It’s good to understand that stress isn’t all bad. There is an optimal performance zone based on arousal levels. This has been used with high performing athletes and soldiers for years. Under stress/arousal you will find an increase in hormonal release that can lead to a short term increase in performance of up to 90 seconds!
So what does this mean?
The take away is that stress is not always a bad thing and that a certain level of it is needed to perform at your best. The danger is when the demands of the task outweigh the perceived ability to cope with those demands; hence the increase in stress levels. Some people will find that a perceived stressor will increase their heart rate a lot faster than any physical activity will. Once your stress levels are up certain things will happen both physically and mentally, as stress impacts your cognitive ability and reasoning.
What does it do?
Increased stress will narrow your focus, impairing your judgment and reasoning ability. This is why it’s good to learn how to down regulate and engage our reasoning brain. Some signs of stress can be, loss of sleep, loss of appetite, mood swings, trouble concentrating, memory loss…the list goes on.
What do we do?
So how do we control our stress levels? One of the easiest ways and simplest ways is to learn what we in the military call “combat breathing”. This works because your respiratory rate will directly impact your heart rate…and a lower heart rate will down regulate the flight/fight/fright response, allowing you to think clearer, problem solve and improve motor skills. You can do all this without anyone being any wiser to it all. It will work in any situation, from a combat situation to an argument with a friend, partner co -worker etc,
How do we do it?
So how do we do it? Breath in for four seconds, hold for four, breath out for four, hold for four and then repeat. The count is not so important to be honest, the key is to control your breathing and you want your breaths to be deep into your abdomen to gain full benefit.
One of the keys to this is practicing it when you are not under stress or pressure. This will enable enhanced performance control when you are in a stressful environment or under assessment. Try spending 5 minutes at on your lunch break or at night before bed to purely focus on your breathing.