Work… is stressful, home… is stressful, relationships… are stressful, LIFE… can be stressful! It’s inevitable these days, right?
NO, no, no!
As there are a number of definitions around for the term ‘Stress’, it’s useful to individuate stress from anxiety!
When the resources available are outstripped by the demands placed upon those resources. Or the other way around, when the demands placed on the individual are greater than that individual’s available resource.
Symptoms of stress can be elevated heart rate and blood pressure which is fine and natural for short periods, helpful even and can help us ‘escape’ or perform better when needed. If persistent, the body comes to ‘accept’ this conditioned state and operate at the elevated, unnatural levels that will ultimately lead to higher risks in mental decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s among them, emotional and psychological illness such as Anxiety and depression – even psychosis. Risk of cerebral stroke, cancer, heart and kidney disease, unhealthy digestion, diabetes, and alterations in behaviours such as addictions and intolerance.
Often follows on from persistent exposure to one or more stressors such as emotional duress, trauma, neglect, overwork, lack of self-care and a whole host of other human conditions.
However, the anxiety is now produced by lower levels of the original stressors, with the mind incorrectly advising the body to be ‘on guard and alert’. This is psychological and cognitive illness. The mind is re-cognising (cognition) something that was, rather than the fact that is in that moment!
It might be the thoughts reminding you of something from the past, rather than what the event is, now.
Once stress has been accommodated for a long time, can the associated anxiety then be recovered from? Yes, it can, but often the same levels of acceptance or tolerance to the unhealthy stimulus will be unavailable. Your mind and body has been adversely affected once or more than once – enough already!
So rather than return to how you were, we look to operate in a new, healthier way. It’s never too late!
Can we avoid this level of harm initially so we can still operate and perform optimally? Yes, growing self-awareness and listening to your mind and body, we can avoid the devastating pain and sense of ‘loss’ of our standing and abilities.
All it takes is a lifetime of focus!
Whaaaaaat? Has this put you off?
We spend our entire lives becoming who we are today – ‘mindlessly’ operating on autopilot. It’s never too late to recondition our ways of seeing the world in the present moment but it does take a bit, well actually a lot of attention, or focus. Then again, would you rather be in the present, or would you prefer to be as most of us are and live a false presence in the past and future, rarely being the only place you can be, here, now.
The benefits of a more mindful existence are significant. When we cease to be in our thoughts of the past and future, and cease to ‘feel’ the physiological effects and harm from those past or future ruminations, ergo memories, we get to ‘see’ with clarity with a freer mind.
We get to respond appropriately to that which doesn’t meet our daily expectations, rather than react from a past no longer present! We get to notice opportunities and then mistakenly think we have suddenly got luckier, experiencing serendipity that was always available; we just weren’t available to notice it.
We get to be more creative, because we have opened up our mind to ‘see’, without so much judgement, perhaps thinking because someone important once told us “you can’t do that”! There’s so much more besides that benefits us when we use skillful thinking processes and cognition’s to mindfully reduce our stress and anxiety, our false representation that may have nothing to do with who we are in this moment.
Can ‘you’ do what you need to do – then step back, rest and reflect – before moving on?
Managing stress is all about awareness.
Asking ourselves “How do I feel now, and why?” With even a little reflection we can understand why we think, feel, react and behave the way we do, and then enjoy the choice of learning just what it is that is healthy for us.
Below are a couple of short, easy to do, exercises to help you create a little space, no matter where you are, anytime. When you become aware your stomach is in knots, your mind is racing and you feel awful… try this to bring yourself back to reality and a sense of perspective. Chances are it’s not the event or situation that’s ‘stressing you’; it’s your reaction to it.
Sitting at your desk, on public transport, it matters not. This is subtle; no one need know you are doing it!
- nice, deep breath in through your nose to the count of four – 1, 2, 3, 4
- hold… 1, 2, 3, 4
- exhale through your mouth… 1, 2, 3, 4
- hold… 1, 2, 3, 4
- repeat, inhale through your nose 1, 2, 3, 4… repeat for three or four cycles
- Once you are comfortable with the breathing aspect, also start to focus some attention and become aware of the muscles throughout your body, from head to toes, or toes to head.
- Visit your feet in awareness with your mind, just simply become aware of any sensations without judging anything. Gently move up to your ankles, your calf muscles, then your knees and up to the thighs.
- Become aware of any tightness, constrictions and if found, simply breathe into it, let it go, relax those tight area’s.
- Now into the hips, buttocks, lower back, upper back, the shoulders and neck. Feel yourself repositioning those muscle groups, letting them go in relaxation.
- Move up to the scalp, the forehead, eyes and brows – relax the cheeks, mouth and tongue, letting go – unclenching teeth, loosening the jaw.
- Visit your upper chest, your abdomen, letting go of all tension and tightness before moving up once more to the shoulders, let them drop a little, move down the upper arms, lower arms and then the hands, making sure these become relaxed, letting go of all tension. Deep breath in 1, 2, 3, 4… and relax with an exhale.
Notice your newly grounded state, give yourself a moment or two to enjoy this before moving on with your day. Repeat every time you want a treat and to be kind to yourself!
There, that’s better isn’t it?
Bob Brotchie is a counsellor, mindset consultant and creator of "Conscious Living by Design"™. He writes for Anglia Counselling, is featured on various other websites and introduces us to many guest writers all covering topics related to mental health and wellbeing.
Bob provides bespoke counselling services to individuals and couples in the privacy and comfort of a truly welcoming environment at his Anglia Counselling company office, located near Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Bob also provides professional online counselling, for local, national, and international clients. The therapeutic models offered are bespoke to the client’s needs, especially those in receipt of 'childhood emotional neglect' (CEN), whilst integrating a mindful approach to psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) principles. For clients experiencing trauma and/or phobia, Bob offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).