the real problems arise when, like the world we now occupy with an unprecedented level of uncertainty – it's prolonged! This means our brains are no longer able to predict with the same level of accuracy. This is massively stressful for us. Negative feedback loop now pre-dominates; prediction error leads to out of whack body budgets which leads to chronic stress, chronic stress leads to more predictions of more stress. Very soon our brains adjust to this hugely uncertain world of stress by adopting a negativity bias. Everything now is colored as more negative and we become hypervigilant to the threat. Our ability to apply our knowledge, be creative, learn new stuff, and be social are all dependant on us feeling safe.
We can’t change the fact that the world is the way it is now but we do have control over our own body budgets.
Budget management is key to everything now!
Here are five ways to balance the books, build resilience and deal with stress!1.Human touch is good for the brain area involved with your body budget, the interoceptive network! Try the butterfly hug when you are feeling a bit stressed or anxious. Simply by putting your right hand on your left upper arm and your left hand on your right upper arm and tapping up & down your upper arms gently.
2.Physical surroundings matter for Stress Management! Yes, the good old spend time in green spaces but also don’t spend too much time in noisy and/or crowded places as your poor nervous system and brain have to work so much harder.
3.Read that novel! You won’t be ruminating because you will be keeping your default network (a part of your interoceptive network) busy. Make it a weepy for an extra boost! Research* shows crying is beneficial because when it slows your breathing and causes you to sigh it calms you through the effect the vagus nerve has on the heart.
4.Lunch date! Set up a regular date with a friend where you take turns in treating the other. Giving & gratitude have clear benefits according to research.
5.Buy the best food you can, rest as much as you can & exercise when you can! Boring I hear you moan but it still doesn’t change the fact that the science is VERY clear on Workplace Performance Coaching & Training .
*Hendriks, Michelle CP, Jonathan Rottenberg, and Ad JJM Vingerhoets. 2007. "Can the distress-signal and arousal-reduction views of crying be reconciled? Evidence from the cardiovascular system." Emotion 7 (2): 458–463.
If this sparked an interest & you would like to find out a bit more about how you can build your resilience and perform at your best, then…I'd love to hear from you!
Give Frances a call on 085 862 3009