Let’s talk about stress.
It was one of the hot topics on one of our previous events: Sustaining Peak Performance During A Pandemic (replay here). Many of you asked us how the hell to deal with the litany of stressors you’re facing.
In fact, over the last two weeks, the Flow Research Collective has been featured in Forbes, The Washington Post, Fast Company, and Big Think.
All on this topic of stress and how to navigate it.
So let’s dive in…
According to the American Psychological Association, there are three types of stress—acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress.
The real danger here is chronic stress.
When folks complain about “being stressed out” all the time, they’re really saying they’re suffering from chronic stress.
And chronic stress is no small issue.
Chronic stress causes atrophy of the amygdala and the hippocampus which impairs memory and dysregulates fear conditioning.
What then happens is that our hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, our central stress response system, becomes imbalanced.
All of a sudden minor things feel stressful.
Our “nerves have worn thin”.
We’re impatient, frazzled, and easily agitated.
I’m sure you’ve found yourself in this frenetic worn out state pretty often lately.
Chronically stressed has become a standard way of being and operating in the 21st century and it’s at an all-time high given what we’re dealing with right now.
However, when it comes to peak performance, there are really only two states that you ever want to be in.
Calm and alert or asleep.
That’s essentially it.
Of course, a flow state is the epitome of a “calm and alert”.
We’re super calm, and hyper-focused simultaneously when in flow.
So how do you combat chronic stress so you can stop being frazzled, stay calm and alert and get into flow?
Well, our good friend, Dr. Andrew Huberman at Stanford says there are three types of tools for dealing with stress.
The first are tools that raise your ceiling on what we perceive as stress.
The second are tools that reduce the stress response once it’s been activated.
Third, are tools that bring your state up, if under aroused.
Here are three tools to help you combat stress that fall into the first two of Dr. Huberman’s categories:
Tool 1—Fight Stress By Adding More Stress!
Wait for what?!
Let me elaborate…
You can use acute stress to decrease chronic stress.
Engaging in short, intentional bursts of acute stress can be really effective for reducing chronic stress.
An intense workout. An ice bath. Deep tissue massage.
These kinds of activities mitigate chronic stress even though they’re a form of acute stress.
So if you’re struggling with chronic stress, make sure you’re engaging in bursts of super intense acute stress regularly.
However, if you’re already battling another acute stressor, like a terrible night of sleep or immune system compromisation from a cold, be careful.
Too much acute stress can tip you over the edge and leave you feeling run down.
Tool 2—Cognitive Reframing:
A frame is a psychological device that offers a perspective and manipulates salience (what you perceive as important) to influence how you think about something.
The degree to which the “cognitive frame” we place on something changes how that thing impacts us, is shocking.
Let me elaborate…
A longitudinal study at the University of Wisconsin found that when participants told themselves they liked the feeling of stress, they were alleviated from the physical symptoms of stress.
Even more crazily…
Individuals who experienced a high level of stress throughout their life, but viewed this stress as something positive—a sign of growth and expansion—had lower mortality rates than individuals who experienced less overall stress, but viewed it as a bad thing!
The takeaway is that the “cognitive frame” you wrap around your experience of stress will determine how negatively that stress impacts you.
View the stress you’re dealing with as something that’s helping you grow, and it will!
It may sound a little self-help but it works.
Tool 3—The Rapid Nasal Breath:
You’ll want to use this right after you feel a surge of stress…
A colleague drops some bad news, you’re about to give a presentation, and your children are pulling out of you.
The stress response should have just been activated.
Here’s how it works:
Take a long, deep breath through your nose. When it feels like you can’t breathe any more air in, rapidly sniff as hard as you can.
Try it right now.
What’ll happen is the alveoli in your lungs will snap open, increasing oxygenation and activating the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system.
Super simple, but super helpful. Try it out today when you feel an uptick in stress.
Hope these three quickies are helpful.
Look after yourself.