On Monday, I posted my review of Brain Rules by John Medina on Medium. Today I wanted to discuss one of his topics more in-depth: stress. Medina claims that our brains are designed for short bouts of stress. In fact, research seems to conclude that small amounts of moderate stress can improve performance (think cramming for an exam or preparing for a competition). However, chronic stress, long dull ever-present overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, can be detrimental. Not only is stress annoying, new research seems to indicate that stress could be physically damaging your brain. The hippocampus is a part of your brain very much connected to learning and memory. It happens to be covered in cortisol sensors, so stress affects your learning a whole lot. According to John Medina, too much cortisol (main stress hormone) can disconnect neural transmitters, stop new neuron creation, and kill brain cells. All those changes can lead to loss of memory and concentration and weaker mathematical and language processing ability.
Also, brains under stress produce more of certain types of cells that you don’t want. Eventually all these changes affect sleep, immune response, and emotional ability. Which is why stress can lead to insomnia, depression and anxiety, and more frequent illness.
But I probably don’t need to quote science and research to convince you that stress is horrid and must be avoided at all costs. With lower cognitive performance and higher risks for all sorts of problems, how can you stay productive while you are stressed? The simple answer is that you can’t. I hope that seeing this research will inspire you to work out the stress factors in your life. To get started, here are ten simple things you can do to instantly reduce stress in your life:
Unsubscribing from unwanted email lists is an easy way to reduce stress. Every piece of spam is another small weight on your shoulders, and they add up fast. Somehow in life we get subscribed to all sorts of newsletters and mailing lists that we never want to read. Jayson Demers, writing for VentureBeat.com, decided it would reduce a ton of stress in his life if he didn’t have to worry about junk mail. He decided to spend a week unsubscribing from every unimportant email that came into his inbox. Here is what happened:
It was actually quite interesting; for a week, I woke up every morning, excited to check my email, and see what spam it contained, because that meant I could unsubscribe from more email lists. After about a week of unsubscribing to all the random lists my email address had somehow accumulated over the past several years, my inbox is now much more manageable, clean, and doesn’t get hit with new marketing emails once every few minutes throughout the course of my day.
2. Tune out
Social media can be a stress factor. From the feeling of having to keep up with all your healthy beautiful friends to the pressure of manicuring your own imagine online, sometimes social media can weigh you down. Set apart times to get away from the hubbub on the internet and relax in the present.
Many successful men and women from history have had fantastic hobbies. Steve Jobs played the guitar and Warren Buffet plays the ukulele. Albert Einstein loved sailing while Ayn Rand collected stamps in her spare time. Be it knitting, baking, juggling, or kite-surfing, having a hobby to turn offers you an enjoyable way to decompress.
Hobbies can actually lead to healthy levels of eustress, a positive type of stress that keeps us feeling challenged and excited about life.
Don’t be afraid to cry it out when you need to. Emotional tears release stress hormones, manganese (a mineral linked to stress and anxiety), and other toxins. Basically, crying is like a therapy session for free.
When the wise man said that laughter doeth good like a medicine, he wasn’t joking. In fact, he was being quite literal. Not only does laughter release stress hormones, it also relaxes muscles, improves blood flow, increases immune cells, and releases endorphins (feel-good hormones). When you are feeling stressed, sometimes the best thing you can do is watch a funny video or call-up your funniest friend.
Notice a theme here? Cry, laugh, talk? Stress is often caused by built up stress hormones caused by bottling up your emotions. If there are things that are bothering you, you need to get them out of your system. So find a trusted friend you can pour out to. Don’t hold it in.
Light a candle or start a mini herb garden on your desk. The part of your brain that helps deal with smell is closely connected to the part of your brain that handles emotions. Some studies seem to indicate that certain smells like lavender and green apple can help to relax your body and reduce stress and anxiety.
It may sound cliché, but it is advised often because it works so well. Get off your chair and move! From leisurely walks to high-intensity interval training, almost every form of exercise is linked to stress relief. Movement releases endorphins and acts as a natural meditation technique (as you focus hard on your physical movement, you are forced to take a much-needed break from the worries of life).
Gratitude is now strongly linked to many positive things such as a stronger relationships, cardiovascular health, and less stress. Gratitude pulls you out of negative emotions and offers a fresh start. So don’t save counting your blessings for Thanksgiving Day. Consider starting a gratitude journal or challenge yourself to thank someone each day for something they do that you appreciate.
Don’t let your busy mind overwhelm you. I know, I know, you don’t have time to relax. But then again, you really don’t have time for all the time that stress wastes! Taking time to just close your eyes, get a massage, or listen to music could be beneficial to your productivity.
Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges. So relax.