In Dr. Wendy Suzuki’s wonderful Healthy Brain, Happy Life, the author distinguishes between “good” stress – just enough adrenaline to help us activate and focus when we’re on a project deadline or rushing to catch a bus or plane – and “bad” stress, the chronic stress with no end in sight that depletes our immune system and damages the very brain cells in our hippocampus that we need to convert our learning from our experiences into long-term memory, to help us cope even better.
Dr. Suzuki also clarifies the four factors that cause the most psychological stress:
* the feeling of having no control over a situation
* the feeling of having no predictive information about what might happen
* the state of having no social, leisure, or fun outlets
* the feeling that the situation is only going to get worse.
These are the conditions that lead to burnout and poor coping.
The four-minute exercises Dr. Suzuki recommends below may not provide a permanent solution to the ongoing conditions that stress us out day to day, but they are a good start and may open the door to the exercise, meditation and novel experiences.
- Hug or kiss someone you love. This could be an adult, child, baby or a pet.
[ Oxytocin is the body brains direct and immediate antidote to the stress hormone cortisol. I recently flew through an airport where volunteers brought “therapy” dogs for waiting passengers to pet. Two minutes with a black Labrador, what a delightful difference!]
- Take four minutes to savor a cup of coffee or tea while doing nothing else. [This means turning off your phone and leaving it in another room.]
- Have a four-minute pillow fight with someone you love. [Oxytocin, exercise, laughter, and playfulness – a powerful combo.]
- Do jumping jacks through all the commercials of your favorite TV show. [Gets the adrenalin going in the best possible way.]
- Take a jump rope to work and indulge on a break. Challenge a co-worker to do the same. [Again, companionship while doing anything de-stressing doubles the effect, and may deepen the friendship.]
- Get or give yourself a hand or foot massage. [If this takes longer than four minutes, you have more than four minutes of de-stressing.]
- Watch funny, entertaining, inspiring videos on YouTube. I
This piece first appeared on Linda Graham’s blog. See her earlier related posts: Meditate for a Healthier Brain – Four Minutes at a Time, Exercise Makes You Smarter, and New and Novel Experiences Promote Brain Health.
Linda Graham, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist, mindfulness teacher, and expert on the neuroscience of human relationships. She is the author of Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. Follow @LindaGrahamMFT on Twitter, and find her Resources for Recovering Resilience page on Facebook.