Small daily pleasures closely linked to stress resilience
The so-called reward circuit in your brain is essential to motivation. Chronic stress, however, can have a devastating effect on motivation, bringing on depression and an inability to experience pleasure. In experiments with mice, for example, a depressed state is induced when they are given a series of electric shocks which they cannot evade. At first, they try to escape but eventually become depressed and give up. Even if you later offer them an escape route, they won’t take it. They lose their motivation. To protect you from chronic stress and its damaging effects on your reward circuit, Storoni advocates actively cultivating pleasure in your daily life. Typically, when you’re stressed, you cut back on “nonessential” activities, such as things you do purely for pleasure. Gradually, you stop doing things that bring you pleasure completely; meanwhile, chronic stress increases negative emotions, and you get sucked into a negative spiral. “You must treat pleasure with the same importance with which you treat going to work or taking a shower, by allotting time for it every day,” Storoni writes. For this, she recommends creating an action plan, with clear steps set out in a checklist, no matter how simplistic or unnecessary it may seem (“check on swimming pool hours, get out swimsuit, pack a gym bag”). Simply completing steps triggers your reward circuit, as the mind likes closure. She also advocates turning to the arts for pleasure: reading an absorbing detective novel, watching a ballgame, watching a funny movie, listening to music.
Adopt a healthier lifestyle, because stress resilience is also physical
One simple way to return to baseline after a stressful experience is light exercise, such as a brisk walk around the block, which lowers the levels of cortisol that your body releases in the face of stress. (Note, however, that more intense exercise has been found to raise cortisol levels.)
Another basic recommendation is to make sure you get enough sleep, as sleep is “like taking your car to the garage after a long trip for a general tuneup, clean-up and replacement of worn-out parts.” Finally, rather than “stress-eating” a container of ice cream, why not take in nutrients that actually fight the effects of stress? Chronic stress tends to increase inflammation in the body. For this and other reasons, Storoni argues that proper nutrition is an important part of stress-proofing. In particular, she recommends eating natural probiotic yogurt, which has been shown to have a positive effect on mood, as well as aiding in digestive-tract health; keeping hydrated (dehydration can have a negative eff ect on mood); avoiding foods with refined carbohydrates and added sugar, which may increase cortisol levels; and getting enough salt, which also helps the body adjust to stress. In addition, she touts the benefits of matcha, a green tea whose powdered form delivers maximum levels of the amino acid L-theanine, which may improve emotional regulation and decrease depression. She also encourages adding the spice turmeric to your diet for its antidepressant and neurogenerative qualities.
Using this multifaceted approach in the face of fast-moving societal and technological changes, you can reset your body and mind so it is better able to adapt to challenges. Though it is best to address chronic stress on multiple fronts, Storoni admits that it may not be possible to implement all of her suggestions. However, controlling what you can control will go a long way to adding to your resilience reserve.