Now more than ever, we are forced to take our stressors head on. Whether it’s because of the added noise of little ones running around, or the general stress of working from home for weeks on end, you’d be alien not to feel pressure in this current work climate. But what if we could manifest our stress into something that is productive? The symphony of hormones that our body releases under great pressure is our evolutionary tool belt- we just have to learn how to use it correctly in order to mitigate the headaches that come from stress.
The first step in reframing how we deal with our stress is to learn exactly what is going on in our bodies when we get that pang of anxiety. Warning: extremely long science terms used ahead. When your body is stressed, the hypothalamus (region of the brain) receives signals which trigger the release for three key hormones: cortisol, epinephrine, and thyroxine.
Cortisol is the hormone that pulls glucose from the bloodstream in order to give us energy to deal with our stressor- but also leaves us feeling exhausted afterwards. Epinephrine, cortisol’s more intense and evanescent sibling, is also released, and you probably know it for its more common name, adrenaline. Third, thyroxine, which depletes our coping devices such as B-vitamins and magnesium, enters the game. In other words, the hormones that your brain sends out end up exhausting you in the end. In fact, Henry Emmons, of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, notes that “[our] bodies can’t differentiate between a saber-toothed tiger attack and a bad job review.” This may sound bleak...
But you’re no quitter! In the spirit of making lemonade with lemons, we’re going to use our body’s natural responses from stress to augment its possible rewards.This means learning not simply to “choose to be happy,” but if you are medically able, to take a step back and use your evolutionary responses to your advantage. For the busy working woman, we’ve compiled a step by step process on how to understand your stress, reframe your stress, and ultimately, try to mitigate it.
1. Understand your Stress
Where is it coming from and why is it happening? Asking these two questions can provide a much needed step back to allow you to see your stress through a different lens. Temporarily diverting your attention to something else can also lessen the urgency at which your body perceives your stress. This approach is also the more helpful alternative to fearing your stress, which only increases your body’s release of epinephrine.
2. Reframe your Stress
Much like understanding the root of your stress, it is important to befriend the whole process that follows your stressful reaction. Oftentimes, when under stress, the floodgates open and we are filled with negative thoughts, which just like fear, worsen our stress levels. Instead of thinking of stress as hampering you and your ambitions, see it as your body helping you and building all the energy it has available to help you rise to the occasion. Focus on the energy, and put it towards your goals.
Once this is done, form a connection to your cause. Remembering why we are engaged in our work, can provide clarity and remind us of the intrinsic meaning our work has to us. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the myriad of tasks and deadlines given to us, but forming a genuine connection to our work can aid in turning our stress into a motivator.
3. Mitigate your Stress
This may sound like a sanctimonious suggestion, but eating right and exercising can greatly reduce the “evils” of stress when it eventually comes. Our fight or flight responses create massive amounts of energy in us, and sometimes, if not reframed, can cause pure anxiety. If this happens, the best thing to do is to take a walk or go for a run to channel those excessive amounts of energy into something else. Alternatively, if you don’t have access to a running route, simply meditating at your (makeshift) desk can provide an equal outcome- focus on your breath and close your eyes.
As discussed before, our vitamins and minerals are almost always depleted because of the many stress inducers in our lives; making sure you are taking daily supplements- especially B-vitamins and magnesium supplements- can aid in the aftermath of stress.
Most importantly, the best remedy to stress before and after it occurs, are social connections. Whether it is with a friend, pet, or family member, social connections increase our levels of oxytocin, which counters the effects of cortisol. Oxytocin makes us feel calm, loving, and peaceful, which is just what we need to create a positive relationship with stress. So gear up those Zoom settings and spend some virtual time with any friends you can’t be with in the present moment!
As a huge part of our lives, work should not be met with dread. It is often associated with high levels of stress, and today, stress is feared and disparaged. However, if utilized correctly, it can help us achieve what we want to, and can even remind us of our goals. By understanding this and making time for the loved ones in our life, we can open up a space in our hearts for this inevitable foe.