Managing stress is a tricky thing we all face. There are so many events that can trigger stress in our daily lives from simple things like getting stuck at a traffic light when you are running late for an appointment to huge life events such as the death of a loved one or divorce.
At the moment, with all this COVID-19 virus drama, everyone is under a bit of stress. Money, family, plans halted, etc. It’s a strange time for us all. Finding ways to cope with stress is vital to our health and wellbeing.
What is Stress?
Stress is one of the body’s natural survival coping mechanisms for both physical and perceived threatening events. You may have heard of “fight-or-flight” reactions. This system is how the body reacts to protect us. Fight the attacker or run away.
The autonomic nervous system
When our brain perceives a threat, it sends a signal to our body via the autonomic nervous system to prepare for the danger. The autonomic nervous system controls the functions that run automatically, such as our heart-rate, breathing, blood pressure, and size of the small tubes that run through our lungs called bronchioles and blood vessels.
There are two parts to the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. When the “fight-or-flight” response has triggered the sympathetic nervous system works to give the body an energy boost to act appropriately to the danger and floods the body with the hormone cortisol. The parasympathetic nervous system then works to help calm the body once the threat has passed.
How Stress Affects Your Body
Unfortunately, today this “fight-or-flight” response is triggered by all sorts of events that we face in our modern lives, even those that aren’t life-threatening. Our body responds to things we find stressful like a looming work assignment in a similar way physiologically as our ancestors might have experienced when being chased by a lion. When we can’t find a way to trigger the body to calm, we end up in a chronically stressed state and the symptoms of stress affect our emotional state, mind, body, and behavior.
Emotional and cognitive side effects of stress include:
- A sense of overwhelm
- Difficulty quieting the mind
- Low self-esteem
- Feel like isolating yourself from others
- Worrying constantly
- Inability to focus
- Racing thoughts
Physical side effects of stress include:
- Lacking energy
- Digestive upset (The parasympathetic nervous system is crucial to healthy digestion)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reduced immune system function
- Reduced libido
- Tense and sore muscles
- Clenched jaw
- Reduced or increased appetite
- Dry mouth
- Fidgeting or pacing
Luckily we can learn how to manage stress in healthy ways and find a sense of calm. Meditation and yoga are two great tools you can practice to help the mind calm down and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. For more ideas, these ten TED Talks about managing stress will help you understand stress better and how you can help your body and your mind to relax.
Related: 5 Meditation TED Talks
10 TED Talks About Managing Stress
1. How to make stress your friend – Kelly McGonigal
When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.Kelly McGonigal
2. All it takes is 10 mindful minutes – Andy Puddicombe
You know, the mind whizzes away like a washing machine going round and round, lots of difficult, confusing emotions, and we don’t really know how to deal with that. And the sad fact is that we are so distracted that we’re no longer present in the world in which we live. We miss out on the things that are most important to us, and the crazy thing is that everybody just assumes, that’s the way life is, so we’ve just kind of got to get on with it. That’s really not how it has to be.Andy Puddicombe
3. How to stay calm when you know you’ll be stressed – Daniel Levitin
Remember, when you’re under stress, the brain releases cortisol. Cortisol is toxic, and it causes cloudy thinking. So part of the practice of the pre-mortem is to recognize that under stress you’re not going to be at your best, and you should put systems in place.Daniel Levitin
4. The art of stillness – Pico Iyer
You take an angry man to the Himalayas, he just starts complaining about the food. And I found that the best way that I could develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes was, oddly, by going nowhere, just by sitting still. And of course, sitting still is how many of us get what we most crave and need in our accelerated lives, a break.Pico Iyer
5. Could the sun be good for your heart – Richard Weller
But an association: The higher people’s blood levels of vitamin D are, the less heart disease they have, the less cancer. There seems to be a lot of data suggesting that vitamin D is very good for you. And it is, to prevent rickets and so on. But if you give people vitamin D supplements, you don’t change that high rate of heart disease. And the evidence for it preventing cancers is not yet great. So what I’m going to suggest is that vitamin D is not the only story in town. It’s not the only reason preventing heart disease. High vitamin D levels, I think, are a marker for sunlight exposure, and sunlight exposure, in methods I’m going to show, is good for heart disease.Richar Weller
6. How stress affects your body – Sharon Horesh Bergquist
Stress is a feeling we all experience when we are challenged or overwhelmed. But more than just an emotion, stress is a hardwired physical response that travels throughout your entire body. In the short term, stress can be advantageous, but when activated too often or too long, your primitive fight or flight stress response not only changes your brain but also damages many of the other organs and cells throughout your body.Sharon Horesh Bergquist
7. How Stress affects your brain – Madhumita Murgia
The most powerful weapons are exercise and meditation, which involves breathing deeply and being aware and focused on your surroundings. Both of these activities decrease your stress and increase the size of the hippocampus, thereby improving your memory.Madhumita Murgia
8. The surprising link between stress and memory – Elizabeth Cox
Exercise is another useful tool. Increasing your heart and breathing rate is linked to chemical changes in your brain that help reduce anxiety and increase your sense of well-being. Regular exercise is also widely thought to improve sleeping patterns, which comes in handy the night before a test.Elizabeth Cox
9. How dance helps me deal with stress – Yami Joshi
Now close your eyes for a second and think about what makes you happy when you are stressed out. For me it’s dancing.Yami Joshi
10. The psychology of post-traumatic stress disorder – Joelle Rabow Maletis
If you think you might be suffering from PTSD, the first step is an evaluation with a mental health professional who can direct you towards the many resources available. Psychotherapy can be very effective for PTSD, helping patients better understand their triggers. And certain medications can make symptoms more manageable, as can self- care practices, like mindfulness and regular exercise.Joelle Rabow Maletis
Activities That Help You Manage Stress
- Exercise of your choice, try something fun like Yoga or dance
- Deep breathing exercises
- Self-Care practices
- Prepare for tests under similar conditions to the test environment
- Talk to someone and seek help
- Change your ideas around stress being bad
- Cuddle someone you are close to
- Help others