How to Handle Stress


75 to 95 percent of visits to the doctor are for stress-related conditions

Allostatic load: a physiological and neurological state caused by your body being on constant alert. It damages your health and cognitive performance

  • Prolonged levels of high cortisol (stress hormone) in the bloodstream lead to shrinkage of the hippocampus, which is important for long-term memory and the intake of new information
  • Stress causes a reduction in serotonin in the brain, which can lead to depression and burnout
  • The more stress we perceive, the more overactivated our amygdala becomes. As a result, chronically stressed people become hypersensitive to any potential stressor

Key to emotional regulation: strengthening your ability to handle stress and training the conscious mind to control our primitive/automatic responses.

How to Handle Stress

  1. Sleep
  • Sleeping a sufficient amount helps us withstand stresses and aggravations
  • Sleep loss:
    • makes us more short-tempered, impatient, and moody
    • diminishes our ability to judge the emotions in other people’s faces
    • interferes with decision making, productivity
    • increases our risk of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems
  1. Exercise
  • Engaging in regular exercise:
    • Improves our cognitive test scores
    • Enhances our long-term memory, reasoning and attention
    • Makes us better at problem-solving and fluid intelligence tasks
    • Regulates the release of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline
    • Eases depression and anxiety
    • Makes us less tense and more refreshed
  1. Nature
  • Time spent in nature can improve emotional regulation and diminish stress
  • Even sitting by the window, or looking at pictures of nature can make us feel more at ease
  1. Food
  • Change in nutrition changes our mental fitness
  • There are certain foods that enhance our emotional well-being:
    • Nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits
    • Healthy fatty acids, such as olive and canola oils
    • Protein in moderate quantities
    • Whole-grain complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal
  1. “Acting as if”
  • According to the facial feedback hypothesis, our physical expressions send signals to our brains to produce the appropriate emotional response
  • Studies have found that by simply putting a pencil in our mouth and thus being forced to smile actually makes us happier
  • Expansive posture makes us feel more confident:
    • Crossing legs instead of keeping them together
    • Draping an arm over the back of a chair instead of placing hands under legs etc.
  1. Physical contact
  • Physical contact in general has been shown to reduce stress more than soothing words
  • Giving or receiving a hug can trigger a huge release of oxytocin
  • Even shaking hands can release a bit of oxytocin and make us have a greater sense of connection
  1. Deep breathing:
  • Deep breathing makes us more relaxed
  • How to do it:
    • Inhale through your nose
    • Use each new breath to expand your abdomen instead of your chest
    • When you exhale do it through your mouth, slowly
  1. Progressive muscle relaxation
  • This method strengthens our ability to recognize and remedy feelings of stress
  • How to do it:
    • Tense a muscle group in your body
    • Relax that muscle group
    • Move onto the next muscle group and repeat until you feel you have moved through all parts of your body
  1. Autogenic training
  • This practice increases our awareness and control of our autonomic nervous system, enabling us to switch from our sympathetic nervous system to the more soothing parasympathetic system
  • Ways to do it:
    • By sitting quietly and comfortably and focus on a sound, word, phrase or object
    • By consciously focusing on relaxing your body
    • By shifting your posture and moving around frequently
  1. Gratitude
  • A change in attitude follows a change in self-image and stress levels
  • Gratitude is about redirecting your attention, instead of suppressing something
  • 3 weeks of gratitude training has been shown to improve personal well-being, psychological health and to increase energy levels
  • Gratitude should be directed on people or things around us that make life better
  • A simple way to practice gratitude is by writing down 3 to 5 things each morning you are grateful for
  1. Building on Success
  • Approaching difficult tasks as challenges rather than threats has a positive effect on our emotions
  • How to do it:
    • Whenever you make a mistake, dismiss it as temporary
    • Gain support from someone you respect
    • Compare yourself favorably to your peers (“If they can do it, so can I”)
    • Celebrate your small victories
  1. Labeling and reframing
  • Acknowledging our feelings in words helps us regain control
  • Finding a way to interpret setbacks in a more positive way helps our emotional well-being

Based on the book: The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, Happier by Hans W. Hagemann and Friederike Fabritius

Contributions, Comments & Kudos

Bunchful of useful tips! :)

A lot of the tips mentioned, really do work! Meditation and mindfulness, two things which encompass a lot of the mentioned, really work for me, relieving stress. There are so many useful videos on YouTube, with suggestions and instructions, helping one to envision and put it all into practice. :)

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