Tackling Stress: Building Resilience
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Sometimes when we feel stressed it is due to a build up of stressors (the events that contribute to the amount of pressure we are under).
At other times how we perceive a situation also affects how we react. If stress can be affected by our perception, it means we have some control over our reactions and therefore how stressed we end up feeling.
Why do we all react differently to stress?
Why is it that some people don’t feel stressed by minor irritations like crowds, rude service, and splashes from puddles? Some people can enjoy the hustle and bustle of crowds, laugh about the rude service, and jump in the puddles.
Within ourselves too we can notice inconsistencies in whether or not we react to stress. Some days nothing gets to us, and other days we become irritated by minor difficulties. This is probably not down to chance, but can be traced to the cumulative effect of
• the amount of stressors,
• inadequate coping strategies and
• lack of self-care.
Teresa Mulvena, a counsellor and stress management consultant at Theobalds Natural Health Centre suggests that each of these three areas should be tackled in a stress reduction plan. “However hectic your life is there is always something that you can change. However it requires a re-orientation in how we think. We need to think about caring for ourselves as an essential part of our lives rather than a luxury, otherwise we risk burn out.”
1. Make time: You never hear someone say that they didn’t have time to get dressed today. We consider it a usual part of life. With self-care, we all know what we should be doing to look after ourselves - eating well, getting enough sleep, watching our alcohol intake, and exercising regularly. Change the way you think so that self-care is not an optional extra, but an essential part of looking after yourself, - as much as getting dressed in the morning is.
2. Build up supportive networks: Invest in your relationships. It’s not just about the support networks that are available to you, but also about your ability to let people know what is going on for you.
3. Let others know when things are difficult. If your value is tied up with being seen as someone who always copes, it can be hard to admit when things are difficult. Remember that always being strong is impossible. There is no such person. Everyone is a mix, and everyone feels vulnerable at some point. Teresa suggests acknowledging this is a strength not a weakness “It allows you to accept yourself, and therefore makes it less likely that you will put impossible demands on yourself.”
4. Don’t put your eggs in one basket: It is important to get fulfilment, a sense of purpose and satisfaction in more than one area, such as activity unassociated with work, so that work isn’t all that defines you (and therefore your worth).
5. Have realistic expectations of yourself: don't be a perfectionist, and give yourself a break, accept yourself when you make mistakes, If your value is completely tied up with always achieving it can set something up where you put too much pressure on yourself.
6. Face it, and deal with it: Feeling stressed may be a sign that something external needs to change. The skill is in knowing what can and should be changed, and what can’t be. Having stressful problems hanging over your head can make the most saintly person feel irritable. Invest some time in thinking through strategies to handle difficult problems, and talk it over with someone you trust, or a professional. Teresa says that often people put off seeking help because they can’t imagine how talking about themselves will be helpful, - “ two brains are always better than one. A practitioner can think with you about what is bothering you and ways to work through it. You don’t have to deal with stress on your own. So often people say that they wished they had sought help earlier”
7. Communicate assertively: This is a balance between not bottling up feelings, not over-reacting, but communicating clearly in a way that is respectful of yourself and others. It includes the ability to say “no” when you need to. Otherwise there can be consequences to your health, your relationships, and how you feel about yourself.
8. Remain calm under pressure: It’s 30 degrees, the train’s broken down, most people are pretty exasperated, and everyone’s blood pressure is rising. How difficult this is if you have to be somewhere important or you are in a hurry. If not, it is possible to have more choice in how you react. Like a good boy scout you can counter this time wasting by being prepared. It will be different for everyone, but it might be some favourite music you can turn up loud and zone out, a good book (fantastic, you’ll now have more time to read it), or a chance to ring a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while. You could choose not to fill in the time, but use it as some thinking time. It won’t make the train go, but if you can get some sense of proportion and tell yourself that the world won’t end, you will feel more in control. You might even feel a little triumphant, and pleased with yourself, as those around you stress out while you are an oasis of calm.
9. Have perspective: People who’ve had an experience of a life changing or life-threatening event like a bereavement, or being involved in an accident or serious illness, often report that the effect is that they no longer sweat the small stuff. Compared with these larger issues the smaller irritations feel irrelevant. Maybe we can all try to remember this, and adopt this attitude, - without having to endure the trauma that leads to this realisation. Teresa comments “I once met a police pathologist. He was confronted daily with unexpected deaths. Although it sounds grim it meant he was able to have a perspective about what really matters in life.”
10. Create positive experiences: What determines success in a relationship is not the absence of negative interactions, but rather the proportion of positives to negatives. We all know couples that argue passionately and the next minute laugh together. Maybe it is the same with life – it’s not so much about the amount of stressors or negative events that happen to you, but whether they are countered by positive experiences. You may not have much control over some of life’s irritations but you can do something about putting some good things in. Making one small change to give yourself something positive can help. This might be massage, relaxation, yoga, putting your feet up, a weekend break. Kate Kahle, a massage therapist at Theobalds Natural Health Centre notes that those that take the time to invest in themselves with a physical treatment can end up feeling a lot different emotionally as well, - more robust and positive.
11. Do it now: As an exercise, think about your ideal day, and what it would contain… In reality how often do you do any of these things? If not, why not? What can you change and what is stopping you? Remember identifying and knocking down the barriers to change is more effective than increasing the pressure to change.
Teresa says it is important to remember that we would be perfect if we did all of this. “These ideas are like a tool-kit from which you can choose ideas that fit with you. Remember one small change can begin to make a difference. You only have one life; make the most of it”.
Theobalds Natural health Centre in Theobalds Road, Holborn specialises in stress reduction. Whether it is talking therapies or a physical treatment, taking time out for yourself is important to us.
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