What—and why—is stress?
We gathered everything that we know about stress into one place. Better the devil you know, and all that.
Hands up who’s felt stressed recently. It’s a part of modern life that we take for granted, like the inescapable email notification (which, by the way, contributes to elevated stress levels).
Everyone knows what stress feels like, but we don’t tend to think of the implications that constant stress has. Did you know, for example, that it contributes to (among others) obesity, insomnia, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s? The World Health Organisation even called it the global epidemic of the 21st century. Admittedly, that was before Covid came along, but the sentiment remains.
And yet we can be so nonchalant about stress. For some, it’s even a badge of honour—an indication that you’re working harder, or are more important than anyone else. That’s not a healthy attitude.
What’s making us stressed
Stress can come from either external or internal factors—that could be a looming deadline, or a string of sleepless nights. At its simplest level, it’s your body preparing to react to stimuli. As a rule of thumb, the more stimuli, the higher the potential for stress.
Once you know this, the ballooning problem of stress starts to make more sense. As more avenues for information become available—and more immediate—our bodies work to ensure that we’re ready to handle whatever comes at us. So the pings of social media, news alerts, and emails can send us into overdrive.
But it’s not as simple as merely switching off. In France, there’s a law protecting a worker’s right to not respond to emails outside of office hours. On the face of it, that makes sense, and provides a clear boundary between work and leisure. However a study on the topic, conducted at UC Irvine, showed that things weren’t so simple. A significant proportion of people who scored highly in certain traits responded to breaks from email with even higher levels of stress. The mere potential of an urgent email was enough.
So where does that leave us? It’s hard to say for sure. But there are actually plenty of things that we can do to help minimise stress, and to react well to it when it does surface.
How to manage stress
Dr Rangan Chatterjee knows a thing or two about stress. As well as being a practising GP, he’s the host of the #1 podcast in Health and Wellness. We caught up with him on the Braincare podcast, and learned about how the enormous pressures of everyday life are causing turmoil in our central nervous systems. Luckily, we also learned about what we can do to reduce our stress levels.
Or take a look at an article he wrote for Heights on a similar topic, which includes five simple habits to get into that can help you to become more resilient and to manage everyday levels of stress.
Vitamins, minerals, and herbs for less stress
What we eat affects how our brains and bodies work. That’s one of the key principles here at Heights. And herbs, vitamins and minerals have a long history as a way to manage stress—we all know the calming effects of a cup of tea. More advanced research, however, suggests that some specific supplements may be especially effective at alleviating stress, or avoiding it in the first place. We took a look at some of the science behind nutrition and stress.
How breathing can relieve stress
Have you ever considered the effect your breath has on your body? Breathwork is solidly in the mainstream these days, and that’s where it belongs. We spend our whole lives breathing, so it makes sense to put some effort into improving it. And even a short session of mindful breathing can deliver huge benefits to our mental and physical health. We invited breathwork coach and mental health ambassador Jamie Clements onto the Braincare podcast, to share his tools and techniques to help you de-stress using the power of your own breath.
How stress can help you
We recognise stress as a Bad Thing. But if that’s the case, why does it exist? Of course, it’s not that simple.
Stress performs an essential function in our lives—it keeps us ready to respond when the stakes are high. It might not feel like it in the heat of the moment, but studies have found that changing our attitude towards stress can have a positive impact on our mental, emotional, and physical response to it.
Stress—better with friends
We’re social animals. If spending much of the past year alone has taught us anything, it’s that. And it turns out that spending time with friends has a very real impact on our ability to cope with stress. Recent studies have shown that external stressors are perceived as less intimidating when we’re with friends, compared with when we’re alone. So it turns out the Beatles were right when they said they could get by with a little help from their friends.
How yoga can help you de-stress
Imagine someone exceptionally calm. Anyone. There’s a decent chance you thought of a yoga practitioner. In our society, there are few images associated more with serenity.
But there’s truth behind the stereotype. Yoga really is great for reducing stress levels. And if you can’t imagine yourself holding the tree pose, you’ll be pleased to hear that yoga is about more than just body positions. In fact, yoga breathing is one of the easiest ways to introduce a bit of peace to your daily routine. The long, slow breaths tell our brains that we’re safe, lowering blood pressure and calming our responses.
The 5 stages of stress
These days, stress is often used as a catchall term. And that can be very useful. Being able to express the range of feelings associated with stress is important. But it’s also important to remember that it is a very specific process that’s happening in your brain. Hormones like cortisol play an integral role in brain chemistry, and that’s only scratching the surface. This is what your brain looks like on stress.
That’s where we come in
As you can see, stress isn’t an abstract concept. And once we know that, we can start doing something about it. That’s why we made the Smart Supplement, with all the nutrition your brain needs to do its job. It’s not a magic pill—those don’t exist—but it ensures that your brain is in the best possible position to support you. We thought that was quite a good idea.