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10 Simple Ways to Destress

10 Simple Ways To Reduce Stress

Learning to manage stress helps you move out of the command of the reactive primitive brain and into the creative neocortex, allowing for a more joyful life experience.

All living organisms are programmed to survive. This is an unconscious and automatic evolutionary process and the brain reflects this evolutionary change. Think of brain evolution in three stages:

1. The reptilian brain. 

This consists of the brainstem and cerebellum. It’s the oldest part of the human brain and is responsible for the instinct to survive. The structures of the reptilian brain activate the fight or flight responses and regulate alertness, aggression and arousal. Responses of the reptilian brain are most resistant to change. 

2. The limbic system or mammalian brain. 

This includes the hypothalamus, hippocampus and amygdala and is involved in emotion and memory formation. Like the reptilian brain it functions on a subconscious level and generates automated learned responses to emotional events. 

3. The neocortex.  

This is the most recently evolved part of the brain and most developed in humans. The neocortex allows us to make purposeful decisions and plan for the future. It is also involved in logic, reasoning, speech and writing. It functions at a conscious level.

When we are stressed, we’re living in ‘survival mode’. The reptilian brain and limbic systems are overriding the neocortex, and driving automated stress based on a learned response. For example, the primitive brain doesn’t like us doing new things because new is unfamiliar, and prehistorically unfamiliar could mean death. So, whenever we venture out into doing new things, it feels uncomfortable. In many cases so uncomfortable that people may give up and go back to the familiar. This keeps the reptilian and mammalian brains happy. But the neocortex isn’t happy. Because the neocortex wants more for you, it wants progress and new experience and expansion of life. Learning to manage stress helps you move out of the command of the primitive brain and into the creative consciousness of the neocortex, allowing for a fuller, more joyful life experience. 

Here are ten simple ways to de-stress.

Relaxation

The key with relaxation is to reduce external stimuli and help the mind quieten down.  Some simple ideas include rhythmic breathing, meditation, yoga, going for a walk in nature, having a hot bath, getting a massage, dimming the lights and playing soft music.

Music 

Prepare a playlist of songs that always make you feel good. When you are down in the dumps, even if you don’t feel like it, put on the music. You may feel a little resistance in the initial moments but it’s hard to beat a good tune

Movement

Moving our bodies stimulates serotonin production in our brains. Serotonin helps us feel calmer and increases our sense of pleasure and enjoyment. Make yourself move when you are stressed or low, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The movement literally shakes you out of yourself, the more intense the movement, the greater the effect. Ideas for what you can do are dancing your heart out, using a skipping rope, a gym workout, going for a walk or a swim.

Shout it out

Yell it out. If you’ve never tried it, have a go at yelling ‘ARRRGH’ with the full force of your lungs. It’s actually the long deep exhalation that comes with the yell that helps release pent up tension.  Rather than snapping at others with little outbursts of curtness, get it out in one go.

Practice mindfulness

Stay in the present moment. Become the greatest observer of yourself. Recognise how you are feeling and the thoughts you are having. Put yourself in the role of neutral supporter of yourself. If you are reacting negatively to an incident or find yourself thinking unhelpful thoughts, without judgement ask yourself why. Is what you are thinking really true?  

Practice Compassion

Thinking about others, considering their situation and circumstances moves us out of the narrow perspective of ourselves. When we focus on others our own issues lose momentum and therefore power over us. Was your colleague at work short with you because they are rude and disrespect you, or could there be something going on in their life? Is the person who just cut ahead of you on the road a selfish driver or did they just get a call about a loved one who they are rushing to see? Being of service to others, helping others, giving of our time to others, makes us feel good about ourselves and can be a really effective way to diminish stress.

Nurture Hobbies

If you haven’t enjoyed any hobbies for a while, think about what you enjoyed when you were younger and had less responsibilities. Try to revive your old hobbies. Perhaps you loved to draw or paint, maybe you were an avid reader but haven’t made time to do this for years. Set aside some dedicated time where you can reconnect with past hobbies. 

Find Lost Time

We live busy lives. It’s easy to say there’s not enough time to look after ourselves with all the pressures of modern living. There is enough time. Make a journal of how you spend your time each day and you will discover time that could be better spent. Are you making the most of travel time? You could be listening to inspirational talks or soothing music whilst travelling. How much screen time do you have in the evenings, is this where you are losing time? How many hours do you sleep? Adults don’t generally need more than 8. 

Look for humour

Is there someone you know who always makes you laugh? Call them. Watch a comedy show or read a funny book. Laughter influences neurotransmitter release in the brain, it is a natural anti-depressant. By a slight shift in how we look at things we can see the funny angle. 

Seek professional help

If you just can’t lift yourself out of a low, get professional help. Talk to your family physician, ask for a referral to a counsellor or psychologist. Call free local mental health services in your area like Beyond Blue to find out what resources are available.

An extra tip for the Pandemic

If you are stuck at home, still have a set time you wake up each morning. Find some time for self care before the day begins, ideally with a morning meditation. You may not be going out and perhaps there are no Zoom meetings but still get dressed as you would if you did have a commitment to attend. The act of getting dressed shifts your brain into a more productive mode. Start and finish your work from home at set times. Time spent in front of a computer has a funny way of stretching itself out. Set an alarm for a mid-morning and lunch break. Get away from the screen during that time. When the work day is done, put away your computer and don’t let work time spill over into ‘you’ time. You can download apps like Freedom.to through which you can select websites to block at certain times so you don’t go down the slippery slope of online surfing, social media scrolling or binge watching.

If you have anything you want to ask, or if there’s a topic you’d like me to write about just let me know!



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