Top tips for managing stress
Pan Macmillan is excited for 2020 and we’re sure you are too, but the start of a new year (and decade) is not without its stressful moments as everyone heads back to school, work and “real life” after the holidays.
In this extract, you’ll find practical ways to help manage pressure and how they are beneficial for mental and physical health. This piece is from The Stress Code: From Surviving to Thriving by Richard Sutton, a health and performance educator and consultant, who is considered one of the foremost experts in his field.
- Is an eﬀective stress management/resilience tool. Not only does massage therapy increase vagus nerve activity and raise oxytocin, but it also signiﬁcantly lowers cortisol. Moreover, massage promotes an increase in serotonin and dopamine, which positively inﬂuence cognition and behaviour.
- Controlled breathing exercises may be eﬀective in managing high blood pressure and related health issues.
- Research shows controlled breathing exercises to be eﬀective in managing depression and anxiety disorders.
- Deep diaphragmatic breathing can create improved engagement of numerous regions of the brain, including those responsible for memory and emotional processes.
- The vagus nerve and reduces activity of the stress axis through a survival response called the ‘dive reﬂex’. Additional beneﬁts are achieved through exercise and rhythmic breathing in the water.
- Regular swimming has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of chronic diseases as well as improve life expectancy.
Cold water (10°C/50°F) or pack (1–2°C/34°–36°F)
- Facial immersion for a period of 30 seconds to 3 minutes triggers vagus nerve activity through its relationship with the trigeminal nerve. This nerve has been used as a reliable measure of vagus nerve functionality and provides a quick and easy solution to managing stressful situations,
Regular yoga practice is successful in managing chronic stress and promoting stress resilience.
Yoga is more than a simple exercise routine. It encompasses:
- physical postures and exercises
- breathing exercises
- deep relaxation techniques, and
- meditation and/or mindfulness practices.
These activities promote physical strength and ﬂexibility, enhance respiratory functioning, increase the ability to release tension, and improve cognitive and emotional integrity. Studies show that yoga is successful in improving behaviour and reducing stress in children. Studies have shown that yoga practice is eﬀective in reducing the symptoms of depression and lowering cortisol in depressed patients. Daily yoga practice in healthy individuals can result in a 40% reduction in cortisol levels.
Meditation is a form of mental training that aims to improve an individual’s attention and emotional self-regulation.
- Meditation has beneﬁcial eﬀects in a number of important cognitive domains, including attention, memory, verbal ﬂuency, executive function, processing speed, overall cognitive ﬂexibility and conﬂict monitoring, and can even enhance creativity.
- Can lower cortisol and reduce stress responses.
- Helps to dramatically improve connectivity and functionality within the brain.
- Meditation training enhances the structural properties of the brain in no less than eight speciﬁc regions and protects the brain against ageing.
- It positively aﬀects our DNA in such a way that it reduces inﬂammation and improves immune regulation.
- Meditation practice in younger individuals increases brain size and volume.
- Each form of meditation brings with it its own unique beneﬁts, which can be tailored to your needs.
Music is a powerful tool in promoting stress resilience.
- Listening to slow, calming music increases vagal tone and oxytocin levels.
- Relaxing music also lowers cortisol and increases dopamine, opioids, serotonin and beta-endorphins.
- Pleasurable music increases blood ﬂow to areas of the brain responsible for:
- Listening to relaxing music prior to a stressful event increases alertness and arousal and enhances recovery after the event.
- Listening to nature sounds prior to a stressful event lowers cortisol and stress hormone responses.
Listening to calming music:
- can promote deep relaxation by altering brain wave states in favour of alpha, and possibly even theta, waves
- increases levels of Immunoglobulin A (IgA), a powerful antibody that provides increased protection against pathogens
- reduces inﬂammation, speciﬁcally the pro-inﬂammatory molecule known as IL-6
- before bed improves all aspects of sleep and is highly eﬀective in managing insomnia.
- Listening to classical music reduces allergic reactions to food.
- Listening to Mozart has been shown to increase growth hormone levels.
- Listening to music during aerobic exercise increases performance and time to exhaustion.