We all have stressors in our lives which originate from different sources. Stress is commonly associated with work but it’s not just the workplace, it can come from toxic relationships, moving to a new house, financial worries and the sheer amount of distractions that we face each day.
Too much stress in your life can leave you self medicating and suffering from mental health. Stress is now the No. 1 cause of death in the world, according to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide
So, what can we do to avoid and mitigate stress?
Here are 5 strategies to help you build resilience and avoid stress:
It is funny how many people have an unfavourable view of meditation; they imagine somebody sat cross-legged on the top of a hill, next to a monk or a beautiful person. However, most people are either sitting in bed in the morning or on their favourite seat just having a quiet moment. It’s a powerful way to build resilience and reduce stress.
These studies used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) and Electroencephalography (EEG) technologies to explain how meditation works:
- A review published in 2015 [i], confirmed that meditation has a positive impact on your neurotransmitters, serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters directly regulate your mood, behaviour and anxiety.
- A study [ii] published in 2016 showed a significant reduction in cortisol levels after twenty-one days of meditation. Higher cortisol levels are an indicator of stress.
If that isn’t enough, in his book ‘Tools of Titans’, Tim Ferriss interviewed billionaires, icons and world-class performers to discover their tactics, routines and habits. More than 80% of the interviewees have some form of daily mindfulness or meditation practice [iii].
There are many different types of meditation. I recommend that you start with guided meditations from: www.headspace.com
Heart Rate Variability Training
HRV is the spacing between your heartbeats rather than how fast your heart beats. When you’re relaxed, your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system is in balance. When you are stressed, your heart rate is more rhythmic with little or no variability.
For example, if your heart beats at 60 beats per minute and the intervals between your heart beats are:
- Regular – 1 beat per second then this signifies a stressed state
- Variable – 1.02, 0.98, 0.96, 1.03 etc then this signifies a relaxed state
HRV is a crucial indicator of your emotional state, how well you cope with stressful situations and if you’re in a state of peak performance [iv].
When you are stressed you’ve activated your freeze, fight or flight response and you won’t be in a high performing state, you will get easily distracted, allow your mind to tell you self-defeating stories and beat yourself up for not doing well enough.
What if you could train yourself to have good HRV and:
- Take the stress out of the equation and shift stress-producing emotional states
- Access intuition for making better decisions
- Increase mental clarity, energy and focus
- Release and prevent overwhelm
- Boost your resilience
Well, you can – by using an HRV monitor. Focus on positive emotional thoughts, while carrying out controlled breathing exercises and you’ll be able to increase your HRV and fundamentally change your response to stress.
I use a specific biofeedback device called Inner Balance with my clients to increase their HRV over a six week period, and it only takes ten minutes per day. This type of training can have a profound impact on your stress levels.
A straightforward, free and effective way to increase alpha brainwaves is to express gratitude. Parents are often telling their children that they ‘need to be more grateful’ but are adults genuinely grateful themselves? We rush from one thing in life to another and rarely take time to be sincerely thankful for the essential elements in our lives.
When people report as feeling grateful, thankful and appreciative in their daily lives, they also feel more loving, forgiving, joyful and enthusiastic.
Try this once a day … sit still with a piece of paper, close your eyes and focus your breathing on the area of your heart, then allow your body to tell you three things that you’re genuinely grateful for that day. Really feel them and then write them down on the piece of paper.
When I do this daily, some days I’m grateful for the people I love, and on other days, it’s the small things like feeling the wind on my face or the sun on my back.
Support your adrenals with adaptogens
Your adrenal glands are at the top of each kidney and help you produce cortisol which helps you manage your stress levels. You want to be able to effectively produce cortisol when you need it but you also don’t want too much cortisol. Adaptogens are herbals that originate from eastern medicine and western science is catching up. Adaptogens help to support your adrenals so that you’re able to manage your cortisol effectively.
Common adaptogens to help manage stress are:
- Bacopa monnieri
- Holy Basil
- Mucuna pruriens
- Rhodiola rosea
Neurofeedback is an advanced biohack requiring specialised equipment and can be relatively expensive. It involves measuring the brain waves using sensors to understand the current state of the brain and then to use external stimuli such as sound or light to train your brain. This results in something called neuroplasticity, which is where your brain changes and adapts to create new connections.
Neurofeedback is being used as an alternative treatment and in a 2016 review[v] it was shown to improve ADHD, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, insomnia, drug addiction, schizophrenia, learning disabilities and dyslexia. However, the review did also point out that it can be expensive and take a long time to see the desired results. It’s not a short-term fix.
Neurofeedback is quickly gaining traction, and there are centres in Europe and the USA where you can have neurofeedback training in week-long retreats. Tony Robbins is quoted on one of their testimonials as saying it’s ‘one of the most valuable things I’ve done in my life.’
[i] Krishnakumar, D., Hamblin, M. R., & Lakshmanan, S. (2015). Meditation and yoga can modulate brain mechanisms that affect behavior and anxiety-A modern scientific perspective. Ancient science, 2(1), 13─19. PMID: 26929928 – DOI: 10.14259/AS.V2I1.171
[ii] BAnSAl, A., MittAl, A., & Seth, V. (2016). Osho Dynamic Meditation’s Effect on Serum Cortisol Level. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR, 10(11), CC05-CC08. PMID: 28050359 – DOI: 10.7860/JCDR/2016/23492.8827
[iii] Ferriss, T. (2016, October 25). Tools of Titans – Sample Chapter and a Taste of Things to Come, What do they have in common. Retrieved from https://tim.blog/2016/10/25/tools-of-titans/
[iv] Kim, H. G., Cheon, E. J., Bai, D. S., Lee, Y. H., & Koo, B. H. (2018). Stress and Heart Rate Variability: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature. Psychiatry investigation, 15(3), 235─245. PMID: 29486547 – DOI: 10.30773/PI.2017.08.17
[v] Marzbani, H., Marateb, H. R., & Mansourian, M. (2016). Neurofeedback: a comprehensive review on system design, methodology and clinical applications. Basic and clinical neuroscience, 7(2), 143─58. PMID: 27303609 – DOI: 10.15412/J.BCN.03070208
Nick Powell is the founder of Stronger Self and he works with entrepreneurs and senior leaders to enable them to take their personal and professional performance to the next level.
Nick’s approach uses cutting edge tools and techniques from the worlds of biohacking, productivity, anti-aging and neuroscience; harnessing the exciting intersection between biology and technology.
Nick has developed his Peak Performance Coaching Programmes to enable his clients to deliver extraordinary results across all aspects of their personal and professional lives.
He runs his Coaching sessions face to face in London & Surrey and across the World via Zoom.