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Brain training the key to balancing stress

A recent study by Lifeline suggests 93 percent of Australians suffer stress (48 percent considered high stress), costing businesses billions in productivity loss. There’s greater human cost too, with several studies linking high stress to poor health behaviours and increased risks of chronic disease – including one study showing a 68 percent increase in heart disease risk for working individuals suffering the most stress.  

Small amounts of stress help give you drive, but higher or prolonged stress reduces productivity and increases your susceptibility to short and long term illness.

Many stressors are products of your busy world, but your “internal wiring” also plays a big role in your stress management. The good news; you can change that wiring. Learning to feed off mild stress during your work day, but then being able to relax in your downtime is the secret to balancing productive power with personal health and life satisfaction.

The key to your internal wiring is balancing two critical brain chemicals: Serotonin and Dopamine. These two chemical transmitters help determine your mood, clarity of thinking and stress. Basically, they make you feel good. Ideally you will have elevated levels of dopamine during the work day, and lower dopamine or higher serotonin during your rest and relaxation time.

Many factors impact brain chemistry, mood and stress – but you can have some influence by changing some food and lifestyle habits. Specific brain chemistry is very personal, but here are a couple of tips you can try to see if you can improve your balance.

  1. Have protein and moderate caffeine at breakfast. E.g. smoked salmon and egg on toast. Protein rich foods (especially red meat and pink fish) and caffeine boost dopamine.
  2. Perform moderate exercise in the evening. Moderate exercise “burns off” excess dopamine and boosts serotonin.
  3. When you do feel stressed, avoid caffeine and alcohol. Spend 10 minutes in a nice natural environment (under a tree or near a fountain), and take some slow, deep breaths.

Small changes and time investments in your mind and body can pay big dividends in sustaining productivity and health.

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Greg McLoughlin

Greg McLoughlin

Greg McLoughlin is Managing Director of Health by Design, a company he founded almost 20 years ago to help individuals and companies improve their collective health and performance. He frequently speaks as an expert on sustainable behaviour change, brain chemistry, energy management and employee engagement.

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