Stress Reduction

Have you ever felt like your brain isn’t working properly? Maybe you’re in a meeting and your mind goes blank? Or you’re giving a talk and you find yourself word-hunting or tripping over your sentences? If so, stress might be the obstacle to you performing at your optimal potential. Let’s deconstruct this phenomenon together:

Under stressful circumstances, the body responds by releasing a stress hormone called cortisol. In the “wild” your ancestors may have experienced this cortisol release at the encounter of a hungry bear while out foraging for food. The spike in stress hormones enabled them to run with speeds unmatched, thus ensuring survival, and eons later, you being born. This cortisol-adrenaline spike phenomenon is purported to be one of the reasons women have been known to achieve massive feats of strength in crisis, like lifting cars off of babies. However, this helpful biological response goes awry when we are not in a situation where we are able to respond by running (AKA flight) or lashing out (AKA fight). So instead, that stress hormone remains trapped in your body and your nervous system runs amuck.

Specifically, this pent up stress hormone affects your brain. After the surge and release, cortisol can block the area of the brain responsible for the processing of memories, the hippocampus; resulting in brain fog, poor memory, forgetfulness, confusion, stammering and more.

My patients often tell me things like, “I studied for that exam for weeks, took practice tests, and did great, but when it came to the real deal, my brain went blank and my performance took a nosedive.”

Years ago I was working with a top executive at a large financial firm, and he said: “I make hundreds of decisions per day. Sometimes my phone is ringing at my hip, my secretary is paging me with an urgent request, someone is sitting across my desk with a proposal worth millions, and my unread emails are quadrupling at each refresh. One day it was like my brain hit a tipping point. Everything started to fall apart. My brain wasn’t working, easy decisions became arduous tasks, I felt like a failure, and it got to the point where I was at a crossroads: Get a handle on this or leave my job.”

While stress reduction is not the end-all-be-all solution, it is a part of the puzzle.

Here are some strategies that I shared with my executive consultee, that I hope will also work for you:

  • Physical activity is huge for reducing stress
    • If you need direction in this, consider joining a gym that offers classes or hire a fitness coach.
    • Yoga: Find a yoga studio that you really jive with, or if you do not have access to yoga or it is cost-prohibitive, there are many fabulous yoga videos on YouTube. My favorite yoga instructor is “Yoga With Adriene.”
    • Ideal exercise:
      • This will vary based on your fitness level and needs.
      • General guidelines: 30 minutes cardiovascular and 30 minutes of resistance training 3-5 times per week. (A Vinyasa yoga class satisfies these requirements)
  • Listen to guided relaxation recordings >15 minutes per day
  • Personal expression >1 hour per day
    • Journaling
    • Art
    • Music
    • Free association writing
    • Dance
  • Unplug for >1 hour per day (ideally in the morning and/or evening)
    • Turn off your computer, email, phone, and disconnect from the outside world.
    • Alternative activities:
      • Play a game with friends/ family
      • Be creative: Paint, write, coloring books, zentangles, woodworking, pottery, poetry, write music, play an instrument, photography, etc).
  • Biofeedback &  Neurofeedback at Home
    • Purchase a Muse and practice three times per week 15 minutes per day 3 days per week
    • Purchase EmWave by Heart Math and utilize this 15 minutes per day 3 days per week
  • Lifestyle
    • What in your life promotes relaxation and joy? And what in your life detracts from that? Here are some questions you might consider journaling, and then find a trusted helper to help you work through your answers and strategize changes you can make to help move towards a happier, healthier future:
      • What in my life gives me pleasure?
      • How do I define pleasure?
      • Do I truly love and admire myself? If not, describe how you feel about yourself.
      • How much time do I spend fostering my emotional wellness?
      • How much time do I spend fostering my physical wellness?
      • How much time do I spend fostering my spiritual wellness?
      • What does “wellness” mean to me?
      • How do I relate to my body? Do I connect with all my parts, or do I feel dissociated or detached from my body (or parts of my body)?
      • How much time do I spend worrying?
      • How many hours per day do I spend in rest and relaxation?
      • What activities and responsibilities am I saying “yes” to right now in my life? And how many of these activities are drawing me closer to a life that fills me with pleasure?
      • What activities could I cut out of my life right now that are not bringing me joy or pleasure?
  • Supplements & Herbs
  • Obstacles to cure: Sometimes there are things in our lives that prohibit us from achieving mental and emotional optimization. To read more about this, click here.