As if we didn’t have enough anxiety already, a recent report revealed male fertility in the west has slumped by over 50 percent since 1973. One of the causes of our dwindling sperm count, according to the research, is our ever-rising levels of stress.
So it seems stress isn’t just powerfully linked to depression, heart disease and the shortening of our lives; it may even be a hurdle to becoming a dad. The good news is that there’s plenty we can do to reduce the stress in our lives right now. A racing heart, sweaty palms, shortness of breath and the fight or flight urge are all signs of drastic uptick of stress and anxiety, but thee are many other symptoms of stress that are less easy to identify—we often don’t realize how much tension we’re carrying around with us. Awareness is key to dealing with the pressures of daily life. Here are five tips for understanding these feelings, to help you reel in your stress levels and live a more relaxed life.
- Identify your feelings accurately.
According to psychologists, many men struggle to accurately name their feelings, and often use stress as a catch all term when what they’re actually feeling is anger or sadness. Stress has become an easy way to describe our feelings, as it implies we’re carrying lots of responsibilities and burdens. This seems somehow macho. However, if what we’re really feeling is angry or sad, then misidentifying these emotions (to others and ourselves) will likely only cause them to manifest in unexpected and challenging ways. We may find ourselves suddenly exploding with rage after a small provocation like being spoken down to by our boss. We put it down to stress, but what we’re really feeling is anger that our request for a pay rise was overlooked, and we’re feeling devalued. Identifying that feeling, and where it’s coming, puts it in perspective—it’s not the whole world telling you you’re not worthy, this is part of an ongoing conversation you’re having with one person.
- Become more mindful.
Mindfulness, the art of focusing one’s attention on the present moment, is a proven technique to reduce the symptoms of stress. Derived from eastern meditation practices, mindfulness is often practiced through tuning in to the conscious use of our other senses, whether during a period of quiet reflection or as we carry out our daily lives. In the last few years there’s been a proliferation of apps, online forums and community centers to help you start your meditation practice or guide your mindfulness journey.
- Learn to distinguish between good and bad stress.
Without stress we do not leap out of bed in the morning or dash out of the way of a speeding car when we cross the street. Without a healthy level of cortisol—often known as the “flight or fight” hormone—many of us would be run over or have never made it to our first job interview. We need stress to function well. However, when our stress levels are so heightened that we struggle to concentrate, get to sleep or follow a conversation then we’ve got a problem. Learn the difference. A little pressure can stimulate you to do your best work, too much might paralyze you from moving forward.
- Get moving.
Exercise makes stress its enemy number one. Endorphins, which flood our bodies after vigorous, cardiac training such as running or cycling, decrease our levels of cortisol. Recent research even suggests that a regular half hour of heart rate-raising exercise a day is all we need to do to significantly reduce our feelings of anxiety. This could be as simple as taking a brisk walk. And if you’re able to do your activity in a green space, studies show the benefits are even more significant.
- Re-label your stress as excitement.
The physiological manifestations of stress—sweaty palms, shortness of breath, a racing heart—are remarkably similar to feelings of excitement. When we feel our stress responses kicking in before a first date; as the door of the plane slides back for our first ever sky dive; or standing in front of 400 hundred delegates to present a complicated paper, tell yourself what you’re really feeling is excitement. This instantly gives your mood a boost while minimizing the negative associations of stress: fear, panic and racing thoughts.