There’s something about a new year ticking over that inspires us to make changes and improvements to the way we live our lives.
This post isn’t about goal setting or manifesting. It’s much more concrete. It identifies the main thing that gets in the way of our success, and if we can overcome it, will make us much more likely to achieve our goals.
The number one performance hack that no one talks about is learning how to reduce our stress.
Whatever our goals and resolutions for 2022, it’ll be harder to achieve our goals if we don’t learn to manage our stress.
Stress makes us stupid.
When we’re stressed, the fight or flight response is activated. The fight or flight response does this to our brain:
- Deactivates the pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for calm, rational thinking)
- Activates the amygdala (the fear centre of the brain – leading to negative and fearful thoughts)
- Increases the frequency of our brain waves (overwhelming and cluttering our mind with thoughts)
- High levels of stress hormones shrink our brain
- Stress impairs our memory
Stress reduces our thinking capacity, diminishes our creativity, hampers decision-making, and leads to negative and survival-based thinking. It’s hard to think well and clearly when we’re stressed. Stress thinking also limits our ability to see the big picture, identify possibilities and take advantage of opportunities.
Stress makes us sick.
Our immune system is impaired when we’re exposed to chronic stress. The fight or flight response diverts energy and blood flow away from our immune cells during a stressful period. Our body delays immune functioning in high periods of stress. This means that we’re more likely to get sick and take longer to recover when we’re stressed. Chronic stress also means high levels of cortisol (stress hormones) are in our bloodstream. High levels of cortisol can cause inflammation which leads to:
- Elevated blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- Digestive issues
- Muscle aches
- Hormone and reproductive issues (worsening menopause and menstrual symptoms)
Stress makes us store fat.
Managing our stress levels is the missing ingredient in losing weight. Even if we eat like a saint, exercise daily and maintain a calorie deficit, if we have high cortisol levels in our bloodstream, we will store fat.
High cortisol levels trick our body into preparing for danger and threat. And since our nervous system hasn’t evolved since our cave-dwelling days, chronic stress tricks our nervous system into thinking there’s a famine or we might starve, so it holds onto body fat, especially in the middle. This is why hardcore exercise regimes don’t work because they do nothing to lower our stress levels. Yoga is far more effective for slow and sustainable weight loss because it lowers our stress levels and is more enjoyable, which means we’re more likely to stick to it.
Stress makes us anxious and depressed.
High levels of prolonged stress are known to contribute to anxiety and depression.
Anxiety is a function of our nervous system and over-active amygdala. Anxiety can manifest as constant worry or negative thinking, or it can present as physical systems such as headaches, muscle tension, butterflies, heart palpitations, nausea, panic and sweating. The only way to reduce anxiety is to calm our nervous system and manage stress.
High levels of stress hormones are known to cause inflammation, leading to depression. Exposure to chronic stress and upsetting events can also cause depression.
Anxiety and depression don’t just disappear. No amount of massages, bubble baths or essential oils can reduce our anxiety and depression if we don’t take steps to regulate our nervous system and reduce the stress in our lives.
Stress is also contagious, and our stress levels will rub off on our loved ones if we’re not proactive. If kids have anxiety, parents need to learn to destress to create a calm environment for the child to feel safe.
Stress makes us reactive.
Being stressed can make us impatient, short-tempered and unpleasant to be around. We snap or find fault in our partners or kids, become critical and judgy of ourselves, and become impulsive and make poor decisions. If improving relationships is on your agenda for 2022, consider how your stress level affect your mood and whether you’re a nice person to be around.
How to reduce our stress levels:
There are two key things to consider when reducing our stress.
First, we need to address the external events that are causing us stress; we might need better work boundaries, we might need to learn to say no, we might need to stop being so perfectionistic and do less.
The second is that we need to learn how to regulate our nervous system. Self-care isn’t something for when we’re in crisis; self-care is prioritising our mental, emotional and physical health every day. Yoga, breathwork and meditation are some of the best ways to regulate our nervous system.
Discover how to Stress Less
If you want to learn how to regulate your nervous system,
If you want to learn breathing techniques to calm the nerves
If you want to learn how better boundaries are the key to self-care
If you want to learn how to master your emotions
Then check out the Stress Less Bundle. It’s over 6 hours of workshop content by Monica Rottmann – the Founder of Cultivate Calm Yoga.