What is stress? And how can you bio-hack your way to a healthy lifestyle?

In honour of Stress Awareness Day, we gather expert tips from Michael Adu, Founder of wellness coaching company Stress-Less Fitness, based at Club Workspace Clerkenwell Workshops.

It's common knowledge that stress is detrimental to our health. And often workers in high-intensity jobs suffer the most. Three-quarters of adults over the past year have at some point felt overwhelmed or unable to cope due to stress, according to statistics commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, and it has been dubbed one of the greatest public health challenges of our time with links to anxiety, depression, heart disease, insomnia and digestive problems.

Michael Adu, Founder of Stress-Less Fitness shares his tips on how to keep your body and mind healthy despite pressure at work.

How would you define stress?

It's a physiological response to a stimulus. That stimulus can be caused by a mental, physical or nutritional trigger. Often the body can't tell the difference and will omit a similar stress response. The same cocktail of chemicals will be released.

What impact does this have on the body?

If you're constantly in a state of stress your body will age at a faster rate. This is because you're not giving your body enough time to rest, repair, and grow which can lead to a chronic imbalance of stress hormones that can be taxing on the body's cardiovascular system. You may find yourself feeling lethargic, slow and unproductive at work.

How does Stress-Less Fitness help people monitor their stress levels?

We help people analyse and manage their mental and physical health through the power of tech. Our tech devices collect data and help to a) analyse how stressed an individual's body feels and b) measure the level of mental calmness they can achieve while meditating through a headset and heart rate monitor. These statistics allow people to analyse where they currently are in their physiological resting state. This technical tracking of physiological recovery allows people to develop a routine to hone their recovery process.


Top tips for lowering your heart rate?

 

1. Set aside time for rest to work on physiological recovery

And by rest I mean biological rest, not solely physical rest. Although you may feel like you're resting when you sit on the sofa watching TV, your body and mind is still reacting to stimuli. To switch off completely and give your body the best chance to recalibrate I advocate a form of meditation called progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). First, you systematically tense each muscle group throughout your body in isolation – your neck, shoulders, arms, and so on. Next, you release this tension and fully focus on the feeling of the muscles loosening. It completely relaxes you physically, giving you the best chance to relax your mind through visualisation. Once you can relax the two together, your biological stress will drop.

2. Structure your day in tune with your body

Take note of your energy and stress levels throughout the working day and adjust your daily activities in line with this. A day-by-day plan can reduce your risk of mental injury, such as mental health issues and an overload of stress. If you didn't have a good sleep the night before, maybe go easy on yourself the following day. For instance, push yourself and go to work, but you could opt to go to a yoga class rather than doing an intense workout after hours. Or, maybe you decide to do meditation during your lunch break or go for a walk to allow your mind and body to reset. Listen to your body.

3. Eat right

I would classify our society right now as "over-fed". Food is so readily available because we don't need to seek it out or hunt it down anymore. We can get any type of fast-food at the click of a button and much of it doesn't satisfy us nutrition-wise. This is the problem. If you're eating the wrong things or overeating, your body has to work harder than usual to process and digest the food. If we are constantly in a state of overeating, this can cause our body nutritional stress. Make sure you eat nutritionally rich foods. 

How can people in high-intensity jobs minimise their stress?

A top priority should be quality sleep. If you can get a good amount, your body will be able to restore and recover despite heightened stress levels and it won't be detrimental to your health. Create a routine that helps you to relax before you go to bed and then measure your sleep so you know whether it was high quality. I like to use an Oura ring. It looks like a normal ring but it allows you to track your recovery, stress, and steps throughout the day. When you wake up you can check it to see how rested your sleep was and from that you can design your day.

What's on your bookshelf?

 

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

This book was a game changer for me. Sapolsky questions why we as human beings can create stress from a thought alone while animals only create stress from a situation. For example, if an animal is hungry or being hunted it will release a stress response, but for the majority of the time they live in the moment without fretting about the past or future. It gives great tips and tricks on how to reduce the stress that you feel on an everyday basis through being mindful. I highly recommend it.

For more information on how to increase your mental wellbeing, read 5 Mindfulness Apps to Save You from Workplace Burnout.

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