2020 The Year of Stress?

The science behind stress and how to hack it.

Well, 2020 has been quite the year, hasn’t it! One filled with more uncertainty, challenges, isolation, fear, and separation than probably most of us have ever encountered in our lifetimes. Adding to this already volatile mix the ripple effects that Covid19 has brought to daily life, our work, our health, our personal lives, our finances, our relationships, and our wellbeing, 2020 has certainly shaken us to the core.

Right now, we are all facing our own unique challenges and will each have been affected in different ways. Whatever the impact, we all share one common denominator that binds us in our struggles and that is STRESS. If you haven’t felt stress in the last few months, you must have been living in a cave completely off-grid or be meditating with the masters.Either way, count yourself lucky and lets’ get back to the rest of us and reality.

So, what’s the science behind stress and why do our brains experience it?

Fundamentally, stress is your body’s desire to keep you safe and is triggered by your brain’s reaction to a perception of a threat. When faced with any type of perceived threat (and Covid and its repercussions are high up on the list) the amygdala, your emotional response regulator, triggers your fight and flight response, activating a flush of adrenalin and cortisol throughout your body. Alerting you to danger and giving you the superhuman strength required to run as fast as you can away from whatever prehistoric creature that is about to attack you.  

Our stress response is in fact the very thing that has enabled the human race to survive as a species for thousands of years. The challenge of 21st-century life, however, is that our reptilian brains have not evolved as we have as asocial species, and our stressors are no longer coming from the same external threats of our ancestors, yet our brains are hardwired to react to modern life’s stressors in the same way.

Today’s stressors have increased exponentially, becoming incredibly diverse, evolving from the life-threatening danger of the saber-toothed tiger to the overflowing inbox, being late for a meeting, the ever-increasing workload or simply running out of coffee. It doesn’t matter what it is if your brain perceives it so, your amygdala automatically triggers your fight and flight response into overdrive.

The impact of stress

Stress is not the problem in and out of itself as we’ve explored, in fact low levels of stress are actually good for us. Positive stress or “Eustress” as it is scientifically known, stimulates the production of neurotrophins, boosting brainpower, productivity, and concentration to ultimately enhance our performance. It is the spark that drives us to change, adapt and grow no matter what life throws at us, heightening our creativity and resilience, motivating us to succeed.

The flipside is that it becomes problematic when we get stuck in a cycle of prolonged stress. The effects of this kind of stress on our physical and mental wellbeing are very alarming. How we deal with our stresses and challenges plays a significant role in not only our ability to manage and recover but on our mental, emotional, and physical health and wellbeing long term.

Finding calm amongst the chaos

So how can we hack our internal hardware system to buffer against the perpetual cycle of 21st-century stress. Developing your self-awareness is the key, to deepen your understanding of your own stressors and how you can respond to them in a different way. Here are 3 simple hacks that you can start to apply right now.


Human beings need solitude to flourish. Prioritise yourself by committing to at least10 minutes of silence a day spent in quiet reflection. Take a step back and check in with yourself. Tune into your body and your emotions to develop self-awareness and self-compassion. It’s okay to feel stressed and overwhelmed, bringing attention to how you feel will support you to be kinder to yourself.

Know your limits

Take a proactive approach to identify the signs that your stress levels are increasing and look for ways that you can support yourself to manage. Remember that there are some things we can change and others that are out of our control. Take small practical steps to reduce your commitments and feelings of being overwhelmed. Reach out and ask for help where you can and above all else make time to recharge.

Move your body

This may sound ridiculously simple and at times counterproductive if you have a million and one things to do. Making the time to exercise is essential to counteract the negative effects of stress. Movement is not only a powerful stress reliver it also stimulates the production of our feel-good hormones, enhances our mood, and increases our resilience. Walk, run, dance, practice yoga or take a class, whatever’s your jam just get your body moving and flip the switch.

Believe it or not, last year 15.4 million working days were lost in the UK due to work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. With the increasing prevalence of mental health and workplace stress within our society and the impact ofCovid-19 on our wellbeing, now more than ever, it’s crucial for organisations to recognise their responsibility in fostering positive cultures that enhance the wellbeing of their people.

Lastly,I like to leave you with these words of wisdom from Wayne Dyer – “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. Remember perception is everything.

written by Teresa Clark, Founder of TheWellness Revolution - a pioneering employee experience company built for start-ups of the future. It supports forward-thinking organisations to create cultures of happiness, fuelled by passion, purpose and creativity.

If you’d like to hear more about The Wellness Revolution and how they can support your people and your organisation contact them at hello@thewellnessrevolution.co.uk or check out the website for more info www.thewellnessrevolution.co.uk .