The sun is out and summer is coming. But are you feeling a bit stressed out as we rush toward the summer holiday? You wouldn’t be alone.
While it’s common to think stress damages our health and wellbeing, there’s evidence that a moderate level of stress is a natural part of life and a necessary part of normal human functioning. Here are five ways to make stress work for you.
1. Understand how stress works
“For high performance it’s absolutely crucial to have a certain amount of stress,” Vanessa said, “The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain we use for rational or cognitive thinking, has an optimal level of stress that’s required for high performance.”
But this optimal level of stress is fraught with all sorts of potential complications if you don’t know how to handle it properly.
It’s crucial to embrace stress, learn how to tolerate it and ultimately become comfortable with it, Vanessa said. Only then is it possible to enter the “high-performing zone”.
“If you don’t have enough stress, you won’t get you excited enough about anything or jump into gear,” she said.
Bad stress, known as “threat stress” is non-productive. It can present itself as anxiety or excessive worry over tasks we haven’t completed or events over which we have no control.
2. Know your tipping point
A certain amount of stress can lead to better performance and productivity. The flipside, according to Happy Body at Work’s Sharon Richens, is that too much stress can leave us feeling panicked or like we’re running on empty.
“The key to managing stress is finding out what makes you tip from coping to feeling overwhelmed,” Sharon said.
According to Sharon as you increase your stress to a certain point you’ll actually get increased productivity.
“But once you go into what we call overwhelm, it’s a slippery slope,” she said, “The next stage is to go into anxiety and the next stage down generally is some sort of depression.”
3. Huff and puff
Sharon encourages us to listen to our stress signals.
“When you feel like you’re about to tip over, take steps to reduce the load,” she said, “Check your breathing. If you are breathing short and shallow, chances are you are overstressed.”
You can instantly break the stress by taking a long, slow deep breath.
“This settles your mind and body, relaxes your system, decreases your blood pressure, slows your heart rate and decreases stress hormones,” Sharon said.
Try climbing a flight of stairs, walking quickly up a steep hill or adding a short sprint in-between telegraph poles on your daily walk.
“Three-to-five minutes of ‘huff and puff’ a day is all you need. Short bursts of ‘huff and puff’ exercise are fantastic for you brain, mood and energy,” Sharon said.
4. Find a balance
It’s vital that each person take a unique approach to finding the right balance of stress for them. According to Vanessa we need to take a three-dimensional approach to high performance.
“It depends on the needs and frameworks of the individual, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to high performance,” she said.
Sharon also encouraged individuality. “Everyone’s built differently and everyone functions differently,” she said, “Embracing moderation and flexibility is one of the keys to a less-stressed life. Find your own balance of what’s right for you.”