Sports, Well-Being & Tech
THE EFFECTS OF OUR BODY UNDER STRESS - And How To Deal With It
This article was written by Irene Funes: Non-verbal behavior analyst, neurologist physiotherapist, and writer.
Running a company requires lots of planning - you plan campaigns, you plan budgets and business plans - but do you plan for how to deal with stress? If you’re not, today’s the day to make a change. In order to keep your head a float when growing a business you need to make sure your head is in the right place. And that starts by learning to deal with stress.
We talk about stress on a daily basis, it’s really common in fact. We hear that we’re ‘the stress generation’, that it’s the 21st century disease by default. But in reality, are we truly aware of the extent of its consequences on our body? How it affects the way we work?
Why are we so stressed?
There’s no doubt that things move at the speed of light, everything was supposed to be delivered yesterday and most of us are wired to be unrealistically overachievers and perfectionists. All this, inevitably, takes a toll on us.
The great amount of stimuli our brains receive throughout the day makes our sympathetic nervous system - the part of our brain that reacts automatically when faced with immediate danger - become over excited and causes our bodies to be in a constant state of alert. The lack of sleep, the feeling of having to control everything, along with the anxiety produced by long working hours and the amount of time spent in front of a screen, have created a society of super excited people with a constant need for external stimuli.
This hyperexcitation leads to a stressed out system and a body filled with internal imbalances that are shown in the form of a cold, cervical pain, headaches, contractures, digestive problems, insomnia, migraines… Nothing new to the average founder or CEO.
Surprisingly, our body won’t differentiate between a situation of real danger and an imaginary or self-created state of alert. In other words, your body goes into the same state of alert when you are faced with a lion as it does when you feel that you aren’t going to make that 10am deadline.
The World Health Organization (WHO), defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. (Fernandez-Abascal, 2014).
An appropriate functioning of the nervous system (central and autonomous) and the reaction of our immune system, along with a correct level of hormones (neuroendocrine system) are directly involved in avoiding that our body sickens. (Fernandez-Abascal, 2014). This comes to mean, that in order to achieve an overall state of well being, we need to align the mental and the physical side of things.
“The endocrine system, the nervous system, and the immune system are completely connected”
(Doctor Mario Alonso Puig)
On the other hand, it has been proven that stress is associated with common unhealthy habits such as: alcohol and tobacco consumption, diets high in fats, inadequate sleeping patterns, etc. (Scherwitz et al., 1992).
So, ¿are unhealthy habits causing you stress or is stress making you fall into unhealthy conducts?
It has been demonstrated that stress shifts your needs towards a behaviour of unhealthy habits. For instance, when we feel stress or anxiety we are more likely to crave foods that are high in saturated fats and/or sugars because they give an immediate feeling of satisfaction to counterbalance the “bad feeling” caused by stress. Like reaching for that pack of cookies after a long day of countless meetings. Another example would be that when we are stressed, our bodies feel more tired by the end of the day, thus reducing our willingness to exercise or be active in any way, and we prefer to finish the day on the sofa watching television or browsing on social media.
In consequence, we establish a conductual circle - commonly known as a vicious circle - because when we replicate unhealthy patterns, we feel frustration, and this generates even more anxiety. The human being is able to look at this vicious circle, become aware of it and, ultimately, break it using the right tools.
Here we give you some tips, a series of simple practices that can help put a stop to those unhealthy habits and avoid or reduce the negative effects of stress on our bodies. These are very simple to complete and will hardly take any time off your busy agenda, yet when combined with good rest and a healthy diet, the results can be absolute game-changers.
It’s been proven that practicing diaphragmatic breathing - or deep breathing - activates your parasympathetic nervous system and produces a series of beneficial reactions: it slows down your heart rate, improves bowel transit, allows your organism to oxygenate and your cells to work better.
The act of breathing is innate, but we just do it without putting any thought to it, but we are talking about conscious breathing. This technique is used in yoga, meditation, Pilates, amongst others.
Here we explain how to do it in a simple way, no excuses allowed. These easy steps should become part of your routine, especially if you are constantly in situations of high-stress levels.
- 10 diaphragmatic breaths before going to bed to prepare your system for a more restorative sleep - if you’re going to be getting little sleep, might as well make it worth it.
- 5 diaphragmatic breaths before eating to avoid overdoing it and feeling too full after.
- 5 diaphragmatic breaths once more during the day. On your mid-morning break or while you wait for the bus or the train.
You might be wondering how to do a diaphragmatic breath, it’s really simple:
- Find a comfortable position, ideally, laying down on your back. Sometimes it helps to close your eyes.
- Breath in, slowly. Feel your abdomen rising. You may want to place your hands on your abdomen and feel how it goes up and down.
- Exhale, slowly. Letting all the air out through the mouth, as if you were deflating your abdomen.
2. Walk 15 or 20 minutes
For instance, walk to work or get off one stop before the usual to walk that extra mile. Something as simple as this has been proven to calm the brain, reduce stress and fatigue, as well as boosting energy levels and improving mental sharpness.
3. Laugh at least once a day
Stress decreases when we laugh. Laughter is linked to the release of endorphins, endogenous opiates and a reinforcement of our immune system. On the other hand, physical activity reduces the levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, and activates the liberation of endorphins. (Casafont, 2014)
It’s important not to get frustrated if one day you cannot accomplish these steps. Just try and do it the next day, without pressure. Congratulate yourself for the efforts you make and don’t beat yourself up for the times that you were unable to. Over time, you’ll start feeling physical and mental benefits and your body will start asking for these habits as a routine.