Simple ways to keep stress at bay
The impossible task of juggling remote work and kids, the return to physical or hybrid work, plus alarming headlines, are wreaking havoc with our nerves. But a bit of self-care can go a long way.
There is a direct connection between our physical health, our mental health and our performance, especially at work. Once we recognize that, a basic understanding of how our nervous system can help us calm our bodies and minds. We are wired for survival and uncertainty – for instance the one that’s been hanging over our heads since the beginning of the pandemic – kicks off our threat appraisal system. In turn, our bodies prepare a fight-or-flight response: our heart rate and blood pressure go up, our digestive system is paused. This is the work of the sympathetic nervous system, and most of it is automatic, so we can’t willingly interrupt the process. But we can dial it down by activating our parasympathetic nervous system, the rest-and-digest processes. How so?
- Focus on a long exhale. Try to double the exhale (on 4, say) compared to inhale (on 2). If possible, practice belly breathing.
- Hug someone. A nurturing touch fires off a different set of neurotransmitters.
- Share your concerns with a generous listener (not someone who will feed back into your worries).
Even self-care apps that sound hollow (sleep timers, meditation guides) may work, if they help your mind create the right patterns towards calmness.
Dr. Christine Runyan, HBR podcast The Anxious Achiever, Season 4, Ep 1, 2021
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