In honour of Stress Down Day this year, I wanted to share some scientifically-based real-time tools to help reduce acute episodes of stress.
© Danielle Robertson Consulting Pty Ltd t/as DR Care Solutions
Stress Down Day has traditionally been promoted by Lifeline Australia around this time of year and this week I’d like to share some scientifically-based real-time tools in reducing acute episodes of stress.
In 2020/2021, around one in six Australians aged 16 to 85 years experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress.
Women (19%) suffer more than men (12%), and high or very high levels are more prevalent in those in the prime of life, 16 to 34 years of age, with one in five in that age group experiencing high or very high psychological distress.
The good and the bad
Scientists tell us that short-term stress, lasting hours, is good for our immune system and ability to focus. Medium-term stress, lasting several days or weeks, is fine as long as we cognitively manage it, by raising our stress threshold with the mind relaxed and the body activated.
Long-term stress is bad, with a chronically elevated heart rate leading to heart disease – Australia’s leading single cause of death with one Australian dying every 28 minutes.
So let’s talk about combating stress.
Combating stress right here and now
While we know that meditation, mindfulness, gratitude practice, massage, breathing work sessions, yoga and exercise are good tools in reducing our stress levels, we don’t necessarily have the time and space for those tools when we experience an acute episode of stress.
An acute episode of stress is when the heart starts racing, we feel flushed and all worked up.
When an episode comes on, this is not the moment, according to science, to start telling yourself to calm down or telling the same to someone experiencing stress. This will only exacerbate the stress. The mind is not effective in ruling the body.
The best way to overcome stress in real time is to inhale normally and then enjoy a longer and more vigorous exhale. This has the immediate effect of slowing down your heart beat.
Another tip is to sigh. This involves taking a double inhale and a very long exhale. The scientific name is the “psychological sigh” and it’s what we do naturally to calm down after vigorously sobbing.
As American neuroscientist Dr Andrew Huberman puts it:
“The psychological sigh is the fastest, hardwired way to eliminate a stress response” with “the heart rate taking 20 to 30 seconds to calm down”.
Both of these tips can be used any time you start feeling worked up, be it as you take the podium, make or take a phone call, sit at your desk or take a seat.
Tackling long-term stress
The best tools to moderate long-term stress are regular exercise, good sleep and, surprisingly, regular social connection.
We humans are social creatures and scientists advise us to stay connected to help mitigate long-term stress. The connections can be human to human, with pets, or things that delight us.
When we see people we trust, cuddle or pat a loyal pet, or delight in an object we treasure, that attachment helps release the chemical serotonin in our body, and serotonin gives us feelings of wellness.
In reducing your stress levels during the week of Stress Down Day, why not organise to catch up with a friend or family member whose company you enjoy!
If you are seeking care for a loved one, please feel free to call me, Danielle Robertson, for an initial discussion on how to set up the right care, support and assistance at the right time and in the right place.
 Lifeline Australia: Stress Down Day
 Australian Bureau of Statistics: First insights from National Study of Mental Health & Wellbeing,, 2020-21
 Berkeley News: Researchers Find Out Why Some Stress is Good for You
 Heart Research Australia
 Huberman Lab: Tools for Managing Stress & Anxiety