Most professionals facing a tough office day, budget issues, and projects that go off the rails understand stress. What you might not know is that your brain works hard to create those tense muscles, heart palpitations, and wandering thoughts.
The good news is, there are many simple, but powerful ways to switch off the brain’s wild-firing biological free-for-all that drives the stress. Here is one.
The first step is to realize that your brain does not see stress as good or bad. Anything that places wear on the cells is stress. So, to your brain, climbing into a warm shower or settling a staff dispute both create stress. The difference is in the amount.
The next is understanding that our neuron cells react to stress, much the way muscles do during exercise. Mild stress activates genes that produce proteins which fortify the brain’s infrastructure. Again, it is a matter of amount. Too much stress can impair your memory, make it hard to focus, or lower your tolerance for daily challenges like soothing an unreasonable patient.
When the amygdala, the danger sentinel of your brain, senses trouble, it initiates a series of actions that release chemicals, including cortisol that begin coursing through your body.
With all the chemical changes, your brain cells are suddenly battling it out to get the resources they need to function. Since those resources, like glucose, are being diverted to the specific cells that address the “danger,” many mental processes simply do not work. That is why we find it hard to find the right words during an argument, or the fire escape during a flash fire.
Our thinking brain (pre-frontal cortex) signals the amygdala to back down when there is no threat. But, often the messaging may be fragmented from prolonged stress, causing the cycle to keep repeating in a continuous feedback loop.
But, you can stop it. The right aerobic exercise can increase the energy neurons require to fire, increase the factors that allow your brains cells to strengthen, and relax the muscles to end the feedback loop. These exercises include running, using the elliptical, tennis, dancing, and walking at a moderate speed.
Studies at the University of British Columbia recommend 30 minutes of aerobics 4 times a week for a total of 120 minutes to get the best results. Research has also found these exercises create the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus to increase learning and memory, can offset mild cognitive damage, and even prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
So, the next time your hands shake with tension, start your day with a 30-minute walk. Your brain will love you for it.