April is Stress Awareness Month. We will dedicate all of our posts this month to understanding and alleviating stress at work, home and play through the use of Physical Intelligence.
Stress levels are on the rise. In 2018, the number one symptom googled was “stress.” It’s not surprising because we’re living in a world of unprecedented change – advancements in technology, an unending push for innovation and growth, disappearing jobs, new software/tools, significant shifts within business sectors, the constant need to develop new skills at work and home…the list can feel endless. That’s not news – but what is news is the fact that as humans, we are not evolving as quickly as the pace of change. Many of us are feeling overwhelmed and threatened by the amount and pace of change. We haven’t been trained to cope. Worry and stress go hand and hand with uncertainty and the level of risk we take in our lives. Living with uncertainty is stressful, and yet life is always uncertain, no matter how much insurance we take out, or how carefully we cross the road.
Some people have started to put together techniques to help them cope – a little yoga here, some meditation there (both of which we support), but we can do better. Physical Intelligence is a comprehensive solution – an antidote for the challenges of our time – one repository of information that draws on multiple disciplines and serves as a counterblast to the challenges – and stresses – of life today by providing a better way of working and living. Physical Intelligence is the human intelligence for the 21st century.
Right now, hundreds of chemicals are racing through each of our bodies, in our bloodstreams. Those chemicals dictate how we think, feel, speak and behave. Yet, most of us operate largely at the mercy of those chemicals – experiencing reactions, emotions and thoughts without realizing that we can strategically influence them. Physical Intelligence is the ability to detect and actively manage the balance of those chemicals so that we can achieve more, stress less and live more happily. Let’s focus on stressing less.
Being able to stress less does not mean living stress free. In many ways stress is inevitable and in some situations can be seen as a positive thing. The challenge arises when we don’t manage the stress we encounter. For example, decisions we make while under stress are often bad decisions – which only exacerbates the impact of stress in our lives. The good news is that surviving stressful situations and learning to make choices as we deal with those situations makes us stronger, more flexible, more resilient and more enduring.
The kinds of thoughts and emotions we have under stress are generally quick, cognitively un-processed responses designed to alleviate perceived danger or threat. Fear, worry, anxiety, frustration and anger are common emotions when we feel under threat. The purpose of attempting to ‘stress less’ is to reduce the prevalence of those reactionary responses to non-life threatening events and to change the mental and emotional environment inside ourselves so that we can maintain peace of mind in high risk situations.
The chemistry of stress is high cortisol (threat) and high adrenalin (acceleration) against a back-drop of high testosterone (risk-tolerance) in both men and women and a drop in dopamine (pleasure/reward), which makes stress physically uncomfortable. It just doesn’t feel good – think of painful muscles, locked joints, (neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, knees, ankles), a quicker shorter breathing rhythm, a grip around the heart and in the gut, a sense of alarm and lack of enjoyment of what is happening. We instinctively want to transform that state into one of greater calm and stability. [NOTE: There are times when stress feels good – when we have a purpose and a goal and whilst are under pressure, you are prepared for it, and can enjoy it. Our dopamine levels are up and we’re focused, enjoying the challenge and willing to experience the stress that comes with the task at hand.]
So, what can we do to stress less? How can we achieve calmness, relaxation, optimism, restful sleep and learn to manage destructive emotions. Here are seven key steps:
1 Ground Yourself
Feeling your feet on the ground, your bottom in the chair and the weight of your body distributed through your skeleton (and the furniture) down into the ground gives you immediately stability. Grounded = emotionally and mentally stable.
2 Manage Your Breath
Your breath pattern is your main access to your physiology to stabilise your heart rate and all the physiological aspects of the stress response. Slowing down your breath pattern, pacing it regularly with longer out breaths to transform a toxic ‘catabolic’ internal state into a non-toxic ‘anabolic’ internal state. Regular breath practice stabilises the nervous system, and also moves us out of an anxious state into a more balanced way of thinking.
3 Focus on Fitness
When we recover from physical exertion, acetylcholine, (para-sympathetic nervous system chemical) is released. The para-sympathetic nervous system enables us to recover quickly from emotional and mental pressure. It is important to exercise regularly, getting our heart rate up and down at least 3 times a day. If not, that system will be too sluggish for us to rebalance when we encounter stress. If we are hit with multiple stressors in a day or a week, they will build up and we will likely feel overloaded – in a situation where “everything is going wrong” – the opposite of grace under pressure.
4 Talk It Out
Verbalising stressors takes the charge out of them. Getting advice helps us process and learn from what is happening. Having ‘courageous conversations’ when the time is right enables us to take action. Stress builds through a lack of control, rumination and difficulty deciding what action to take – leaving us feeling isolated. In contrast, if we simply reach out to friends, mentors and advisers, call on your trusted network of supporters, we boost oxytocin (social bonding and trust), a chemical specifically designed to reduce cortisol levels, released through non-aggressive, honest, human contact. In other words, we are better able to ‘let go’ if we talk things through.
5 Build Optimism
In our book we cover a technique called ‘Bounce Positive’ – enabling you to recognise and transform threatened and reactive states of body and mind and be constructive with them.
Cultivating a learning mindset involves using a technique we call ‘Bounce Positive’. This involves being able to frame all events as learning opportunities and to develop a robust, realistic optimism. Bounce Positive helps us reboot serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine levels by using our bodies, processing negative events efficiently and applying a learning mindset to everything we do.
6 Get Some Sleep
Sleep has the biggest impact on mental, emotional and physical performance of any waking activity. Huge leaps in our understanding of sleep over the last five years have provided many resources and techniques to benefit light sleepers, occasional early morning ruminators, and insomniacs. See our recent blog for more than 20 simple tips to transform your sleep.
Relaxation techniques, muscle easing, flexibility movements, the ability to let go are crucial as a balance to busy life. We suggest that you carry out your work and go about your life in a restorative fashion, using energy wisely, rather than putting your foot flat on the accelerator every day, then collapsing at the weekend. Schedule in regular moments of REST (Retreat, Eat [healthy], Sleep, and Treat) and honor those windows.
Using these Physical Intelligence techniques will absolutely help you stress less. For more information, check back. We will take a closer look at each of these seven tips in more detail.
About Companies in Motion
There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)