Everyone experiences stress regularly, whether before a deadline, exam or just day-to-day juggling life at work and home. Overall stress costs the UK economy nearly £6.5 billion each year and is linked to both mental and physical health risks, such as heart disease.

Stress occurs when we feel under threat – by uncertainty, change, attacks on our self-esteem or factors we feel are beyond our control. In these situations, levels of cortisol, the stress hormone rise and blood is literally drawn away from the parts of the brain deemed unnecessary for physical survival. These tend to be the higher executive functions, associated with rational decision-making, emotion regulation and empathy. This reaction is the result of years of evolution as our brains go into ‘survival mode’, preparing the brain for ‘battle’, to ensure its physical survival.

This reaction is exacerbated by falling levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, making it harder to trust and work effectively with others. The combination of all these changes means that we are more likely to be uncooperative and unable to suppress our unconscious biases against others and ourselves.

Stress is often unavoidable, so it is best to build up your own mental resilience in advance and find the ways of dealing with stress that works most effectively for you. Keeping your brain healthy will increase your mental resilience and short term coping mechanisms and should include elements that cover resting, fuelling, hydrating, oxygenating and simplifying your brains. For example, take 10 deep breaths or go for a walk, drink a glass of water or green tea, practice mindful eating, rather than grabbing an unhealthy snack. Take steps to get a good night’s sleep and try to eat foods or take supplements containing magnesium, which will reduce your cortisol levels.

In many modern work environments there is constant pressure to be responsive to emails throughout the evenings and weekends, however separating your work and leisure time is important for reducing stress levels. Perhaps even consider a complete digital detox one weekend or when you go on holiday. This will not only help reduce your cortisol levels, but will give you more time for social bonding with family and friends, providing a boost in oxytocin levels.

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