5 Simple Ways to Manage Stress

You’ve probably said or thought the words “I feel so stressed” at some point recently.

But what exactly is stress?

Rather than an emotional state, understanding stress as a physiological condition helps you better manage it in your everyday life.

Understanding what triggers and calms stress, and what the consequences of different degrees of stress are, helps you take better control of your brain, body, wellbeing, and productivity.

Here’s a look at the neuroscience behind stress – and how understanding the mechanisms of stress let you use it to your advantage!

Table of Contents

1. Use Physiological Sighs

2. Use Focused Breathing

3. Raise Your Stress Threshold

4. Seek Social Connection

5. Get Better Sleep

5 Simple Ways to Manage Stress

1. Use Physiological Sighs

5 Simple Ways to Manage StressYou probably never noticed this, but physiological sighs are something you do automatically and involuntarily all the time.

You’ll tend to do these before going to sleep, and even while asleep. When you cry really hard, and find yourself gasping for air afterwards, these may also be physiological sighs.

They’re your body’s in-built system for offloading carbon dioxide – which, when in high degrees in your bloodstream, can cause stress.

Now, while you’re involuntarily sighing all the time, a lot of compelling research shows how you can deliberately use physiological sighs as a powerful tool to combat stress in real-time.

In fact, according to neurobiologist Andrew Huberman, it is to his knowledge the fastest and most scientifically grounded method of reducing feelings of stress voluntarily.

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So, how do you perform a physiological sigh?

Breathe in, twice – one long inhale, and then a top-up breath, through your nose – and then breathe out in a long slow exhale, through your mouth. It’s that simple!

This helps your lungs get rid of more carbon dioxide, by helping re-inflate your alveoli. Alveoli are the microscopic sacks of air which make up your lungs. Sometimes, these air pockets collapse, and when they do, carbon dioxide builds up in your blood and leaves you feeling anxious and jittery.

When you breathe in quickly twice, you help pop those alveoli back open, and by breathing out deeply, you offload more carbon dioxide. And this immediately helps relax you!

2. Use Focused Breathing

5 Simple Ways to Manage StressPhysiological sighs aren’t just great for getting rid of excess carbon dioxide.

When you breathe out deeply, your diaphragm, which is a part of the respiratory system that helps contract and expand your lungs – in other words, helps you breathe by drawing in and pushing out air – relaxes and moves up.

As it moves up, along with contracting your lungs to push the air out in an exhale, it also reduces the space your heart has.

As a result, your heartrate increases – a bit like how the water pressure in a narrow tube would be greater than a wider tube.

And this activates something called your parasympathetic nervous system – your body’s in-built system for keeping you calm and relaxed. Your brain detects that your heart has sped up and sends out signals to slow this rate back down.

So, long exhales can help you calm down!

It’s important to know that long inhales do the opposite – they reduce your heartrate by giving your heart more room to beat, and your brain signals your heart to speed up as a result.

This isn’t always a bad thing – some degrees of short-term stress can actually be good for you, for example by keeping you alert and focused on completing a deadline or getting out of bed for work.

So, focused breathing where you’re inhaling deeply can help put you in a better state of mind to work!

The key is knowing how to hit the brakes on your stress levels, so they don’t tip you over into chronic stress, which is never good for your brain and body.

3. Raise Your Stress Threshold

5 Simple Ways to Manage StressDr. Huberman highlights that one of the ways to utilize your body’s in-built mechanisms to manage your stress-handling capacity is dissociating your mind from your body.

What this means is, rather than experiencing stress in both your mind and body, you allow your body to be activated by stress, while your mind stays calm.

By doing this, you create a situation where what used to feel overwhelming feels more manageable, because you are consciously not allowing the stress to spill over into your state of mind.

And a simple way of doing this is, believe it or not, looking around.

When you’re stressed, your pupils dilate, and you find yourself focusing intensely on one thing or in one direction. Basically, you have tunnel vision, and usually you’re fixating exclusively on the source of your stress.

So, to separate your mind from your body’s state of stress, consciously make yourself look around. Take in the broader view of your environment, expanding and breaking out of your tunnel vision.

This signals your autonomic nervous system – which regulates your feelings of alertness or calmness – to switch your mind into a state of calm that then helps you manage your levels of stress without getting overwhelmed.

4. Seek Social Connection

Maintaining relationships with other people can take a lot of work, but according to neuroscientists it’s one of the best ways of managing chronic or long-term stress.

Social connection helps circulate the neurotransmitter serotonin in your system – this is a brain chemical that makes you feel content and happy, satisfied with your life and your circumstances.

On the other hand, social isolation is associated to the molecule tachykinin – which creates feelings of irritability, fear, paranoia, etc. inducing and sustaining stress.

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Keeping up with family or friends, or even spending a little time with your pets or doing something you love, can stimulate your serotonin levels, and this goes a long way in helping you manage stress in the long-run.

You might be extremely busy and have a lot of things you want to work toward, but do make time for social connections – whether it’s a quick lunch with a friend during a busy work day or a phone call with a family member over the weekend.

You’ll feel refreshed, recharged, and elated afterwards and it will do wonders in keeping your stress levels in check so you can work towards your goals in a better state of mind and body!

5. Get Better Sleep

5 Simple Ways to Manage StressGood quality sleep is one of the most critical ways of keeping your stress levels manageable in the long run.

When you don’t get enough sound sleep, your amygdalae, which regulate a lot of negative emotions like stress, anxiety, embarrassment, fear, etc. grow in size.

As a result, you’ll find you’re more reactive to negative things that you experienced the day before than if you got a good night’s rest.

Lack of sleep also causes a build-up of a waste product in your amygdalae and other parts of your brain, causing brain fog, mood swings, and trouble retaining what you learn.

One of the most effective methods of maintaining a good sleep schedule is being mindful of your circadian rhythms or your 24-hour body clock.

Your body has a natural timer for your sleep, which activates when you wake up and the cells in your retina detect sunlight.

Early morning sunlight is the best sunlight to wake you up, signaling to the body to start releasing pulses of the hormone cortisol, which gets the rest of your body waking up and getting started for the day.

This also sets off the timer to release melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy, some 12 to 14 hours later, in the evening as the sun goes down.

Exposing yourself to natural sunlight in the early morning and around sunset is the best way of keeping your circadian rhythms running.

Also important is to limit unnatural exposure to light – i.e. artificial light after dark, like the blue light from your devices and TV screens.

You can opt for blue light blockers and more orange or red tinted light bulbs in the evenings to reduce blue light in your surroundings after sunset, because blue light disrupts melatonin production and therefore makes it harder for you to go to sleep.

Stress is a part of life but knowing exactly what happens in your brain and body because of stress, and how you can use these existing mechanisms to manage stress, can make all the difference.

Which of these 5 simple ways to manage stress are you trying out first?

Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, inclluding Total Recall Learning™. 

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

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