Feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or fatigued? Having trouble making decisions, falling and staying asleep and solving problems? A bit low on energy, just all-around baked? Life does that to us sometimes. The good news is…there’s a short list of simple practices that, done regularly, can pretty quickly un-bake your brain…and your body!
How stress bakes your brain and breaks your body.
Stress is good. Huh?! That’s right, I said it. Stress is GOOD…when there’s a reason for it. Stress is good when you need to be on high-alert, when you need a shot of energy, adrenaline and clarity to get you through a brief period of intensity. It created changes in your physiology that allow you seemingly superhuman abilities.
But, when that stress becomes chronic, the exact opposite happens. The changes in your body’s chemical (endocrine) and electrical (nervous) systems caused by stress can be hugely destructive when endured over an extended period of time.
On a fundamental level, it can degrade body tissue, lead to weight gain, increase your risk of heart-disease, diabetes, stroke and various forms of cancer. On a mindset and emotional level, it can increase anxiety and depression, decrease cognitive function, creativity and problem solving ability and destroy your sleep, which then cycles back around to further deteriorate your body and brain. The good news is…
You can un-bake your brain.
While we’d all like to rid ourselves of the daily brain-burn, most of us are not willing to extract ourselves from the professional and lifestyle circumstances that are creating that stress (though, I have to tell you, trading in my Ferragamo’s for barefeet has been pretty friggin sweet for me).
So, for those who choose to endure, rather than extract, here are 10 powerful practices that will help get you back to a calm, focused, relaxed and rejuvenated state of mind and allow you to take back body and health:
1. Mindfulness-based stress reduction™
Developed by acclaimed psyhcologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, more than 20,000 people, from all walks of life have now completed this 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction training with remarkable results. And, the good news is, now you don’t have to live in Massachussetts to do it. There are many trained affiliates or you can do it at home with Kabat-Zinn’s book and audio CDs (or mp3s) with only 45-minutes a day.
2. Get lost in great music.
This is pretty intuitive, but there is actually significant research that reveals listening to the right music can actually be a powerful de-stressor and help get you back into a better state of mind relatively quickly. And, if you think listening to music drops you into the chill-zone, try learning or playing music. A fascinating study on the impact of playing music on stress reveals that keeping a guitar handy in the corner of your office and cranking out Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Little Wing on your lunch break will help you feel oh so much better!
3. Get Active for 30-minutes a day
Yes, you heard right. “But, how am I going exercise when I already don’t he enough time in the day?” Simple, exercise is the master key to pretty much everything. It’s why I covered it first in this months’ lifestyle evolution series.
A NASA study revealed that people who exercise work at near-100% efficiency during the last two hours of the day, while those who do not work-out become 50%-less productive in the final two-hours. Now, extend that to what’s become a 10, 12 or 14 hour workday and you being to see exercise create a huge savings in time and productivity. It not only creates the time to exercise, but allows you get even more done, too.
Plus, exercise is hugely effective at alleviating stress and, done about 3 to 6 hours before sleep, can allow you to sleep better, too.
4. Take a breath break
The way you breath directly reflects your levels of stress. When we’re in high-alert, stressed states we tend to take faster, shallower breaths. In fact, this can become so exaggerated, it can lead to hyperventilation and even leave us unconscious. When we’re calm and relaxed, though, our breathing tends to be slower, deeper and less labored.
The interesting thing is, we can actually reverse-engineer this response to obliterate momentary-stress. What does that mean? If we consciously alter our breaths to make them deeper and longer, within a few minutes, this practice will actually force your body out of the high-alert, fight-or-flight stress response and make you much calmer. In fact, this works so well, it has become the staple of many corporate stress-management programs.
What the heck is biofeedback? It’s using your tapping into your bodies own signals and manipulating them to create a very specific change in state. Usually, this involves heart-rate, blood pressure, breath-rate, sometimes even galvanic skin-response. There are many approaches, but, generally, you use a simple machine that reads your physiological markers and then you are instructed to either alter your breathing pattern or visualize something specific in order to bring those makers back into the chill-zone. Biofeedback is great for people who like tangible scientific and fairly quick results. Some resources include:
- StressEraser – This is a very cool, iPod-size, high-tech biofeedback device that trains you to alter your breath to calm down. I’ve been working with a review-copy of one of these devices for about a week now and will have a full-review of it in a few weeks. But, so far, I’m impressed.
- BioMedical.com – online clearinghouse for biofeedback software and devices, information and audio/video
What the? No, it’s not some wacky drug from the 60s, psychoacoustics is the use of certain audio and visual technologies that allow people who have a lot of trouble with meditation or mindfulness to drop into that same zone, without having to focus so hard on getting there. A number of researchers have build goal-specific audio programs and tools around this technology in an effort to allow more people to use these tools. Resources include:
Okay, so this isn’t blanket permission to while away hours in front of your TV or computer or hang out with the local skate-rats at the arcade. But…games that, by the very nature of the elements of the game, require intense concentration, also tend to serve a powerful de-stressing function. In fact, they may induce a similar relaxation-response to meditation.
My advice, though, is to see if you can combine your game-playing with your exercise and get the combined benefits of exercise and concentration-training in a single time-efficient slot. Plus, it’ll lead to less, rather than more, couch/sitting-time, which is always a big benefit in a nation of declining health and expanding waistlines.
8. Re-pattern your sleep.
I’ve already spent a lot of time on this in my recent article, Are your sleep habits making you fat, nasty and dumb. There I listed 5 ways to immediately improve your sleep. Sleep is hugely important in mindset and stress reduction. Lack of sleep leads to fatigue and brain-fog which leads to unwillingness to exercise and inefficiency which, in turn leads to longer work-hours and poorer sleep. It’s a vicious cycle, so any mindset-tuning program must also take a serious look at your current sleep habits.
9. Midday power-nap.
A short power-nap, no more than about 30-40 minutes can be incredibly refreshing. The trick is not to go too long, because if you drop too far into the deeper stages of sleep, waking can be jarring and leave you not refreshed, but actually significantly grumpier.
In fact, midday power-napping is gaining some serious traction as a power-performance and mindset rejuvenating tool, leading companies to begin to open power-napping pod centers in major cities. New York has a number of them and it’s getting increasingly more difficult to get an “appointment.”
10. Write things down.
In my recent article on non-finishing, I talked about something called the Zeigarnick Effect, a phenomenon where you remember the details of a task until it is completed and then promptly forget it all. It’s like completing the task wipes your mental slate clean. Similarly, when you write down the unfinished tasks that are swirling around your mind and detail not only their current status, but critical task need for completion, you create a significant amount of mental “space.” This space go a long way toward returning you to a calmer place.
While this list is not all-encompassing, it goes along way toward providing a set of easily-implementable practices, tips and tools to help un-bake your brain, de-stress your life, improve your sleep, relationships and work performance and help return health and fitness to your days.
A few other great life-balancing resources to explore include:
And, for those following along in my lifestyle evolution series, setting up a power-plan for 2008, we’ll integrate many of these into our bigger picture plan.
Please share any other techniques, practices or tools that have helped you in the comments below.
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