Stress. Perhaps the most common word in use nowadays, even more than the dreaded word- COVID. Stress is the body’s automatic response to any physical or mental demand placed on it, eliciting a “Fight” or “Flight” response. Everyone today is stressed. But is all stress bad? Prior research has established that moderate levels of stress may actually improve performance and efficiency. However, too much stress may cause anxiety levels —that is unproductive. Over time, the signs of being under constant stress become serious health concerns.

Signs of being stressed
Physical signs: Our heart starts pounding faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and senses are sharpened.
Psychological and emotional signs: Feeling depressed, angry, irritable, restless, anxious, overwhelmed, unmotivated, insomnia, memory issues, concentration issues, poor decision making, etc.

How to cope up with this stress?
The solution to this question has two components. First, identifying the triggers and signs, and second, how are we reacting to it? Following are the actionable and simple techniques to fight bad stress:

Breathing techniques
Deep breathing improves oxygenation, calms the mind and body, gives it time to react, slowly process the information, filtering it to receive the healthier part of it and leaving out the unwanted part. Can be done by taking in deep breaths by inhaling through the nose, counting 1 to 10 and exhaling through the nose itself, counting 10 to 1. The best part is that deep breathing can be performed any time of the day.

Square breathing can be performed by sitting in a comfortable position and making a mental image of a square/portrait/photograph in front. The inhalation is then done counting 1-2-3-4 along one side of the square, holding the breath for 1-2-3-4 count along 2nd side of the square, breathing out 1-2-3-4 along 3rd side, and finally holding the breath 1-2-3-4 along the 4th side. 10 sets can be done initially and can be increased depending on the level of stress a person has.

Enough sleep
Studies have shown that 7 to 8 hours of sound, uninterrupted sleep is utmost essential for healthy brain and body. It is proven that sleep deprived individuals have lower tolerance to stress. Due to lack of sleep, lethargy creeps in, the person is sleepy and not in best shape to perform, which further leads to unwanted stress. It is suggested to decide upon a cut off time for sleeping and sticking to it no matter what. Few simple techniques to fall asleep faster:

Lie down on your back and clench every part and muscle of your body completely and tightly, and then release the muscle tension instantly. Repeat this cycle for 5 times. Next, clench all parts of your body completely and slowly start releasing the muscles starting from the head, moving on to the chest, arms, the abdomen, the hip area, the legs and then finally the toes.

Another technique is to lie down on your back, close your eyes and start taking deep long breaths through your nose and observe your stomach filling in air, going up and down. With each cycle, start a reverse counting of 50 backwards. Follow your breath with each set, feel the air touching the inside of the nostrils, filling the chest and the abdomen. In many cases, the person falls asleep by the time they reach 30!

Eating right
There is no ‘one-size’ fits all policy, especially when it comes to food and eating. But what’s important is eating right. A well balanced healthy nutritious diet should not be compromised upon. This needs even more emphasis in the ongoing covid scenario. For complete guidance, a dietician can be consulted as well.

Munching on an apple while reading your office document is OK. Also, carrying a small box or pouch of green fennel with you to munch up as required, and helps in relieving bloating too.

Alternatively, we can keep a small box of fresh fruits, like handful of grapes, or cut pieces of papaya or any seasonal fruit, along- side the working table. Whenever one feels that your energy levels are going down, take a break and pick these up.

Move around
Sitting for long time in your office chair or at your workstation is not just harmful for the lower back, but also for the neck, wrists, elbows and the knees. Get up from the work chair and move around after every hour. Can go out in the open stretching your arms, stretch them backwards, rotating the shoulder joints, and wrists. While you are on a phone call or a conversation that you feel may be longer, it is suggested to take that call while walking around your workspace or table or the nearby corridor.

Simple chair-yoga or chair exercises are also an effective way to alleviate that physical stress and also gives the mind to readjust better.

Early morning walk barefoot on the grass is really good and you get to see nature’s miracles in tiny things by observing colours, sounds and things mindfully. Routinely, evening or morning walk, or slow jog should be included. And better results can be achieved by leaving that cell-phone at home!

Planning in advance
l Create a to do list before starting the day. It is very fulfilling to see the items on the list are getting ticked and has therapeutic effect on brain. Endorphins are released which are the happy hormones and they help in reducing and avoiding unwanted stress and anxiety.

Avoid taking too much of work all together at once, start with one at a time. Multitasking is good, but some things may require whole-hearted single attention. For eg, time can be utilized to send email reply while waiting for a longer document getting printed.

Avoid procrastination, delaying and postponing the work. When we delay a little every day, it adds up to a big pile and adds to the stress levels.

Me-time and maintaining yourself
Set boundaries off work try not to mix professional work with personal life, barring a few emergencies work should be limited to the professional setup only.

Pursue a hobby, pick up reading, doodling, bird-watching, cloud-watching, painting, sketching, singing, gardening, watching old movies, coming up with your own DIY ideas too. COVID times have taught us to be resilient, flexible and creative! Keep sometime in the week for these.

Maintaining a healthy, clean hygienic lifestyle is important and adds to the overall well-being. Taking a warm shower before bed, following a skin care regime at night, quick head massage with warm oil, triggers body relaxation and the individual is fresh for the next day. Mindfulness exercises-being in the moment:

Mindful breathing for one minute, observing the breath going in and out, any time of the day, repeating often, as required.

Mindfully eating a raisin or piece of chocolate piece by using all the senses to see it, touch it, smell it, and savour it fully before swallowing it down the throat! After you have swallowed it, let your lips turn up slightly and smile.

Asking for help
Discuss and talk with someone you are comfortable with. Have a laugh, light chit chat. Instead of texting, or whataspp, directly call them, and talk. This establishes clear communication and also gives the brain time to readjust and refocus better.

 In extreme cases, do not hesitate to seek professional or medical help.
What is that one thing that gives maximum Return in Investment (ROI)? Gold? Stocks? Property? Bonds? It is our own body and sound health. It is the greatest asset, the more we invest in this asset, the more benefits it shall give in return!

Dr Priti Swarup is International HR Expert, Columnist, Trainer, pursuing PhD in Organisation Change Management

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