In India coronary heart disease patients have increased from 1.6% to 7.4% in rural populations and from 1% to 13.2% in urban populations. Over the years, cardiovascular diseases have become one of the leading causes of death. Conditions such as hypertension develop under chronic stress, and unhealthy daily habits like not getting enough exercise, drinking excess caffeine. Many physical symptoms of stress (High blood pressure and heart rate) on our body stem out of stress and poor mental health. This stress is not well managed. Keeping our minds healthy is the root of keeping a physically healthy body.
In this article we will see some healthy coping strategies to deal with our day-to-day life stress. Practicing these tiny habits may change the way our body reacts. Soon, our body will adapt an automatic coping mechanism so that whenever we’re under any stressful situation, we will be equipped with the right resources to defend ourselves from developing any physiological symptoms.
Let’s understand our body’s mechanism while we are under stress
- Perceiving a situation as stressful: The stress begins when we perceive a situation as a threat or challenge. Perceiving a situation stressful, our brain signals our body saying “I am in a dangerous situation” also called the “fight or flight” response.
- Our brain recognizes the threat (hypothalamus) and signals the adrenal glands to release stress hormones called cortisol or adrenaline, in the bloodstream. The release of these hormones helps to prepare the body for action and increase in heart rate. The release activates your body to pump more oxygen to your muscles and brain in order for you to respond quickly to the given threat.
- Due to this, we experience a number of physiological reactions in our body such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle Tension: Muscles tense up to respond to physical challenges and may lead to stiffness.
- Heightened Awareness: Cortisol increases alertness and focus
- Emotional Responses: Stress can trigger emotional responses like anxiety, anger, and fear.
Jim, a dedicated employee who has been assigned a critical project that needs to be completed by 5pm, but it is 3pm and less than half the work is done. The perceived threat of deadline and incomplete work triggers stressful reaction. He starts sweating, and his heart rate goes up, his body is preparing for action.
Let us look at two different responses to the same situation.
- Jim is feeling overwhelmed because of this stressful situation. His sweating and heart rate increase are lowering his productivity levels, and he is on the verge of giving up the task given to him. Jim loses his motivation and feels low.
- Jim is aware of the stressful activation like sweating and increased heart rate, which is affecting his work. He understands and is mindful that he is just stressed out. Jim continues to put in the same amount of effort, breathes in and out at times, and completes the work assigned to him. He feels a sense of accomplishment as he was able to work under stress and the given deadline.
Notice that in the second response, Jim acknowledges the physical symptoms of stress as a natural reaction to a challenging situation. He employs deep breathing techniques which helps calm his nervous system down. He continues to put in same amount of effort, showing determination to complete the work despite stress.
Good Stress, Bad Stress
Remember that stress isn’t designed to kill us, but to prepare our body for the challenges ahead. Without some level of stress, we won’t be as productive and optimally performing. When stress escalates to a level beyond, it can affect our physical and mental well-being.
With awareness and reframing your stress response as something positive, you can use these high arousal and heightened energy to improve your performance.
Also Read: How Can You Cope with Your Stress?
Mindfulness is a state of awareness of our thought, feeling and actions without judgement and over indulging in the event itself. Mindfulness is learning to be in the present without worrying about the past or future. We can call it, experiencing the moment with a helicopter view, instead of lingering over it.
To many people, this act may seem like a very small act that doesn’t hold much of importance. But once you start practicing it, these tiny actions can create a powerful tool kit for your mind and body.
For example, Pam needs to give a presentation in a room full of strangers. Her time was coming up and she started feeling anxious. Usually, she would freak out, and question herself ‘what is happening, why is this happening to me’. This time, she was more aware about her anxious thoughts and physical sensations. She reminds herself, that it is okay to feel anxious and that it is a normal response to public speaking. And, she recognizes that anxiety is just a small part and not the whole story. She cultivates self-compassionate statements like “I have prepared for this, I can handle this”.
As mentioned above, physiological manifestations of stress like increased heart rate, breathlessness, and muscle tension can be released by practicing deep breathing exercises.
Inhale deeply through nose for a count of four seconds, and release for four seconds.
Biofeedback is usually conducted by professionals such as psychologists and physiotherapists, where indivduals learn how to understand managing stress by becoming aware of their physiological responses. Through biofeedback training, the relaxation techniques can help mitigate the stress and anxiety.
Meditating is practice where we focus or train our attention and awareness to a particular object, thought or activity. Meditation is found to help one become more focused on one aspect, and become mentally clear and emotionally calm. With meditation, one can concentrate on something more deeply, rather than get distracted.
You can start meditating by:
- Sit up straight
- Gently close eyes
- Breathe in deeply
- Scan your body, notice any sensations
- Be aware of any thoughts
- Focus on breathing
When you are stressed, close your eyes and visualize a peaceful scene as a temporary escape. Sit in a place where it is comfortable and quiet. You can think about anything that relaxes your mind, visualize yourself there. Combining visualisation with deep breathing can be a powerful way to reduce any stress, and induces mind-body connection.
Imagine light filling in your lungs, your head, your hands, your legs and soon the whole of your body. As you exhale, visualize the anxiety or any overwhelming feelings in your body fade away as dark smoke. You could also visit a happy memory of yours. What are the details you remember? What was the scenery? the people you were with? How did you feel?