Stress kills, and this is something we’ve known for decades now. Except that earlier, we had the luxury of talking about stress in figurative terms. But over these last few years, with our brain constantly working on overload, we mean this in every literal way possible. Stress really does kill, guys.
It is, therefore, imperative that we learn how to train our brain to stop breaking into a sweat at the drop of a hat. But not before we find out what exactly our brain has to do with stress, to begin with.
So What’s The Deal With Stress Anyway?
Study after study has shown that long-term exposure to chronic psychological stress triggers constant bouts of inflammatory activity, which essentially releases chemicals.1 This may sound pretty harmless – after all isn’t that what nature is about anyway? A series of chemical reactions?
No, this one’s different. Because these chemicals actually produce an entire horde of cells that attack your system.
That’s the thing about stress. Half the times, there is really no problem, it’s just your mind getting you worked up over multiple ‘what if’ scenarios. And when the only thing stressing you out is your mind, your body gets into ‘fight’ mode as if it’s a serious matter of survival. In reality, there is no invader to fight – and you only end up hurting yourself.
This seems like common sense, yet why is dealing with stress easier said than done?
Nature Has Designed Us To Overthink
Our brain is designed such that it literally goes hunting for bad news. It then stores this news into our long-term memory. Scientists explain that through our evolutionary years, our brains were designed to focus on survival to promote the longevity of the human race. So naturally, identifying possible signs of risks and dangers and remembering these became an integral part of this survival strategy.
Thus, over the years, the human brain has naturally evolved to concentrate on the negative. This automatically results in us ignoring the hundred other things that give us happiness, and instead focusing on the things that are making us sad.
To make matters worse, negative emotions usually require a lot more thinking. We end up spending hours ruminating over them till they get exaggerated by a ginormous amount. This over-analyzed version gets stored in our brain when in reality the problem is probably just minuscule.
So yes, basically we’re all over-thinkers by birth. And with having so much on our plates thanks to balancing our commitments, fostering healthy personal relationships, and planning ahead for the future, stressing out has become second nature now.
The only way to stop stress from taking over our happiness is to simply train your brain to respond differently. Give these techniques a fair shot and see where they take you.
3 Ways To Train Your Brain To Stop Worrying
1. Write Your Worries Down
Researchers at the University of Chicago found that anxious test takers who took the time to write down their feelings of paranoia before the test performed much better as compared to their fellow test-takers who didn’t.2
Scientists suggest that writing down your feelings lays emphasis on the worst possible scenario that is causing you anxiety attacks. It also helps declutter your mind and arranges your problem in such a way that you begin to see a clear solution. Whether it’s someone who is causing you grief, or whether you’re worried about an assignment at work, putting your problems down on paper will always help clear out the fog in your brain and stop you from over-analyzing it any further.
2. Make Time For Meditation
The world can’t stop singing the praises of meditation and its wide range of healing properties. Studies have pointed out that the regular practice of closing your eyes while focusing on controlled breathing and the right posture helps promote mental stability and boosts cognitive function.3 4
Like all other art forms, meditation requires practice. You can’t expect it to work for you if you’re going to do it only when you’re stressed out. Rather, make it a habit of meditating every day for at least 5 minutes and then gradually extending the duration depending on your comfort level. Over time, you will feel more centered, positive, and clear-headed.
3. Get Your Heart Pumping
If you thought the benefits of exercise are only limited to our physical well-being, you’re highly mistaken. Exercise is excellent therapy for your mind as well.
There is a very good reason why depressed patients are often advised to enroll themselves in aerobic classes.5 Engaging in regular physical activity does two things for you. One, it brings down your cortisol and adrenaline levels, the hormones that compound themselves in quantity to stress you out even further. Two, it triggers the release of endorphins or what we call – ‘happy hormones’. These are chemicals in your brain that fights pain and uplifts your mood.6
If you’re not used to exercising, it may seem fairly challenging in the beginning. Know this, however, that keeping at it will make your muscles get used to the physical activity and it will get easier with time. It will also help you regain control of your mind and your life. This sense of control will, in turn, boost your self-worth and keep your brain from stressing out needlessly.
|↑1||Slavich, George M., and Michael R. Irwin. “From stress to inflammation and major depressive disorder: A social signal transduction theory of depression.” Psychological bulletin 140, no. 3 (2014): 774.|
|↑2||Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑3||Goyal, Madhav, Sonal Singh, Erica MS Sibinga, Neda F. Gould, Anastasia Rowland-Seymour, Ritu Sharma, Zackary Berger et al. “Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” JAMA internal medicine 174, no. 3 (2014): 357-368.|
|↑4||Hoge, Elizabeth A., Eric Bui, Luana Marques, Christina A. Metcalf, Laura K. Morris, Donald J. Robinaugh, John J. Worthington, Mark H. Pollack, and Naomi M. Simon. “Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry 74, no. 8 (2013): 786.|
|↑5||Craft, Lynette L., and Frank M. Perna. “The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed.” Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry 6, no. 3 (2004): 104.|
|↑6||Anderson, Elizabeth, and Geetha Shivakumar. “Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety.” Frontiers in psychiatry 4 (2013).|