Dissolving stress... helping ourselves in difficult times
My heart sinks as I turn on the TV to hear yet another doom and gloom story about lost jobs, bad banks and repossessions and see the impact it has on real people. It’s only natural for us to empathise and think about our own situation or the people around us, and as we start to worry we find more and more things to be concerned about. This is the one way stress can build up.
Cases of stress and anxiety are on the increase. It is more widespread than you may first think. People who are under threat of losing their homes and jobs are directly impacted but what often goes unnoticed is the impact for those for whom the worst doesn’t happen. Businesses are becoming aware that whilst offering counselling or coaching as part of a redundancy settlement is helpful, what about the people who stay? Those who don’t get made redundant have still gone through the anxiety of not knowing and often have to accommodate increased workload or changed roles as well which increases their stress levels. The impact is not just at work, it affects family life and relationships too.
There are things we can do to empower and protect ourselves from this anxiety and manage stress. What if you had more energy to focus on possible solutions to your problems by managing the stress in your life? Wouldn’t it be great if you could get control over all those worries that keep running around in your head? How would a calmer you handle your family and relationships?
Stress is a natural human reaction. Its primary function is to keep us alive by giving us a burst of adrenalin when we perceive physical danger, leading to the flight or fight response. This is useful in a life or death situation, but now that the Sabre Tooth Tiger has been banished to the history books, we need this reaction less and less is western society. Whilst short bursts of stress and anxiety can be a useful indicator that something is not right, if this feeling stays with you over a prolonged period of time, the impact on your physical health and emotional wellbeing could be huge. Even exposure to short periods of stress and anxiety lead to reduced sleep, a reduced ability to think straight, impact memory and the ability to communicate effectively.
The good news is that there are some easy things you can do to help dissolve stress when it creeps up. If you can manage your levels of stress it will help you to think more clearly and also find solutions to the problems you’re concerned about.
When we are stressed we tend to breathe into our chests and our breathing tends to be faster and quite shallow. If we slow our breathing and breathe into our stomach the part of our nervous system that we use when we rest and sleep is activated and this starts a reaction that calms us down.
- Sit up straight and put your hand on your belly
- Take a deep breath. Fill your stomach with air pushing your hand out. The important thing is that you are breathing into your stomach, not just taking deep breaths into your chest; your chest should be still.
- Do this slowly in and out four or five times and notice the impact on how you feel.
This simple technique is so effective even people with serious anxiety disorders say it is one of the most useful techniques they learned to help manage their anxiety.
If you’re sitting at your desk, staring at your screen, feeling stressed, it’s unlikely the solution will come to you. Many schools of psychology including NLP teach us to do something different with our body if we are feeling bad, our nervous system reacts to the movement and helps us to feel differently. It’s one reason why regular exercise has a positive impact on our state of mind. How many times have you got up from your desk gone to make a cup of tea and then had a brilliant idea on the way back? How many times have you slept on an issue and the solution came to you in the morning? This is it in action.
If you are feeling down or stressed, look upwards. Looking downwards is how you access your feelings and self talk which isn’t useful if you’re stressed. By looking upwards you can change how you feel. Even better move your body. If you’re sitting or lying down move around, go for a walk or move to a different environment and if you are pacing around feeling stressed, sit or lie down and use the breathing technique.
Become aware of how you talk to yourself
We all do it you are not mad. The question is does your self talk help you or not? Do you praise yourself for a good idea or beat yourself up over all the little things that don’t go well? Your self talk has an impact on how you feel and what action you take.
- Notice when you’re using words like must, should, need and have to. ‘I have to finish this today’ ‘Look at all these things I must do’. How much do we enjoy being told what to do? Your mind is the same. These words used in excess add to your stress levels and don’t help you to feel great about yourself.
- Replace these with words like could, might or possibly. This brings to mind the possibility of choice; the message is received as a suggestion rather than an order. This will impact what you do, how you feel about doing it and haw you feel about yourself.
Try using this in your communication with others too and notice how positively messages are received if you replace necessity words with choice words.
Become a fly on the wall
This is a skill perfected by people who work in stressful situations all the time. People who work in the emergency services and the army for example know how to detach emotionally from a situation so that they can make a level headed assessment of what’s going on. This is a skill we can all learn and use in stressful situations.
- Practice on a memory first; remember something that happened recently, something where you remember experiencing some feelings or a reaction. If you are seeing it through your own eyes, seeing as you saw it at the time, it’s as if you are reliving it and you are probably feeling the feelings too.
- Now remember the same scene, but this time you can see yourself in the picture, like in a photo or a movie. It’s as if you are a fly on the wall watching yourself in this scene.
- Notice where the feelings are, you may find that they have gone.
Being able to do this in real time when things are stressful will help you to feel calmer and get a new perspective on the situation. Practice it on mild situations first, then when the big things happen your mind will know what to do. Of course you don’t want to be detached all the time, when nice things are happening it’s great to be there and experience it fully. The key is having the flexibility and choice to do it when you want to.
Stress is catching; you can watch it spread around a family, office or even the country. If you can start to change your reaction to stressful situations others will do the same. You don’t consciously choose to be stressed, it happens unconsciously, yet there are some conscious things you can do to help dissolve the impact when it happens. The problem with stress and anxiety is that you feel we have no control over what’s going on, that everything is happening to you, and yet by practicing some of these techniques and getting control of how you feel, you may just get some clarity on what you can do to improve your own situation in not so easy times.
Related articles from our experts
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- Stress and how to deal with it
David Seddon MA, BA, Accred - helping couples and individuals to a better life7th March, 2017
- What’s wrong with me? The impact of childhood emotional neglect
Matt Fox - Psychosynthesis Counsellor MBACP5th March, 2017
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