Manilka Ediriweera explains how to destress by reconfiguring your brain

Each one of us has been through stressful situations – perhaps as students, professionals or parents – and all of us are susceptible to stress. We’ve all experienced some days on which we perform very well and others when we can’t seem to get our act together to perform efficiently.

Especially with the pandemic we have faced and those monotonous routines we’ve fallen into, there is a greater chance of feeling stressed.

On top of that, working from or studying at home – or simply spending our days indoors with increased family obligations and other distractions – can be challenging. It can affect our motivation levels, which in turn impacts productivity.

This rise in stress levels is evident from the statistics revealed by Gallup, a global analytics and advice firm. It reports that last year, 40 percent of adults experienced a great deal of stress. Stress has also been called ‘the Black Death of the 21st century.’

In the competitive, fast-paced and dynamic world we live in, high performance is expected from all of us in many aspects of life. Across all stages and walks of life – as a student, an employee, a business owner or even a stay-at-home parent – we need to perform well to survive.

And in order to perform at our best every day, our brains have to perform well too. However, the way our brains function is influenced to a great extent by stress levels. The brain’s biological reaction to a possible threat is evident when we feel overwhelmed, and it becomes very difficult to concentrate and stay focussed.

This is because the primitive part of the brain takes over when we feel stressed. And this negatively impacts our brain’s functions, which comprises the cognitive processes associated with knowledge acquisition, processing of information and rationalisation.

Even though a little stress can be helpful in certain instances as it acts as a source of motivation, its constant presence can trigger changes in our brain structure and cause mental health issues. That’s why it is essential to manage stress better.

If we manage it well, the smarter, better and happier we can be as we engage in our work. Here are a few simple ways to stress less and achieve more!

EXERCISE Research has shown that exercise helps reduce stress hormones in our body. Not only does it reduce stress levels but also stimulates the chemicals that elevate our mood. So let’s make exercise an essential part of nurturing the health of our brains and overall wellbeing.

Exercise has been proven to increase cognitive performance; improve memory, reasoning and problem solving abilities; and sharpen our focus. So grab your running shoes and make a conscious decision to start exercising today!

SLEEP Another simple way to reduce stress is through sleep. It’s an essential factor that influences productivity. Our brains also need enough rest to recover at the end of every day, like our bodies do.

If we don’t give our grey matter the rest it deserves, our brains will be sleepy. This is not helpful since a sleep deprived brain cannot function at optimal levels and will need to put in an extra effort to carry out cognitive processes at full capacity.

MEDITATE Stress can accumulate in our brains and bodies over time, and make us slow, sick and unhappy. This accumulated stress inhibits our performance capabilities. One of the most effective ways to get rid of such unhealthy tension is through meditation.

Studies have affirmed that mindfulness and meditation can reduce stress by reversing our stress responses. However, when it comes to meditation, consistency is the key if you want to see the results of meditation in reducing stress.

REFRAME THOUGHTS Our minds can go haywire in an instant; and when we are stressed, our brains cloud over with negative thoughts. But we don’t have to always listen to these and allow our minds to enter a dark place.

What we can do when this happens is to reframe our thoughts and begin all over again. Reframing our thoughts – or ‘cognitive restructuring’ – is about identifying our negative thought patterns and changing them by challenging such thoughts… and replacing them.

No matter who we are or what we do, we’re all exposed to stress. It makes us become everything we don’t want to be; and when we’re stressed, our brains are like computers that have too many windows and tabs open at the same time!

So like a computer that slows down because of the many processes that are operating simultaneously, our brains will slow down too. And this will eventually slow us down physiologically as well.

By practising the simple hacks mentioned above, you can learn to stress less and achieve more… even under the most trying circumstances.