Time & stress management for executives, professionals and growing self leadership
Brain, Body and business

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Brain, body and business, change management, leadership 
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What STRESS Is Really Doing To You

Posted by vivhudson on September 23, 2015 at 8:55 PM

Stress, sadly has become a daily part of our lives. Stress largely revolves around our belief that we need to perform - in our work, at home or with our friends. Our constant of being switched 'on' is compounding this as we don't take the time to restore or rejuvenate ourselves.

Stress is a real feeling and is also becoming part of our 'norm'. Perhaps you no longer know what it feels like to not be switched 'on' or to feel relaxed. Stress can be brought about through noisy or untidy environments, time pressures, annoying people, constant gadget checking , distractions or perceived threat.

Stress can be largely self inflicted. Unrealistic personal expectations, unclear boundaries, lack of decisiveness, poor work practices, not dealing with fears and constant gadget checking all contribute.

Couple stress with being positioned in a single posture for hours on end, our bodies are being wired to hold muscle tension. Unless we make a conscious effort to break this patterning we can expect poorer health and attitudes.

Stress, irrespective of its source, creates neurochemicals that slow down our ability for ideas and thoughts and overall brain functioning. Stress reduces activity in our higher level thinking areas and directs it to our basic brain where we seek basic survival. It also limits our capacity to learn as the constant of our stress or worry demands our attention. Also long term cortisol release damages the part of our brain required for long term memory making it harder to learn or remember.

Prolonged tension in the muscles can come from sitting or even standing at a computer for hours on end with little movement. When muscles are held in a similar position for periods of time, tension builds up. This in turn creates a feeling of stress within the body. Essentially our bodies are being posed for the fight or flight response, producing adrenaline and cortisol.

Short bursts of adrenaline can enhance our functioning, however cortisol creates havoc when it is continually produced through stress or muscle tension. Effects of cortisol are elevated blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, weight gain, suppression of the immune system, elevated blood pressure and poor digestion to name a few. It also damages our hippocampus which is central to learning and memory.

So what can we do to counter the systemic effects of our work life??

Tips to counter stress include:

Set realistic and achievable expectations for your day. Better to be a high achiever than an overachiever. Creating lengthy to do lists do not help you however setting smaller achievable goals in your day do. When you achieve a goal, take a moment to recognize yourself and build your wiring for positivity.

Have a to do list with both long and short term goals. Keeping a list of things that you want to do helps remove them from short term memory to free it up for other thoughts.

Reduce noise where possible in your environment or generate some white noise that you can use to blanket out background noise. There are apps such as Brainwave available that help you generate relaxed, creative or concentration boosting brain waves helping you focus on your work and drowning out the background disruptions. Also playing baroque music helps generate beneficial alpha brain waves which assist with brain function.

Be clear and realistic about what you are able and willing to do within a given time frame. Deadlines can certainly put the pressure on you to perform and complete a task but unachievable deadlines don't help anyone.

Be clear around what is important to you and what you are good at so you know what you can easily say YES to and what to say NO to. Women are often in a constant dilemma of work/life/family balancing. If you are asked to do something that is not in line in with your values then it's OK to say no or at least counter with a more favorable option.

Sharpen up your work practices. Time leakages can occur when we dwell on non producing activities too long and not prioritizing. This can leave you time poor for your more important tasks. Always start your day with your most important activities and with a clear focus. Save email checking as a task to do before or after lunch when your energies levels may be lower.

Fears can keep us stressed. Fears such as presenting at meetings, conflict, fear of being wrong (note if you have a high need to be right all the time) or losing control (aka control freaks) can present in our day. We can expect our fears to disappear on their own one day but the best way is to break them down by challenging them.

Managing distractions helps reduce stress levels. Each time the brain is distracted, attention needs to be refocused on the previous task whether taken off task for a second or for an hour. Build into your work day scheduled times to check on the things that take you off task such as email, social media and phone calls.

Make time to relax. Hobbies that you enjoy are great for increasing your creativity and finding your flow. Go for a walk, take a bath and just take some time to sit and be. Make time for planning to ensure you don't spend your relaxation time thinking what you 'should' or 'need' to be doing. It really is OK to spend some time to rejuvenate by taking in your surrounds and feeling grateful, the small things really are the big things.

The ability to switch off with our 24 7 connectivity is a challenge that can increase our stress. Virtual workers don't have to deal with the stress of commuting however the ability to truly 'switch off' can be a challenge. Our connectivity is an area that needs to be managed and boundaries created to avoid distractions to family and leisure time. If necessary, log yourself out of accounts or have separate devices for work and leisure.

Make time to move regularly in your day to ensure that your muscles don't stay 'frozen' in position for extended time periods. Gentle stretches, use of a fit ball and getting up out of your chair to walk all help break up your posture. Make time for a warm bath, massage or yoga regularly enough to make a difference.

If you are feeling tension, stiffness or even pain from extended periods of sitting, start listening to your body. Core body strength is important. Planking for 30 or 60 second intervals during your day (great for home office workers) is great for this. Stretch regularly to break up your muscle tension and move to circulate blood to your brain and your body. Incorporate cross lateral movements that involve your right hand touching the opposite side of your body and the left hand touching the right side. These exercises are good for stimulating right and left brain functioning as well.

Exercise helps break up cortisol. Incorporating regular exercise helps reduce cortisol levels back to normal and uses up excess blood sugars that build up from stress and inactivity. Exercise is one of the best methods to fight depression, improve your immune system, confidence and thinking. Blood flow to the brain is markedly increased and helps us look and feel younger. Remember whatever you don't use - you lose! You don't need to run a marathon to get started. Increase your awareness first by using a movement tracker. Smart phones or a wearable can track your activity and then you can challenge yourself to increase gradually. Don't forget apps like Move that can give you a gentle reminder to get up from your desk at regular intervals.

Stress is largely manifested through our own thoughts and perceptions and you have the power to change them. If many of these things are ringing true for you - just start somewhere as Everest was not climbed in a day, but instead one step at a time. Act now for the benefit of your own health and wellbeing.

Where will you start?


Categories: Brain, Body

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