Stress relief - Dr Gini Harrison


Keeping your stress in check is important... because stress is one of those things that can creep up on you, and have profoundly negative consequences.

Why is stress so bad? When you experience stress, it activates the regions of the brain that controls your body’s fight or flight response; those primitive, automatic reactions that occur when faced with a life threatening situation. This triggers a host of biochemical reactions in your body, firing off a large amount of neural activity and releasing a cascade of hormones (including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol). Evolutionary speaking, these reactions are designed to drive you to react to a life threatening stressor. While effective in situations where your survival is on the line, this type of stress response is not particularly well suited for a lifestyle based on continual, chronic stress, full of day-to-day stressors and irritations. The problem is, our bodies don’t know the difference between being faced by a sabre tooth tiger or getting stressed about an upcoming deadline. The stress response is essentially (and biochemically) the same.

So when stress becomes part of our day to day life, it puts our body under immense pressure. Living in a perpetual state of stress means our bodies are exposed to persistently high levels of stress hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol) that are intrinsically unhealthy, and can cause a whole host of problems. For example, research has shown that stress can negatively impact your immune system, increase your chance of heart disease, interfere with your cognitive abilities (such as memory and attention), and decrease your overall sense of wellbeing.

And strangely, stress itself can alter the way we respond to stress. The more stressed you are, the harder it can be to cope with stress; you can become sensitised to it. That is, you can become overly sensitive to stressors... and even the slightest trigger can activate a significant stress response; leading you into a spiralling cycle of stress.

How can the pebble help?

To help us lead happier, healthier lives, it’s important that we can find a way to stop this stress cycle, and desensitise the stress response, so it does not automatically hyper-respond to day to day minor stressors.

One way to do this is to interrupt the daily stress build up, using regular anti-stress techniques... giving the mind and body a ‘time-out’ from the everyday stressors that can build up throughout the day. Just taking a few moments to slow down, and quieten the body and mind can interrupt stress signals and reduce the production of cortisol and adrenaline. And taking mindful moments has the double whammy advantage of enabling you to increase your body awareness, which can help to catch signs of stress before they escalate. These effects are demonstrated in the below diagram:

Moment Pebble - Stress chart.png

We’re launching the Moment Pebble at the beginning of April 2019 and would love your support in getting this moment movement started, sign up here to stay informed of what we’re up to. Welcome to the movement!

Find out more by visiting Moment Pebble, launching April 2019 on Kickstarter.

Dr Gini Harrison

Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, Open University

Charles Cadbury