The digital technology that allows us to be constantly connected has also introduced new stresses into our everyday lives. Fortunately, there’s a way to make your digital life better: control your stress instead of having stress control you.
Stress itself isn’t a problem. In fact, short-term stress can improve your performance. The stress hormones released in your body give you a burst of energy and increase your mental clarity to confront the problem you’re facing. Stress only becomes a problem when it’s prolonged and not addressed. That’s why it’s important to first acknowledge your stress and then take steps to control it.
Warrior and Worrier Stress Subtypes
Each person experiences stress differently, partly based on genetic predisposition. Scientists have identified a gene called COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase) that predicts how a person will respond to stress. There are two variants of this gene: everyone is born with either the “warrior” gene or the “worrier” gene.
Consider whether you might carry the warrior or worrier gene by reflecting on how your brain functions under stress.
Are you a warrior?
— Do you thrive working under a deadline?
— Do you think best under pressure?
— Is it hard to make plans and move into action when you have a lot of unstructured time?
If your genetics puts you in the warrior subtype, your brain tends to perform better under stress. You probably thrive working under tight deadlines and might even seek out high-pressure situations.
Are you a worrier?
— Do you think best when you can stay focused on one thing at a time?
— Do you work best when you follow a clear plan of action?
— Does a lot of external pressure negatively impact your thinking?
If your genetics puts you in the worrier subtype, you tend to think more clearly under low stress. You likely require a calm environment to effectively manage tasks that require high levels of memory and attention.
Strategies to Control Your Stress
Stress can manifest physically, mentally, or both. Take some time to reflect on how stress shows up in your everyday life. This will enable you to develop better control of it.
Do you experience stress physically?
— Do you feel tension in your body when you’re stressed?
— Do you get easily run down or ill when you’re under stress?
Do you experience stress mentally?
— Is it hard to focus on anything other than the problem you’re stressed about?
— Is it hard to fall asleep at night when you’re stressed?
Dr. Amy Mednick and I have identified easy-to-implement, proven strategies to control stress. Some are body-based strategies, and some are mind-based techniques, but all are supported by scientific research and described in detail in our book, Humanizing the Remote Experience through Leadership and Coaching. Here are a few techniques you can try now.
In addition to eating nutritious food and getting seven or eight hours of sleep each night, consider focusing on your breathing and adding physical activity to your daily routine.
- Focus on Your Breathing
Slow, diaphragmatic breathing directly stimulates the vagus nerve, which reduces stress. Practice controlling your breathing: inhale to a count of five and then exhale to a count of five. Taking slow, deep breaths can be done at any time of the day or night to calm the body.
- Get Physical
Engaging in physical activity, such as running, walking, yoga, exercise, or weight training, makes good use of the extra adrenaline and cortisol flowing through your body when you’re under stress. Incorporate some type of physical movement into your day to bring your stress level down.
One of my favorite ways to relax (and stop “worrying” about stressors in my life) is to read fiction. Other people choose to write in their journals. Here are two additional mind-based strategies proven by researchers to lower stress levels and induce relaxation.
- Name Your Emotions
Emotions are visceral; they’re experienced in your body. By naming your emotions, you make them verbal. This naming process links the emotion in your body with a conscious experience in your rational brain—a feeling you can understand and talk about. Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel refers to this process as “name it to tame it.”
- Reframe Situations and Experiences
Reframing is a cognitive activity that involves changing how you view a particular situation or experience by looking at it from a different perspective. Changing your thoughts about something after looking at it through a different lens can change the way you feel about it.
With these tips, you’ll improve your digital life by taking control of your stress so that stress doesn’t take control of you.
Written by Dr. Diane Lennard.
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