As a result, our hearts pound, our muscles tense, and we are suddenly on high alert.
Unfortunately, people tend to activate the fight-or-flight response multiple times during a typical day, usually because of situations that are annoying and stressful, but not life threatening. But all those surging stress hormones can take a toll on the body. Over time, such low-grade chronic stress can lead to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, weight gain and sleep problems.
See the Mayo Clinic web site for further information on stress management and the health risks of chronic stress. The relaxation response may help people to counteract the toxic effects of chronic stress by slowing breathing rate, relaxing muscles, and reducing blood pressure. In addition to its calming physical effects, the relaxation response also increases resiliency, energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens concentration, problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity.
A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response.
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Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If that sounds like a daunting commitment, remember that many of these techniques can be incorporated into your existing daily schedule—practiced at your desk over lunch or on the bus during your morning commute. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, level of fitness, and the way you tend to react to stress.
The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind and interrupt your everyday thoughts in order to bring about the relaxation response. In many cases, you may find that alternating or combining different techniques will keep you motivated and provide you with the best results.
The Meaning & Definition Of Relaxation
Consider your body's typical stress response:. If you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress, you may respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down, such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or guided imagery.
You become stressed and forgetful. Your cortisol levels are at their maximum, which corresponds to breakdown and lousy performance the distress zone. Too much anxiety will paralyze you and make it impossible to concentrate on your work. Fight or flight is the choice most animals face when they encounter a threat. For animals, this stress response is an evolutionary advantage because it can mean the difference between life and death.
For most animals, stress is temporary: A threat emerges, they panic, they fight it or flee it, and then the stress dissipates. A side effect of human intelligence is that threats can stay on the horizon for much longer periods—potentially forever. It can handle intense bursts, but long, drawn-out, chronic stress can destroy you from within.
The science of stress is alarming. Chronic stress can weaken your immune system, upset your stomach, and make heart disease more likely. Your memory can worsen, and depression and anxiety become harder to avoid. Your response to stress can be even more dangerous. If your coping strategy is to eat junk food, for instance, you might damage your health even further whenever you get stressed. You might relax a little bit, but if your body and mind are still in stress mode, then recovery can be more difficult.
How to handle stress at work
And the long-term effects of stress can be dire. The more your stress system fires, the easier it is to trigger. Before you even encounter a stressor, your body and mind will tense up, readying itself for threats always around the corner. According to Anne Helen Petersen, burnout is fundamentally different from mere exhaustion :. Stress will tire you out; working while stressed endlessly and without resolution will lead to burnout. If stress dominates your daily life, your mental health will suffer. Josh Cohen, a psychoanalyst, writes :.
Stress goes from being a visitor to a companion. And once you normalize its presence, it hard to get away from.
Chronically high levels of cortisol can actually cause your brain cells to malfunction. The ideal theory of stress management would be to find the optimal amount of stress for each person. We each have a unique stress threshold, which partly depends on our genes, personality, and life experiences. Here are several practical suggestions to reduce cortisol production and lower stress over the short and long terms.
To make stress truly manageable, you should combine these intermittent activities with regular practices that diminish all types of stress over the long term:. Chris Zaugg, for instance, co-founder of Uptick, once found an employee coming into the office at night when he felt most productive , leading to stressful, sleepless days.
Zaugg adjusted his schedule and the employee ended up happier and more productive. The Yerkes-Dodson Law helps you to see that everyone has a tipping point.
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As a manager, you can help your employees steer toward this sweet spot and avoid burning out along the way. If you liked this article, you just might love our software.
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Click here to try it out. Jonathan is a writer and pianist with a background in mechanical engineering. Unconventional and actionable insights on how to get more done, work happier and find success, delivered into your inbox daily. I Done This is invaluable to us and has changed our productivity for the better. Try I Done This Today. Some cortisol, on the other hand, can make you a more focused worker: In the calm zone, your RAS is slowed down. You feel bored and tired and find it hard to focus on your work. In the stress zone, your RAS is starting to pick up speed.
You feel highly active and alert. You notice increased attention and interest in your work. At the top of the curve, you are most engaged in your work. In the distress zone, your RAS is in overdrive. This defensive pose can lead to burnout if unchecked.