Intermittent stress primes the brain for performance. A 2013 study at the University of California, Berkeley, uncovered benefits of stress, such as pushing the brain to an optimal level of alertness with improved behavioral and cognitive performance. This short-lived stress is like a cup of coffee: It jolts the brain into critical action.
But chronic stress—anxious, never-ending worry—increases the risk of heart disease, obesity and depression. It also, ultimately, has the opposite effect of brief moments of stress by decreasing cognitive performance.
Fortunately, unless the house is on fire, most stress is self-inflicted and exists only in our minds, which means we can control it. Try these three simple techniques to let go of stress:
1. Focus on the present
Any thought that begins with the words “what if…” sends your mind directly into the past or the future, both of which can create anxiety. Speculating about what could have happened differently in the past or what could happen in the future is rarely productive. If you don’t need to go there, don’t. You’ll feel much calmer.
By appreciating what you have, you can swap stress for increased happiness. Gratitude is known to reduce stress hormones, including cortisol , which is associated with depression. In this video, SoulPancake shows how a simple gratitude experiment led to happiness for the participants.
Take a few minutes, or even seconds, to breathe deeply and focus on each breath. If your mind strays toward stressful issues, just return your focus to your breath. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. If you struggle, try counting each breath until you reach 25. And then start over.