Taken in small doses and at regular intervals some physical and mental stress such as regular tough exercise, mind-bending intellectual work and even pressing deadlines could not only strengthen your immune system, they could also help fight some of the physical and mental decline that is hard to avoid as you get older…
Good versus bad stress
Positive stressful challenges have two characteristics: they’re within our control, and have an end in sight. Work deadlines, public speaking and exams are all examples of good stress, as you can influence your own performance by practising or preparation. Each will have it’s own finish point followed by recuperation. However, examples of harmful, ongoing stress that’s out of our control are an unhappy marriage, or isolated social life, says anti-ageing expert, David Alpert. Over time, this stress wears out the body’s ability to produce adrenalin, cortisol and other vital hormones. Constant stress can also lead to health problems such as heart attacks and depression, but also disrupted sleep and premature wrinkles.
Here’s how to find your optimal stress zone so you can function at your best:
Too much stress
Control chronic stress and reap the physical and mental benefits with these strategies:
Although it might help get you through that deadline, sugar gives the body an instant lift and that releases unnecessary and unnatural amounts of hormones into the system. This exhausts the body’s ability to produce them. As a result, when you need those hormones to cope with real stress, they may not be available to you.
Practise simple breath awareness
Yoga expert Donna Farhi advises to slow down stress by simply slowing your breathing. You must learn the technique and practise it though, as it’s easy to fall into habits of stress-inducing shallow breathing every time a panic hits.
Try this exercise daily: Sit quietly in a chair and be still. Breathe deeply but gently and feel your breath flowing into your chest, tummy and right down into your pelvic floor. Breathe in for a slow count of two and exhale for a count of three -practise for five minutes daily. When panic hits, access this technique.
Supplement your stress
During stressful periods, it can be helpful to take supplements of the vitamins and minerals that your system uses up faster when you are under stress, advises David Alpert.
Not enough stress
Fire up your system and get the energising benefits of good stress into your life:
Set new challenges
Choose challenges that are short-term and can be completed. Start small. For example, if you’ve been part of a book club that reads romances, suggest reading science fiction for three months. If you’ve been walking the same route, try a longer hike. Cranking up your stress doesn’t have to be stressful! Eventually you might like to set larger goals.
Move to the beat
Get some fast, upbeat music on your iPhone and go for a long, energising walk – preferably outside. The combination of movement and daylight boosts serotonin and lifts the mood so you feel instantly energised. Choose music that’s around 120 beats per minute.
Have some caffeine
A cup or two of coffee a day has not only been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, it also helps the body release the stress hormones, adrenalin and dopamine into the system, boosting alertness and performance. But remember, more than two cups a day will risk exhausting your adrenal gland, which produce those stress hormones. Balance is key!