Best-selling author Sarah Laurie was one of the speakers at the Bayleys lunch on April 8 in support of Make-A-Wish NZ. Her latest book, Stress Less, explores the neurobiology of stress and comes up with some ways to work with it.
“We need to prioritise wellbeing as the foundation on which our lives are built, not just something nice to have if we have time. We’re living in a wellness revolution, but rates of stress are still rising globally. Maybe we can change the way we respond to stress, instead of trying to change the factors which contribute to it.
Our brains love patterns, so ‘momentary states create neural traits’. When your brain spots a familiar thought pattern, it will lock on to it and go into overdrive, freeing itself up to do other things. A neural highway is like a well-worn sheep track. But what part of your brain are you making tracks to?
We now know that positive thoughts track to the part of the brain that stimulates memory and cognitive thought – but negative ones go to the part that creates a stress response.
We can choose to create positive patterns instead of negative ones by trying to be aware of what we think, say and do.
Five easy things to counteract stress:
- Breathe. But breathe into your stomach, not your chest – this is important. At the same time, visualise the stress response part of your brain relaxing and saying ‘aaahh, thank you!’
- Meditate. But just for one minute. Sit comfortably, half-close your eyes. Let your thoughts drift past without stopping as you focus on each of your senses. Do this a few times a day if possible.
- Practice optimism. Become aware of your thoughts. Are they positive, kind, optimistic? This strengthens the best part of your brain.
- Establish rhythms and routines in your day. These become a ‘safe place’ and signal to your brain that all is well.
- Be grateful. It’s physically impossible to have an anxious thought at the same time as a grateful one.