In recognition of World Mental Health Day, we invited clinical neuropsychologist Dr Samuel Batstone to our London office to talk to us about stress.
The term “stress” has acquired an increasingly negative connotation in modern life. There’s a widespread belief that stress has an adverse effect on our health and some studies claim that as many as 60 per cent of all GP visits may have a stress-related component.
However, from an evolutionary perspective, stress is essentially a survival mechanism that enables the body to protect itself from environmental threats.
We asked Dr Batstone to talk to us about the mechanics of stress to better understand when it can be helpful and why it can become harmful for our health.
He started by listing situations where historically, we wouldn’t have been able to survive without the stress response. Wars, predator attacks and natural disasters would have killed us a long time ago had it not been for the “fight-or-flight” reaction. The physical response that takes place when we perceive a threat allows us to think fast and move fast. It sharpens cognition and attention and puts fuel in the bloodstream to enable us to escape an attack.
Dr Batstone said the problem is that our brains have not changed at the rate our society has. Today, we live longer. There are fewer physical threats and greater resources to protect our physical integrity. Yet, our body responds to events interpreted as a challenge with the same physical intensity, suppressing all “non-essential services” such as our immune and reproductive system, digestion and growth.
When this starts to happen on a chronic basis, it poses a risk to our physical and mental wellbeing. It can lead to heart disease, gastric issues, poor sleep, impaired immune functioning and depression.
Dr Batstone gave some practical tips for counteracting chronic stress:
- Finding a passion outside work
- Outdoor activities
He finished by talking about the positive effects that cultivating a mindfulness practice can have on our brain. The practice of inward-focused thought and deep breathing has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure. He left us with some resources to help manage stress, which can be found at the bottom of this article.
To gather more insight on coping strategies, we conducted an internal survey asking Stewarts employees to share their experience with stress management. People around the firm shared some real-life examples of what works for them when it comes to dealing with stress and some are shared below:
- Talking with friends and family, writing to-do lists, putting fun things in the diary
- Talking about your mental health
- Prioritising sleep, a healthy diet, and protecting my downtime to unwind, which can sometimes mean saying ‘no’
- Addressing issues when they arise
- Taking time off, going to the gym, taking “me” time
- Music, dancing, breathing exercises, yoga
- Breaking the routine whenever possible
- Gratefulness and looking back on the positives
- Remembering that problems can be fixed, adopting a positive outlook, and appreciating what we have
- Putting stress into perspective – (most times) things are not as bad as it seems
- Open-up, and you’ll be surprised how many people may say to you, I also feel that way
- NHS every mind matters (launched for World Mental Health Day this year)
- Headspace app
- Futurelearn – “Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance”
- “Honest Guys” – YouTube guided mindfulness videos.
- Mindful Work by David Gelles
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