In our fast-paced lives, stress has become a common companion for many of us.
But did you know that our bodies have a built-in mechanism to respond to stress? It’s called the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the “fight or flight” response. It works alongside the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes rest and digestion.
Understanding how these systems work and finding the right balance is essential for managing stress effectively.
Evelina Dzimanaviciute, Co-Founder & CEO of Elite Mind Academy explains the interplay between these two systems and practical techniques for regulating our stress responses.
Recognising Triggers and Responses
To manage stress, it’s important to identify our triggers and understand when and how we activate the stress response.
Often, we find ourselves activating this powerful mechanism for things that are beyond our control. However, the stress response evolved to address real threats. Not to be constantly activated by worries about the past or future, or financial concerns. By recognising our triggers and the frequency and duration of our stress responses, we can start to regain control over our reactions.
Balancing Activation and Regulation
While the stress response is necessary for situations that require high performance, it’s crucial to prevent it from spiralling out of control. Excessive activation can lead to anxiety, cognitive impairment, and a loss of focus. Finding the right balance means activating the stress response only when necessary and at an appropriate level for the task at hand. It also involves learning how to down-regulate our stress responses through mindful practices.
The Importance of Recovery
Recovery after a stressful event is equally vital. Some individuals continue to experience stress long after the event has passed, while others can quickly return to a state of calmness. Swift recovery is key to maintaining a healthy stress response. For instance, studies on individuals parachuting revealed that some people spend an entire week stressing about the jump and remain anxious even after landing, while others remain calm until the last few seconds before the jump and quickly recover their peace of mind after landing. Striving for timely recovery allows us to navigate stress more effectively.
Creating Space Between Stress Triggers and Responses
To increase our ability to choose our reactions and manage stress, we can create space between triggers and responses. One practical exercise involves focusing on our breathing.
For example, when we breathe shallowly from the shoulders, known as apical breathing, we activate the stress response.
Instead, by inhaling into the stomach and exhaling while relaxing the shoulders, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and balance.
This simple shift in breathing technique can significantly influence our stress levels.
Expanding our awareness can further help regulate the stress response. By consciously observing our physical environment—taking in the sights, sounds, and physical sensations—we activate our parasympathetic system and broaden our perspective.
This expansion of awareness helps alleviate the narrowed focus and narrow-mindedness often associated with stress.
By creating this gap between our experiences and our responses, we gain the power to choose how we behave and respond to stressful situations.
Practising Mindful Presence
Building mindful awareness takes time and practice.
Mindfulness is not solely about meditating on a cushion and clearing our minds. It’s about being fully present in our current state, acknowledging our emotions, physical sensations, and the environment around us. By cultivating this mindful presence, we can tap into the power of choice and respond to stress from a place of balance and clarity. It’s important to note that mindfulness is not confined to formal meditation but can be integrated into our everyday lives.
Managing stress is about finding the right balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
By understanding our triggers, activating the stress response only when necessary, and fostering quick recovery, we can navigate stress more effectively.
By incorporating practical techniques such as regulating our breathing and expanding our awareness, we can create space between triggers and responses.
Practising mindful presence allows us to make conscious choices, promoting resilience and well-being.
Remember, managing stress is a journey that requires time and dedication, but the rewards are invaluable—enhanced mental and emotional well-being and a more fulfilling life.
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Evelina is a lead consultant, keynote speaker, leadership trainer and executive coach at Elite Mind Academy, who deliver efficiency and productivity through strategic leadership development, organisational learning, stress resilience and mental health awareness.