Stress… It seems like stress is just a natural part of life today. In fact, it seems like the level of stress we moms experience daily increases consistently—without fail.
How do you deal with stress? DO you deal with stress? Or does stress run YOU—pretty much into the ground?
Since stress, it appears, is unavoidable, it’s imperative we learn how to deal with it effectively, or it can easily overwhelm even the toughest of us.
The book The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal reports that an APA study on stress found the most common strategies for dealing with it ineffective. Furthermore, only 16% of women who stress-eat report that it helps. In fact, most said it only served to make them guilty, further increasing stress.
Yet, even though this information isn’t exactly encouraging, it does serve to reinforce the idea that we need to find effective techniques for stress-management…fast!
Regarding the human body, stress first begins in the brain. Thus, to even start to tackle the huge giant that is stress management, we need to address stress where it begins—the brain.
According to https://neuro.georgetown.edu/about-neuroscience:
Neuroscience, also known as Neural Science, is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure, and what it does. Neuroscientists focus on the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions. Not only is neuroscience concerned with the standard functioning of the nervous system, but also what happens to the nervous system when people have neurological, psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Why does this matter? How does understanding neuroscience relate to managing stress?
Neuroscientists have come up with several different “hacks” (shortcuts) based on neural science principles, which help reduce stress quickly. AND they work!
The key to these neuroscience hacks for stress relief is that they “trick” the brain into alleviating stress. Sure, they require a little ‘work’ – practice mostly – to master and make them most useful. However, the reward – the ability to truly manage stress – is so worth it!
Here are 3 neuroscience hacks for reducing stress fast:
- Clench and then relax facial – and body – muscles.
Your brain is essentially a computer. It takes input and spits out output. When you “feel stressed” your brain sends these messages to your body which tenses up and gets tight. Your brain reads these body signals and stays in stress mode. It’s a feedback loop that must be broken.
Clenching and then consciously relaxing facial muscles breaks this loop. The “relaxing” part of this process tricks the brain into thinking the stress – or stressor(s) – has/have passed. Then, you do this with your major body muscles too—shoulders, arms, legs, etc. If you’re feeling super-stressed (or super-ambitious), you can even do hands and individual fingers and toes. Soon, you’ll find you have broken the body’s natural stress feedback loop and consequently, will feel more relaxed.
Your vagus nerve serves as somewhat of an emotional circuitry for your body. Located in your neck area, it also travels to your heart and stomach. It too has a feedback loop from brain to heart and back again. As such, it plays a prominent role in the flight or fight syndrome that can affect – and is heightened by – stress.
Taking long, deep, breaths can almost-literally clear your vagus nerve and reboot it to a stress-free (or at least, less-stressed) state. What you need to do specifically, is to inhale through your nose for a count of 6-8, pause, and exhale through your nose for the same count. (Interestingly, the opposite works too! If you need more energy, breathe in and out through your nose quickly.)
- Splash cold water on your face
This will almost-instantly serve to ‘reboot’ your vagus nerve as well, slowing your heart rate at the same time. When your heart rate drops, a message is sent back to your brain that says, “Hey! We are no longer stressed!”
Again, the key with all these tips and tactics is that you break the stress cycle long enough to give your brain a stress-rest. Then, you can approach whatever is causing you stress with a fresh perspective—a new start.