4 powerful ways to manage stress, bounce back
Major FBI investigations are intense and usually slow due to the complexity of the case. For example, I was one of many officers tasked with interviewing witnesses after the 9/11 terrorist attack; supervisors told us to show up seven days a week and work 12-hour shifts.
Our new schedule didn’t last a few weeks, it lasted several months. The stress was so acute that I could feel and feel the tension as soon as I walked into the emergency operations center. My extended work schedule has not allowed me to explore the de-stressing techniques pioneered by self-help gurus. Advice such as sticking to regular workouts, adhering to daily routines, eating healthy, and finding a sense of humor were seen as nice but unnecessary when you’re in the midst of chaos.
It didn’t take long to discover that most of the people who wrote about how to bounce back from stressful times and get rich from them were just that – writers. They had never been in the trenches themselves and could offer nothing more than anecdotes and weak platitudes that I could find in a magazine.
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As an FBI agent, I learned that while the theories are good, the evidence is better. Neuroscience and psychology can help us understand how our brains and bodies can turn us away when we’re under pressure, facing tight deadlines, and feeling overwhelmed.
Let’s take a closer look at four powerful ways to bounce back from stressful times:
1. Beware of the deception effect
Research has shown that when we are under high stress situations, our bodies produce large amounts of chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol to preparing our immune system for challenges before us. These chemicals help the body prepare for a fight or flight response to the danger of our challenges. As a result, they can help you achieve safety in a dangerous situation without being bothered by pain.
However, as soon as these challenges disappear, our immune system becomes deleted, making us more susceptible to infection. Finally, the body returns to normal and many activated systems calm down.
For example, let’s say you’re in the middle of tax season, balancing work and home, and trying to understand the economic turmoil around you. Your adrenal glands build up chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline that temporarily suppress the immune system to make sure everything runs smoothly.
It is only after a long period of stress that we feel the disappointment effect and find ourselves more susceptible to colds, depression, anxiety, stomach pains, etc.
Psychologists explain that it is essential that your mind and body slowly de-stress. As a recovery period after exercise, try to reduce your stress level. Additionally, they suggest keeping your body accelerated slightly to prevent it from downshifting too sharply.
How to make it work for you: Experts suggest powerful ways to bounce back after periods of stress:
- mental activity. Solving problems with time constraints has been shown to activate the immune response. Examples include crossword puzzles and math questions that are challenging enough to create vigorous mental activity.
- Light exercise. Take a brisk walk or light jog for 5 minutes. Exaggerate arm and hand movements when walking. These movements can stimulate the immune response.
Both techniques energize or activate your body, which prevents you from transitioning too quickly and causing your immune system to be suppressed. Psychologist Marc Schoen suggests that you do these activities for three days after a stressful period — the critical window. If you do, you will increase your chances of coming out of the stressful period feeling good.
2. Stay flexible in your thinking
Mentally strong people learn to take charge of their thinking and emotions to become resilient. They become focused thinkers and remain flexible in forming opinions about obstacles ahead.
Strong minded: Change the mindset, change the behavior, change the outcome.
The role of mindset becomes critical when we take a closer look at powerful ways to bounce back from long periods of stress. How we think plays an important role in determining our response to anxiety and tension.
Our attitude in the face of the stresses and difficulties of our lives. For example, we often describe anxiety as universally bad for our health, but one study asked if it’s really harmful or if we stress out because of stress.
Those who understand that stress has positive aspects and who learn effective ways to deal with it tend to see it as a positive challenge. The power of attitude choice strengthens their ability to act and make decisions.
How to make it work for you: Too much stress can suck your soul out, so the key is to get ahead before it drags you into Dante’s version of hell. Think of your stressors as challenges. You can choose how to react to stress to keep perspective and manage your emotions.
3. Manage your stress
Stress often comes down to this: too much to do in too little time. With staffing shortages and spending cuts, many of us feel overwhelmed by everything thrown at us. Stress can come from work or conflicts in your personal life. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll take a double whammy of both.
How to make it work for you: These simple but powerful tips from researchers can help you manage your stress when you’re in the moment.
- Walk in nature can reduce anxiety and worry more than walking down a busy street and also has cognitive benefits. Time spent in nature is less likely to trigger deep thoughts that could lead to depression or anxiety. Instead, nature walks can lead to a deeper sense of well-being. Meanwhile, spending time in an urban environment often does not cause a change in mental activity.
- A smile, even a fake smile, can help your body resist stress. Even under pressure, people who smile have been shown to have a lower heart rate than those who don’t. Those with a genuine smile (which involves moving the eye and mouth muscles) have the lowest heart rates. Moving your facial muscles can send a message to your brain that positively influences your mood.
- People who stand during a stressful activity, they perform better and have a more positive attitude than the hungry.
4. Develop self-awareness
It’s fair to say that most FBI agents thrive on the stress that comes with high-stakes investigations. Not every day brings the unknown, and not every case represents a crisis. But after retiring from the FBI, I felt like I was free and going aimlessly for my day. I got up and dressed for work every day for the next two months, even though I had nowhere to go.
The decompression took more than a few days. How do you fill the void that has come after years of stress and high-level deadlines? Why did I feel the need to keep riding the constant ride that defined my life? Did I miss the crack of a whip above my head?
I discovered that one of the secrets of mental toughness is self-awareness. Without self-awareness, I would never have understood what made me tick, why I made the decisions I made, and how my values influenced the way I lived my life.
A powerful way to bounce back from a stressful time is to use that time to learn more about yourself. Dig into the meaning of your stories and experiences. When you do, you’ll find out who and what push your buttons during times of stress so you can choose your response rather than reacting to your situation.
How to make it work for you: Ask yourself these questions.
- What are your first symptoms of stress?
- How does it manifest in your body?
- What circumstances evoke a stress reaction more than others?
- Which people evoke a stress reaction more than others?
- Do you surround yourself with friends and people who think positively?
- How do you focus your thinking on what is important to you?
- Can you clearly articulate your values and purpose in life?
- Is your challenge aligned with your beliefs and values?
LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years, where she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author Secrets of a Strong Mind (Second Edition): How to Build Inner Strength to Overcome Life’s Obstacles as good as Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips for Recognizing and Using Your Greatest Strengths. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, instagram and LinkedIn.
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