First, adopt some form of physical activity. Walking, rock climbing, dancing in your living room — as long as you’re moving your body regularly.
Second, take time to consciously breathe. The Nagoski sisters describe breathing as “the gentlest way to completing the stress response cycle”. Slow, deep breathing down-regulates your nervous system.
Third, they recommend laughter. Laughter tells your body that the world is a safe place.
Fourth, hug! “Research suggests a 20-second hug can change your hormones, lower your blood pressure and heart rate and improve mood, all of which are reflected in the post-hug increase of the social bonding hormone oxytocin.”
Fifth, have a good cry. Crying won’t address the root of the stress but it does go a long way to reducing the impact of the stress itself. Give yourself time and space to give in to the emotions that are there in any case.
Their final tip is indulging in creative expression. An act of creation, no matter how modest, allows you to externalise conflicts and emotions, to feel in control, to exercise a part of you that is wholly positive and generative.
SA health educator and consultant Richard Sutton, in his book The Stress Code highlights four ways to better manage stress.
First, change the way you think about it. Acute stress can actually enhance our abilities in the short term. Reframing short-term stress as a positive can prevent it cascading into chronic stress.
Second, look at ways to boost oxytocin levels. This can be achieved through focusing on interpersonal relationships, yoga and listening to music, among other methods.
Third, increase vagus nerve activity. The vagus nerve is one of the longest in the body, and interfaces with key systems including the heart, lungs and digestive tract. It can be stimulated through exercise, meditation and controlled breathing.
Finally, Sutton suggests adopting a lifestyle that allows your body to recover effectively from stress. This might incorporate intermittent fasting, increased exposure to sunlight, consuming antioxidants and sticking to an exercise regime.
But the first step, which precedes any tactic to lower stress, is to realise you might be stressed, to acknowledge that you shouldn’t have to feel that way, and to give yourself the power and freedom to make changes that reduce stress. As my human resources colleague is fond of saying: “It’s OK to not be OK. We are, after all, in this together.”
• Fatima Newman is the Group Chief Risk Officer of EOH.