How to go from restless to stress-less in 10 minutes
How do I stop these feelings of overwhelm from spiralling? Why do even the smallest issues at work cause me to ‘lose it’? I’ve followed stress-busting tips before, so how come nothing really works?
If these types of questions are on your mind, you’re certainly not alone. This is especially true of the last year or so, with four out of five of the UK workforce reporting an increase in harmful stress levels.
So what’s going wrong? A big part of the problem is that too many of us are approaching stress management and stress reduction in the wrong way.
For instance, you might see a tip or technique that might claim to instantly relax you when you’re already in a stressed state. It doesn’t really work because all it’s doing is temporarily putting a lid on things. As a rule, stress needs to be released. You can simmer it down, but it's likely to return with more force, along with a more significant negative impact on your mental and physical wellbeing.
This guide will explain where stress comes from, the difference between healthy and unhealthy stress, its causes, and how to reduce it. We’ll cover the changes you can make to reduce harmful stress levels. We’ll also explain our pioneering 4-stage stressbusting process, showing you how it can effectively return you to a genuinely stress-less state in less than 10 minutes.
Part 1. Stress: What are we talking about?
Stress - good and bad
Stress is your body’s way of responding whenever you find yourself out of your comfort zone. When this happens, your nervous system releases a flood of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol: also known as the flight, fight or freeze response. This reaction causes your heart to beat faster. Your muscles typically tighten so they’re ready for action. Breathing becomes quicker and more shallow, and your senses become sharper.
In the right context, this can be an incredibly useful response. Psychologists call it eustress: i.e. positive stress. For example, it’s the type of response that can gear you up for a job interview or a presentation at work, or spur you to the next level during a physical workout. It can inspire, excite and keep you going when faced with all kinds of life challenges.
Then there’s bad stress. Instead of helping you reach a goal or meet a challenge, this is where the flight, fight and freeze response actively works against you. An example is where even the most minor tasks or interactions become stressors. For instance, you’re in your car, and you find yourself getting incredibly tense and irritated by the actions of other drivers for no real reason. Or you’re at work, and you freeze or panic when presented even with routine tasks.
Chronic stress is another variant of bad stress. This is where your body experiences stressors with such frequency or intensity that it does not have the chance to recover from them. It leaves you in a constant state of stress arousal, which takes a toll on both mind and body and your cells go into cellular lockdown, starving them of nutrients and restricting your ability to grow and heal. Common chronic stress symptoms include aches and pains, gastrointestinal complaints, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, nervousness and anxiety.
At some point in your life, you may have been exposed to an incredibly stressful event: one that left you feeling helpless, anxious and lacking in control. If you didn't properly process the event, it could stay with you. So even way after the earlier event, traumatic memory may be triggered, even by relatively minor stressors. For example, a small incident might happen at work, but your nervous system responds to it with a massive release of stress hormones as if it’s a major event.
Unique stress signature
Let’s say you’re in the office. Suddenly, the IT system crashes, and everyone’s screen goes blank. For some of your colleagues, the event will barely cause a stir, while others might start to panic visibly. From anger to indifference, a whole range of emotions may be on display. We are all wired differently, which means each of us reacts to potential stressors in different ways.
So what are your stress triggers? When they arise, what shape does the response take? By becoming aware of your unique stress signature, you can better monitor your feelings, thoughts and reactions and take preventative measures to manage your stress load.
You can shed light on your stress signature by asking the following questions:
- What are the day-to-day situations, concerns or challenges that tend to trigger your stress response?
- How do you deal with the unexpected?
- Are there any particular environments (e.g. social situations or work) where stress events tend to be more common?
- How often do you feel anxious or stressed out?
- How often do you feel overwhelmed and exhausted? What events, activities or environments tend to trigger these feelings?
- When stress occurs, what physical symptoms do you experience?
- Your answers can tell you a lot about your stress response. Observe yourself over a couple of weeks and make a note of those answers. It can tell you a lot about when and how to intervene to make life a lot easier
Returning to calm
When triggered by a stressor, the flight, fight or freeze response that you experience is driven by the sympathetic nervous system, which makes up part of your involuntary (autonomic) nervous system. This directs your automatic reaction to dangerous or stressful situations, flooding your body with hormones and sending extra blood to the muscles.
But what happens when the stressor has subsided, and the danger has passed? If everything's working as it should, a different system, the parasympathetic nervous system, works to calm the body down, taking it from flight-or-fight to “rest and digest”. Heart rate, breathing patterns and hormone flow levels should return to normal as the body settles into equilibrium (also known as homeostasis) once more.
But for lots of reasons, your body may not be able to recalibrate automatically from flight-or-fight to rest-and-digest.
For instance, it could be because a barrage of stressors has hit you, so the body hasn’t had the chance to process them. You’re essentially locked in chronic stress mode. Or it may be that there’s a single traumatic event from your earlier life that’s stopping the interplay between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems from working properly.
Learned behaviour can be important, too. For example, if your parents tended to bottle up their responses to stressful situations, you may have unconsciously learned to behave this way, too. The unconscious mind learns differently from the conscious mind. So to change an unwanted behaviour that’s causing your flight-or-fight response to go into overdrive, you may have to involve your unconscious mind.
Part 2. Effective stress reduction: techniques to try
Structuring your day: listen to your body
Some of the advice you’ll see surrounding this reads almost like an instruction manual: e.g. you “must” have so many hours sleep or do X minutes of exercise, otherwise; you’re at risk of anxiety and burnout.
The truth is that we are all unique. For some, our natural circadian rhythm makes us night owls rather than members of the 5 am club, while others are the exact opposite. Some people like having a set structure to work to as a motivating force, while others prefer much more spontaneity.
So if you do prefer a structure, that’s fine. If not, then don’t try to stick rigidly to one: the last thing you need for your wellbeing is a source of self-beration, as this is only likely to drain your energy and cause overwhelm.
With all of this in mind, and to maximise the chances of ensuring maximum wellbeing during your day, you might want to try the following:
- Start your day (whatever your preferred wake-up time) with something you enjoy (e.g. music or yoga).
- Listen to your body and notice when you are at your most productive. If you can, aim to complete your main workload during your most productive times. This can go a long way in preventing routine tasks from turning into significant stressors.
- When you notice your concentration lapsing, take five minutes for some breathing exercises (see below).
- Build in a time away from your workspace each day (a short walk or jog, for instance) to help ground you into balance.
- Create a smooth transition into sleep so that you give your mind and body at least 45 minutes to make the shift from waking to sleeping mode. Also, be aware of the latest research on the impact of artificial light on circadian rhythms. It’s a good idea to avoid screen time and bright lights for around 60 to 90 minutes before sleep. Instead of scrolling through your social feeds, try reading in low ambient light or perhaps listen to a podcast, audiobook or guided meditation. A quick tip for a calming end to the day: our Hypno-meditations have a day and night version to help you transition to and from a good night’s sleep
The mind and body are entirely interconnected. You have over 50 trillion cells in your body, and each cell has a receptor: i.e. a protector or guardian that is hyper-vigilant for signs of danger. When your body responds to a stressor, it releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Because these substances are toxic to cells, the receptors immediately send a command for cellular lockdown.
If these cells are in lockdown mode for too long, they don’t get the nutrients they need to grow and thrive and will eventually die. It’s the reason why long-term stress suppresses your immune system. To beat damaging stress, you need the ability to change the operating mechanism of your cells from survival to growth mode.
Deep belly breathing is one of the best and quickest ways to transition those cells from lockdown to growth mode. It is also one of the most effective ways to activate and seek out old unprocessed emotions, providing the body with the opportunity to get back into balance.
Try it for yourself:
- Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your stomach, just below the ribcage, and the other hand on your chest.
- Take a deep breath through your mouth, and let your belly push your hand out (your chest should not move).
- Breathe out through an open mouth. Feel the hand on your abdomen go in and use it to push the air out.
- Do this breathing 3 to 10 times.
Take care of gut health
If you’ve ever been left feeling gut-wrenchingly awful due to stress, you won’t be surprised to learn just how closely emotional health and gut health are linked.
Did you know, for instance, that of the cranial nerves linking the brain to other parts of the body, the vagus nerve (leading to the gut) is the longest and most complex?
For one thing, this means that stress can have a direct impact on gut health. For instance, short-term stress might cause you to lose your appetite and slow down your digestive system. Longer-term stress can trigger a range of gastrointestinal issues (e.g. an upset stomach, constipation, diarrhoea and indigestion). Chronic stress links to more severe problems such as irritable bowel syndrome. In short, if you can manage stress, it can go a long way in preventing or alleviating many gastrointestinal issues.
It works the other way, too. In other words, looking after gut health can have a strong positive effect on brain health. What you eat not only impacts how you feel but also can boost your ability to handle stress and anxiety. Some groups of foods are beneficial for promoting better brain health:
Omega-3 fats: found in oily fish, chia seeds, ground linseed and walnuts, omega-3s increase good bacteria in the gut and reduce the risk of brain disorders.
High-fibre foods: e.g. whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, all contain prebiotics which can help to reduce stress hormone levels.
“Stress diverts blood flow away from your digestive system, negatively impacting all aspects of digestion. Eating a balanced and healthy diet is key to helping our bodies to manage the physiological changes caused by stress. Stress hormones take a toll on the body over time, increasing inflammation and increasing the utilisation of many nutrients such as vitamin B. A healthy diet can help counter stress by reducing inflammation, stabilising blood glucose, helping the brain function, shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure. One must eat well in order to live well."
- Celynn Morin, Healing Expert and Qualified Dietician
As much as they can be the source of overwhelm, your senses - sight, smell, touch, movement and sound - all have the power to bring you back to the moment and destress. Here are some simple sensory approaches you can try:
- Sight: surround yourself with uplifting or personally pleasing images. Pictures, flowers - even going for a walk to get a change of scene can make a massive difference.
- Smell: it could be as simple as having a scent near you that reminds you of a particular person or positive influence. Essential oils such as lavender and bergamot can also have a calming effect.
- Taste: move away from mindless, damage-eating as a comfort in times of stress. The key is to eat slowly and focus on the feel of the food in your mouth and the taste on your tongue (ideally with healthy, flavoursome snacks). At work, try to eat lunch away from your desk.
- Sound. Put on some uplifting tunes or your favourite playlist to help get you through a tough task. Alongside this, there’s also a pioneering and highly effective approach to de-stressing through sound using soundwave therapy (more on this below!).
Part 3. The solution: your guided journey from restless to stress-less
What if we could take everything we know about bad stress: why we experience it, why it can be so debilitating, and what we can do to combat it. Then use this knowledge to build a really useful stressbusting tool that fits in with everyday life.
That’s precisely what we did.
Some of the audiophiles among you might have already heard of an exciting new development in sound production called ‘8D audio’. As well as giving your favourite music a fantastic immersive boost, the 8D audio technique also happens to be amazing for stressbusting.
It involves the concept of binaural beats and works on the premise that your left and right ear receive different frequencies of sound that register in the brain as a single sound. The binaural beat is the difference between these two frequencies: a pulse that your conscious mind is unaware of.
These binaural beats can be specifically designed to create shifts in the listener’s brain waves to impact mood and reduce stress positively.
We’d love you to take a closer look at The Healing Hub’s Breathing Space guided tracks. Each carefully designed track opens the door to four powerful techniques for bringing about an immediate change in how you feel.
- Breathwork. Where are you holding on to historic or unprocessed stress? Our guided breathing technique uses a temporary increase in oxygen to seek out and soften trapped emotions.
- Breath retention. Are you stuck in flight-or-fight mode with your sympathetic nervous system in overdrive? Our breath retention technique can help you make that vital transition back to parasympathetic mode, activating your body’s natural healing abilities.
- Primal releasing. If you’ve ever witnessed a toddler having a tantrum before being completely fine a few minutes later, you’ll know just how effective kids are at releasing stress. The trouble is, we tend to lose this ability as we get older. Discover primal releasing: the most effective way of clearing blocked emotion and flooding your body with positive energy.
- Rewiring mindset. After completing the breath-work, primal releasing and breath retention section, you’ll be in an altered state of consciousness, and you are very suggestible. Using insights from neuroscience, we use technology to rewire and re-programme your brain’s neural circuits to empower your thinking with positive affirmations.
Breathing Space is so easy to fit into your daily life because YOU choose the track durations (5, 10, 20, or 30 minutes) based on the time you have available and what’s happening in your life, you can choose different tracks to suit your mood and how you want to feel.