Stress is a natural human response that our bodies have become well equiped to handle, and can even benefit from in small doses, but when stress becomes a constant state in your life, the effects can be damaging to your wellbeing.
So many people are used to experiencing high stress levels as their norm, as our daily lives have become more busy in the fast-paced modern culture, not to mention the added stresses of a global pandemic.
While we're more digitally switched on and distracted than ever, we often neglect taking a moment to step back and relax until we reach breaking point and burn out.
It's crucial to be conscious of our stress levels and pay attention to our physical, emotional and mental states, so you can avoid getting to a place of exhaustion.
Neuroscientist and Mindset Coach Alexis Fernandez breaks down the affect that burnout plays on our body.
Alexis shares, "Burnout is ultimately a form of stress, and it plays out when we lose touch with ourselves and lose the ability to know what our body is asking for.
The brain and body are incredibly intuitive and if you can pause and listen, you will know exactly what you need. The body will tell you when to say no to things, when to rest, or when to take it up a notch. But because we ignore it, instead of whispering it, it has to yell it to us, and this unfolds as getting sick, injured or needing to take mental health leave".
If you've been burning the match from both ends consistently, your body will start to call out for help with physical and emotional manifestations of burnout, sometimes both.
"For example, if you are always stressed about work, never have any down time, and have a lot of emotional stress, then it may manifest physically as neck pain, frequent headaches, feeling lethargic or falling sick.
You may also begin to feel emotionally flat, stressed, or overwhelmed. A simple task can take you twice as long to complete because your focus is shot to pieces".
When tension turns into chronic stress, this can take a toll on your physical results and seriously slow down your progress if you're working towards health and fitness goals.
Stress and sleep are very closely linked. When you're lacking sleep you'll find that your stress levels become higher, and the same goes when you're stressed, and your sleep quality will be affected in turn.
If your sleep schedule is consistently disrupted, this will negatively affect your results by depleting your energy levels, your sense of motivation, physical recovery time, as well as your appetite and eating patterns. By prioritising your sleep hygiene, you will help to reduce stress and vice versa.
Alexis explains that burnout can also come from putting your self-care last and running on empty, mentally.
"Burnout is sometimes due to failing to do things to fill up your cup first. If you're always doing urgent tasks and playing catch up with your 'to do' list, then you will never feel emotionally satisfied. Taking time to stop is crucial".
So how can you change this? Firstly, you need to acknowledge where the stress or burnout is coming from.
Is it from one aspect of your life, or a few? Then, ask yourself how much you are doing for yourself vs. your job and for others around you.
"No matter how much you love the people around you, if you don’t take care of yourself FIRST you wont be able to take care of others. You will burn out and then your relationships, work and health will suffer.
You need to put yourself first to avoid burnout. There is no shortcut and no way around it".
Self-Care to Stress Less
Most people who are stressed will say "I can’t take a holiday, I can't afford time off, I have too many responsibilities". These comments always come from those who need it the most.
Time off doesn't always mean a tropical vacation, it can be something as simple as 3 x 10 minute blocks to take a mental break during the day.
Even if you're not at a place of burnout, you should implement these strategies with the goal to stay present and connected to self, through cultivating an awareness of your internal and external state.
Here are some soothing self-care activities to help keep your stress at a healthy level and prevent burning out.
Set aside a few mindful minutes within your day to sit in silence and connect to your body and internal emotions. Meditation helps to slow our heart rate, deepen our breathing and calm our minds.
Find a regular time that works best for you, whether it’s to start your day right, or settle in for a much-needed night of restorative rest. It will help you gain a sense of how you are feeling and find what you need to make your life a bit easier.
Once you realise the benefits of being completely present, you'll likely start bringing mindfulness into more aspects of your life. It might be switching your phone to do not disturb so you can sit in peace and drink a coffee or tea.
Practicing breathwork helps to elicit the body's relaxation response and calm your nervous system. There are a number of different breathing techniques to help reduce blood pressure, boost focus and energy, or release anxiety and stress.
Breathwork also helps you become more connected to your physical state. Try doing a mental scan of your entire body by breathing into each body part and noticing where your tension is being held.
Extending your exhale helps you slow down and switch on your parasympathetic nervous system. Inhale through your nose for 4 counts, and extend your exhale for 8 counts out through the nose, repeating for 5 minutes.
Move your Body
Almost all forms of movement will boost your endorphins and help decrease your stress levels, so pick a type of exercise you enjoy and feels good for your body.
If you're after something of a lower intensity to relax your mind, yoga and tai chi are both perfect ways to combine the practice of meditation, breath and physical movement.
Allocating set time to moving your body each day, with no distractions and making that time purely for you, will start to mend how you are feeling emotionally.
Connect to Nature
If you can take your exercise into nature, getting some fresh air and sunlight on your skin will make a world of difference to your stress levels.
Try the practice of earthing (or grounding), by putting your bare feet on the ground and connecting to nature, whether on the beach or on grass in a park. Studies have shown that the energetic connection from the earth to our bodies reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and increases vitality and sleep quality.
Create a Positive Morning Routine
If you can avoid checking your phone for at least the first 10 minutes of your day, you'll give yourself time to be present and check-in with yourself before connecting to the stresses of the external world through social media and news.
To start your day on a positive note, practice gratitude by listing a handful of the things, people or experiences you're grateful for. The MWU App helps you cultivate gratitude and self-love with daily goal setting prompts.
The practice of journaling is also a great way to go within and reflect. It doesn't have to be pages or a big block of time, just a few dot points to get you to stop and think. Don't just write your to-do list, get in touch with how you're feeling, what you want to focus on, and set your non-negotiables for the day.
If your mornings are too busy, make time for some moments of mindfulness throughout your day instead. If you can find time to scroll through your Instagram stories, you can find the time to dedicate to you.
It's also so important to switch off your screens for half an hour before sleeping to wind-down and disconnect from any external stress. Use this time for self-care and doing things that calm you, whether that's reading, doing your skin routine, painting, stretching, or some daily reflection through journaling.
It's all the small little steps and habits that are going to make a huge difference in your daily life and in your happiness. Holidays are great for a mental break, but if you go away only to return to your old ways, the benefits are short lived.
Start taking time for you, and make listening to your body and brain a priority today.