The Biology of Stress: Plus 5 Simple Techniques to Help You Rest

 Photo Credit: Daniel Mingook (Unsplash)

Photo Credit: Daniel Mingook (Unsplash)

Stressed? It's not your job. It's not your circumstance. It's your biology.

Stress is controllable.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard a perfectly healthy senior accountant at one the big four accounting firms tell me about how they went to the doctor for chest pains.

Of course, it was busy season. The doctor gave him assurance that he was OK. No EKG required this time. It was “stress-related”…

Relieved, he was still left thinking, “Great. Now what?”

Here’s a successful young man who thoroughly enjoys his job, albeit demanding. But are the demands worth him risking his health? Absolutely not. So how can he avoid it? Can he avoid it?

The better questions to ask are:

Why can’t we control our stress? And what can we practically do to live healthier lives, without leaving our job or making massive adjustments to our lifestyle?

If you’re anything like this public accountant, your brain probably needs to spend more time in “rest” mode and less time in “fight” mode.

If you've ever felt "on edge", or just generally more "snappy" or "defensive", then you know what I mean...

Biology tells us the reason we feel stressed or overwhelmed is because our body is operating from our "fight or flight" state, instead of our "rest & digest" state.

This is the difference between the "sympathetic" vs. "parasympathetic" division in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which controls involuntary body processes like heart and breathing rates, blood pressure, body temperature, digestion, metabolism, and even balance of water and electrolytes.

More interesting, our bodies interpret all stress (mental & physical) as a reason to activate our sympathetic nervous system ("fight or flight").

Operating from your sympathetic nervous system for extended periods of time will leave you "swimming in cortisol", causing you to feel perpetual states of “stress”.

Extra cortisol leaves us susceptible to all kinds of health problems like anxiety, depression, and difficulty thinking...

More commonly, you might notice what people describe as "brain fog".

The good news is there is a very simple solution to take control of your stress:

Try deep breathing. I do this every morning (10 reps x 3 sets).

Other popular techniques you can use to activate that "relaxation mode":

  1. Meditation
  2. Massage
  3. Yoga
  4. Being in nature
  5. Play! Go spend time with kids or your neighbor’s puppy.

You might be reading saying, "Well, that's simple enough." And you're right! But simple doesn't mean easy.

Did you know heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States? Did you also know that, in the United States, every 20 seconds someone is having a heart attack? And did you also know chronic stress has not only been linked to heart attacks, but it has also been linked to the five other leading causes of death? (Miami Herald)

Take control of your life, and your stress. Keep it simple, and make it a habit to get out of bed and start your day with one big, deep breath.

For deeper reading from a Mayo Clinic professional, click here.

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