A scientist’s step-by-step guide to what to do before, during and after a stressful experience
- This article appears in ‘The ultimate guide to easing stress and reducing anxiety’ – free in the Guardian this Saturday
From conflicts with colleagues or family, frustrations at work, or even being stuck in traffic – our daily lives are not short on stress. These common upsets – “psychosocial stressors” – incite our emotions, and our brains are equipped with strategies to help regulate them: we might use self-control to override the instinct to focus only on the negative, or reframe stressful situations in a different light to make them less distressing.
As we’ve adapted to the digital age, we’ve adopted habits that hinder the brain’s efforts to regulate emotion. Just five nights of looking at a computer screen for two hours between 9pm and 11pm can lead to a rise in negative emotions the following morning, and instant communication through smartphones tempts us into a state of incessant vigilance.