Feeling stressed? Ways to restore energy
Stress is a common experience at work whether we work for an organisation or create a business as an entrepreneur. It is also a familiar experience when studying for a degree or working towards a doctorate.
We all experience stress sometimes – it is part of life. Current research indicates that if we change how we view stress, we can change how our minds and bodies react. In the short-term, it helps us to manage challenges (McGonigal, 2015).
There are many factors that can cause tension, such as our desire to do well and meet our expectations. We lead busy lives and often there is not enough time to do what we want to do.
In addition, depending on circumstances, we have responsibilities and commitments to manage alongside our workload, which can lead to us feeling stressed.
So what is stress? It is the physical experience of tension when something we care about is at stake (McGonigal, 2015). Stress is a physiological response when we have more demands than resources available.
The body releases the stress hormone cortisol that circulates rapidly to our muscles to provide extra energy during times of challenge. Our muscles tense up, we breathe faster to take in more oxygen, and our heart rate increases so blood can circulate through to make energy available.
It is a normal reaction that helps us manage change and adapt to new circumstances in the short term. The mechanisms our ancestors used to handle danger and stay safe for survival have been passed down to us.
However, chronic stress is harmful as it suppresses our immune system making us more vulnerable to illnesses. It is essential to manage stress symptoms early to reduce their adverse effects on our health (Sapolsky, 2004).
In the modern world, we are generally not in danger like our ancestors. When we have many demands, such as an increased workload and responsibilities, we may experience stress symptoms. There may be more uncertainty as we worry about finances, health or have an unresolved issue.
We are less likely to take breaks when we are busy, because we think we have too much to do and not enough time. The added pressure can lead to fatigue, making it difficult to solve problems as we tend to focus on the negative aspects. We also worry about possible adverse outcomes.
Our body is designed to maintain homeostasis – balance. A stressor, according to Sapolsky (2004), is anything that can cause us to lose our equilibrium. Our ancestors needed extra energy when threatened by predators, so they could fight or flee.
Our blood flow increases, we breathe faster to absorb more oxygen. During this state of hyper alert, we are more susceptible to being startled, and our muscles can ache from the extra tension.
The body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to mobilize energy. Other physiological functions are suppressed (eg appetite, digestion) so that energy is saved for short-term life-threatening events.
Even though we live in the 21st Century, we still react to challenges in the same way our ancestors did a long time ago.This is even though these may not be about physical survival, but a perception of danger or threat to what matters to us.
Our body must be able to respond quickly for our protection to manage critical events. Our health can be negatively affected if we remain in this state for a long time. So, we need to be aware of the symptoms, so that we can restore our energy and protect our health and wellbeing.
Strategies to manage stress and restore balance:
Change how you think about stress: You can view stress symptoms as signals that your body is producing extra energy in response to a challenging situation. Viewing stress as something we can manage allows us to consider alternative ways of interpreting events and internal experiences.
Research indicates that if we change our mindset, we can change the way our mind and body react. McGonigal (2015) recommends that the most effective way to manage stress is not to reduce or avoid it. Instead, view our physiological reactions as our body enabling action.
Our ability to function well and restore balance is improved when we seek alternative interpretations of situations and our own internal world. With practice, we grow our capacity to manage stressful situations, provided we restore energy daily
Focus on what you can control: Stress arises when we do not have control, when we’re uncertain of what will happen, or when we have unrealistic expectations.
Determine what causes you stress and do what you can about it, and let go of what is not in your hands to change. Next, identify one task you can work on now.
An uncertain situation can be stressful, especially if adverse outcomes are likely. Observe these repetitive thoughts and ask, “Are these thoughts helpful? No, they aren’t.” Keep in mind that these thoughts are fleeting, just like clouds passing by.
Develop healthy habits: Maintaining a routine, eating well, and getting enough sleep helps our bodies function properly.
It helps keep our immune system healthy (Macciochi, 2020). Sleep restores energy and supports cognitive functions, so we can work well and feel well (Walker, 2014).
The most effective way to reduce stress and regain energy is to move (Ratey & Hagerman, 2010). Taking time to pause and reflect can help you achieve balance, along with practicing mindful breathing. We benefit from nature’s green and open spaces as they nurture the body and mind.
Play: When we are stressed we become too serious and focused on the problem, preventing us from finding solutions as our minds are distracted by worry thoughts.
Play stimulates our curiosity and brings us back to the present moment. It nurtures our creativity, helping us problem-solve so we can move forward.
Our bodies use a lot of energy to protect us. To maintain our energy levels, we need to restore it each day. Include taking time away from screens to prevent eye strain and allow your mind to wander. It boosts creativity and re-energises us.
Practice self-compassion: We can be more understanding of ourselves and others when we acknowledge our humanity. By taking on an empathic approach, we can manage our inner critic and be more forgiving of the mistakes we make or the things that do not turn out how we had hoped. We are not lowering our standards; rather, as we are less tense, we can examine what was wrong to make changes and make progress.
We can adopt the same attitude we have when supporting our best friends – we are understanding and supportive, which makes it easier to get through difficult situations (Gilbert, 2010). It is also useful to write down our thoughts. Writing helps us to process our thoughts and feelings, and clarify our concerns. Research shows that it can reduce tension, allowing us to manage our emotions and explore options moving forward (Pennebaker, 2014).
Connect with others: Stress and worry can result in a reduced desire to contact others, resulting in a sense of isolation. Instead, reaching out to others will restore a sense of connection. We have an innate drive to be social and engage with others. As a result of talking to others, we feel better, gradually improving our feeling of well-being.
“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.” (Catherine De Vrye)
Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.
Macciochi, J. (2020) Immunity. The science of staying well. London: Thorsons.
McGonigal, K. (2015) The upside of stress. Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it). London: Vermilion.
Pennebaker, J. (2014) Expressive writing: words that heal. Washington: Idyll Arbor, Inc.
Ratey, J. & Hagerman, E. (2010) Spark. How exercise will improve the performance of your brain. London: Quercus.
Sapolsky, R. (2004) Why zebras don’t get ulcers. The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping. Revised and updated. New York: Hold Paperbacks.
Walker, M. (2014) Why we sleep. London: Penguin, Random House.