How You can Better Cope with Stress

Jamie Sukroo - 20 Feb 2020

How You can Better Cope with Stress

Another great article came out from New Scientist this week:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24532700-600-dont-stress-the-scientific-secrets-of-people-who-keep-cool-heads/

The article summarises studies related to why people remain calm in the face of stressful situations whilst others fall apart.

If you don’t have time or access to the complete article – I’ve summarised the key findings below:

  • Stress is a necessary part of life and is unavoidable. A certain level of stress is necessary for us to grow and challenge ourselves.
  • Stress begins in the amygdala area of our brain. The amygdala makes an assessment (via our senses) whether the current situation requires an emergency response (the fight or flight response) to be sent to the hypothalamus.
  • The above fight or flight response can kick in even in mundane settings if our brain thinks we are in danger (think about your boss yelling at you, or your kids running around bashing pots and pans). Low level chronic stress (where we are in a constant fight or flight mode) can create a slew of health problems.
  • It’s how we deal with stress that’s the most important thing in terms of health. “Resilience” refers to our reaction to stress and how quickly we return to normal/baseline after a stressful situation. It’s this area that is the focus of many studies which we can all learn from i.e. what makes some people more resilient than others and how can we improve our own resilience?
  • 2 Factors that affect our resilience and ability to cope with stress:
    1. Childhood plays a part – a strong, supportive, dependable relationship with your primary caregivers especially before the age of 2 sets you up to cope better with stress later in life.
    2. Genes play a role – especially those involved in the production of a chemical called neuropeptide Y (NPY). We all inherit different variations of NPY genes. Some protect against stress, while others increase the risk of an impaired stress response and the psychiatric conditions related to this.
  • 7 Things we can do to increase our Resilience / Ability to cope with Stress:
    1. Practice meditation or mindfulness. This seems to rewire our brains in a positive way to make us less likely to fly off the handle in stressful situations. “…Meditation, meanwhile, has a long history as a stress reliever, and research shows that just eight weeks’ practice can trigger brain changes related to better emotional control and stress resilience that are similar to those seen in long-term meditators…”
    2. Try and see the funny side of every adverse situation. “…Research shows that people who see the funny side of life’s mishaps are likely to interpret and react to stress more positively, buffering themselves against some of the negative effects…in a study of firefighters…the number of symptoms of PTSD and burnout they reported correlated with the number of stressful situations they had been in over the past month. But firefighters who used humour more often as a coping mechanism were less likely to experience these negative effects…” If you struggle with this seek out a “humour training” course which includes role play, finding humour in everyday life, cultivating playfulness and learning how to make others laugh.
    3. Look after your gut bacteria. “…Although there are still major gaps in our understanding of the complex dialogue between gut and brain, there is substantial evidence that therapies aimed at changing the balance of microbes in the gut, and also what we eat, could have an exciting role in protecting us against – even reversing – the negative consequences of stress…”
    4. Regularly listening to Music. “…Regularly listening to music seems to alter many chemicals involved in our stress response, and lowers blood glucose, making challenges seem less stressful…”
    5. Exercise regularly. It boosts hormones that can act to lower perceived stress.
    6. Focus on getting a good night’s sleep.
    7. Build a strong social support network. Your friends and family play a key part as a sounding board for you to talk out your stress. The feeling that somebody “has your back” and that you are NOT alone can help immensely.
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