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Four Actions to Calm the Brain and Reduce Stress

Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, worried, stressed? You’re  not alone.  

These days we have more questions than we do answers. What  if…? How long…? What happens when….?  Will I keep my job? Will my company survive? Can I pay the bills? Can I sustain the pace?  

As humans we crave certainty.  When it’s absent and we’re unsure how to resolve a problem, our memory decreases and we leave the present to focus on what could go wrong in the future. This triggers our brain’s ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response (sympathetic nervous system) which releases stress hormones, increases our breathing and heart rate and prevents us from accessing our executive command centre, which holds our emotions in check.   

In other words, nature abhors a vacuum, so we tend to fill it with speculation, stories, worse case scenarios and worry.  

Yet many of us are like ducks. We present as calm on the surface but are madly paddling under the surface;  pushing these real thoughts and feelings to the back of our mind.  

The thing is, not acknowledging what we’re thinking and feeling fuels our worry and anxiousness and makes us feel even more overwhelmed.  So, what’s the solution?  

When we name and own what we’re experiencing we can calm our brain. Here’s four practical actions to try.   

  1. Speak Out Loud  

Processing our thoughts out loud is a game-changer. If you’ve ever benefitted from a trusted-friend or professional coach who listens well and asks insightful questions, you know firsthand the value of verbalizing your thoughts and feelings.  

Unlike chameleons, we don’t have a 360° perspective. We have blind spots. We don’t always know why we feel stuck, stressed or overwhelmed and it’s hard to see other perspectives or barriers.  Sometimes, we just need to talk it through. 

When we share what is on our mind – it serves as a pressure valve. We can hear it, look at it, name it,  break it down, organize it and in that, can find clarity,  solutions, ideas and options.   

  1. Write it Down  

I think about those times when I felt so overwhelmed by all I had to do that I could feel panic rising. Instead of giving into the panic,  I’ve learned to step back, take a few deep breaths and write down all the to do’s that were spinning in my brain.  Surprisingly the list it is never as long or as overwhelming as I think it is. There’s power in putting my amorphous into a concrete list of items that I can now prioritize, work through and, best of all, cross off when done.  

Whether it’s writing lists or journaling thoughts and emotions, there’s immense value in being able to see what is in front of you. Writing it down organizes your thoughts and can disarm the feeling of being out of control.   

  1. Breathe  

According to Psychology today,  the science of breathing is research-tested and stands on ancient foundations. It calms the brain. Why?  

Deep-breathing increases the supply of oxygen to our brain and turns on the vagus nerve which acts as a brake on the stress response.  Technically speaking, it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which counters our sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight) response to daily stresses and promotes a state of calmness.   

Deep breathing (think meditation) also reduces stress and anxiety and is known to lower blood pressure and heart rates. And the good news is that it’s free, abundant and proven.  Namaste.   

  1. Control what you can  

Noted leadership coach and psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book Boundaries for Leaders says, “Neuroscience has shown that the more experiences we have of being in control, the better our higher brain function. It is when we are affected by things outside of our control — and cannot regain a sense of being in control of anything that will make a difference — that we hit a real brain slowdown.” 

Ask yourself, “What about this situation is in my control?” Own what you can and let the rest go. Your blood pressure will thank you.  

The Power of Naming It  

Noted researcher, Brene Brown in her first podcast says, “When we name and own hard things it doesn’t give the hard things power, it gives us the power to affect change and achieve purpose.”    

What do you need to name and own?  

What do you need to let go of in order to keep moving forward?   

How can you find equilibrium in the present?   

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