My son bought me a brilliant poster. It is called Stress Therapy and it has three circles on it. In the middle on the red section is written ‘Bang Head Here’ for Maximum stress and then on the white area for High Stress and on the blue area for Medium stress. I put it on the back of my door, and I can’t say I haven’t been tempted to use it, but so far so good! It makes me laugh when I see it!
Like most of you reading this, I’ve gone through many stressful occasions, I’ve been through marital separation, and lost my house through that, got it back, been struggling to pay the mortgage, I’ve experienced unemployment, self employment, illness etc. etc .yes, .I’ve been there, done that, worn the t- shirt, yep !
And yes I too have had my dark days in the past when I just didn’t want to get out of bed and face all the hassles and dramas, and yes I too have had the odd suicidal thought, where the illusion that it would be just better to check out now, entered my head….And I just want to say to you reading this… it doesn’t have to be that way!
What I want to share with you is how I coped and how I am still coping, how you can keep the dark thoughts at bay, how you can become calm in the face of adversity, how you can perhaps even stop those low thoughts at the start before they spiral out of control and cause some form of depression. What I’m going to share with you is a tool box of techniques that I now use with my clients for Stress & Anxiety management and prevention.
So let’s begin, firstly let me explain .Stress is actually our reaction to events. When something happens that we don’t want to happen, we create resistance in our body and mind to it. Our body perceives it as a threat. This triggers a stress response in the body called Fight or Flight. I like to think of it humorously as if there were a load of workmen and workwomen in our bodies having a tea break and then something happens and then it’s all systems go. Oxygen gets pumped from the brain; it goes into the heart and lungs, to help supply more blood to the muscles in our arms and legs so that we may flee if necessary. Then adrenalin and cortisol gets pumped in excessive quantities to help improve muscle function, so if we need to fight then we have the strength to do so. But most situations aren’t like that, we’re not in a fight or flight scenario, so what happens? We feel sick, our breathing becomes shallower; our heart rate speeds up, we can’t think straight, we may get weakness in the legs, nausea, stomach upsets, some people think they are going to die on the spot, they may even develop a panic attack and so on.
Now that’s a once off situation I’ve mentioned. If you are constantly stressed though, what happens? Well the cortisol and adrenalin are still being pumped into your body in excess, these are natural and necessary substances that the body produces but they become harmful over a period of time when we are stressed continuously. They lower our immune system. Now I’ve done a lot of research on causes of illness as I was developing a Wellness Programme for my clients, and I have cone to believe that the causes of all illness and cancers begin in our bodies when our immune system is weakened.
How do you boost your immune system? There are many things you can do, including improving diet, nutrition, exercise, releasing negative emotions and well…stop getting stressed out! ‘Oh yeah right’ I can hear you say, ‘How?’ Well as I mentioned earlier, stress is our response to things, it’s our reactions. Life is always going to keep happening to you, don’t think that you can reduce the stressful things coming at you, you won’t. You might mange to deal with one and then find another comes at ya, that’s life! What you can do is take on board a few of my suggestions, incorporate them into your daily routine and in a relatively short time, you will find that you feel less stressed, you will be better able to think more clearly, make better decisions, plan better and generally feel calmer and healthier over time. I even noticed that I started getting less and less colds etc. and that by tuning into what my body was trying to tell me, that even if the symptoms of a cold were starting, that by making time to rest and relax and nourish myself, that the colds wouldn’t happen. When we are stressed we feel that the world won’t go on without us, yet when we then become ill we find that is has to! Look after yourself! The world can wait!
Anxiety Breathing Technique
I use this everyday, whether the kids are killing each other, or I’m stuck in traffic, or the bank has overdrawn and I discover I’ve no money for food again, or I’m stuck in a long queue, or life is not giving me what I want etc…I use this technique religiously, I use it before I get up in the morning, before I go to sleep, throughout the day etc. and it works. I had a car accident a few weeks back, a guy crashed into my car, I saw him coming, did my best to avoid the collision, but he hit me anyway. I got out of the car, calm, smiling and pleasant, could think very clearly etc. The witnesses I heard afterwards, all commented on how amazingly strong and calm I was.
Sit, stand, or lay down. Initially close your eyes, but as you get good at this you will be able to do this with eyes open. Slowly breathe in, imagine that you are breathing in from the tips of your fingers all the way up your arms to your head and chest, approx two seconds at the start, as you practice you will be able to take longer breaths in. Then slowly exhale, imagine that you are pushing the breath out down through your legs, feet and out your toes, and that you are surrounding yourself with a feeling of calmness. About two seconds at the beginning and again as you practice, this can be longer until you actually feel calm. Do it a few times. Say to yourself, I am calm, I can handle anything. What this technique does, is to tell the workpeople in your body to take a tea break! It signals your brain to keep the oxygen where it is needed, helping you to think straight, to concentrate more, make better decisions etc, it stops the fight or flight reaction from triggering, and over time it improves your immune system and your health. You can use this technique for anyone having a panic attack also.
Affirmations / Self Hypnosis
I discovered the usefulness of affirmations a few years ago when I developed a stress related illness, through the use of them, and the other techniques I’m sharing, I got better. I discovered that they are a form of self hypnosis and I went on to train as a Hypnotherapist. I use these with my clients as they are very effective. Basically, we have a conscious mind, this is the one we worry and stress about things with, and this part of us can only focus on seven plus or minus two things at any time. Our Subconscious minds can focus on over 20,000 things at once and are responsible for our automatic breathing, digestion etc, but they are also responsible for creating our reality. So in relation to stress, if you begin by telling yourself that you are calm in the face of adversity, that you can handle anything as opposed to saying to yourself I can’t handle this, or I’m stressed out etc… then your mind will help it to become true for you. Of course if you’re in the height of it and trying to say you’re calm, that won’t work. Use the breathing technique and reinforce it with the words I am calm, then your Subconscious mind will be in alignment with your body and then you will see results. Our emotions play a huge part in all of this too, so practice feeling calm. Think about how you do want to be in future situations, and put mental pictures in your mind of yourself coping in the best way you can.
Are you a victim or a victor? Are you better or bitter? Depending on the type of attitude you adopt to what is happening in your life you can be a sufferer or a survivor. I found that by adopting a strong survivor attitude that my mind suddenly started finding solutions for me. I started to think about what was the best way for me to cope, rather than feeling powerless and being picked on and having the attitude of a victim, poor me, life is happening to me and what can I do except complain, I changed all of this bit by bit, and saw that I could start happening to life instead, and although I couldn’t control everything, there were still a few things I could do to improve things, no matter how small, it all added up. Survivors cope, sufferers complain, one gets things done, one doesn’t, it’s your choice.
I embraced the concept of Mindfulness and of being present in this moment now. Our conscious minds are always only focused on the past or the future. Both of these can create fear and uncertainty. We look at the past and fear it may happen again. We focus on the future and because we don’t know what will happen, we fear the worst. Because we don’t know what will happen, we don’t know what we will do to cope, so we have to make up the worst scenarios in our heads, this leads to worry and anxiety. Because if we actually knew what was going to happen, we could then decide on a plan of action, but we can’t because we don’t know what will happen This would drive you nearly insane with the cycle of thoughts involved. Breaking the cycle takes a bit of time and practice. When you find yourself worrying, bring yourself back to this moment and become present in it. Are you alright now in this moment? Don’t think of the past or the future, are you alright now, just now.
As you are reading this you have a choice in this NOW moment to focus on what you actually do want to happen and you can claim back your mind from worries and fears by only focusing on the best possible outcomes from now on. Seeing that, no, you may not have the perfect life, but in this fraction of a moment you are ok. Mindfulness also means becoming aware of all you do have in your life, and practicing gratitude etc. It is powerfully life changing. I am constantly bringing myself back into the present moment, being present more often when eating, walking, breathing, talking with people etc. A few years ago, my mind used to be always racing onto the next thing to do, the next person to see etc, so that I was never really there, never really present for anyone or anything. I also found that my mind was constantly focused on worries or fears and this made me impatient and irritable if anyone tried to interrupt those thoughts, I was caught up in the cycle of it. I discovered that when you start focusing on best possible outcomes, your mind starts finding solutions for you. No more worries or fears! Stay present in the Now! As now is the only time we can ever change anything.
‘We can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them’ –Einstein and ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’ –Henry Ford. These are two of my favourite quotes. Perspective is everything. What I believe is leading some people into depression and suicide is a limited perspective, and this is a very broad statement, please everyone don’t take offence, I don’t mean this personally there are many different situations out there.
But what can happen is that we lose our jobs, our homes, our partner etc. and we’ve associated this person or thing with who we are. I know I initially felt like a failure when I separated, lost my home and job, my status was affected. I didn’t feel good enough and I thought that I was viewed as a lesser being to people who knew me. In this crazy society where your worth is viewed as your possessions by many, I had identified with those things as if they were actually me. I was too concerned with what I thought others thought of me, I have since learned that it is more important to know what I think about myself than to even contemplate what others might be thinking, that no longer concerns me now, and I don’t give it any thought.
It has taken me a long time to see that I am not my job, I am not my home etc, so if I lose them, I still have a sense of self, of who I am without them. I won’t tell you that it is easy to arrive at this inner peace, it’s going to take time and work on yourself, but if you can find a sense of self that isn’t your job, home, possessions etc, it will be work well done. Why do you think some of the greatest spiritual leaders freed themselves from attachment to worldly goods? Because there is no permanent joy in those things, they can be taken from you. Happiness is actually found within yourself. If you seek for others to make you happy, what will you do when they are gone? If you are only happy when you have a job, money, possessions etc, what will you do when they are gone? This is just something for you to think about.
I started observing my thoughts and becoming more aware of them. What kind of things was I saying to myself? Was I being kind or critical, supportive or unsupportive? Sometimes the things we say to ourselves we wouldn’t dream of saying to another. I’ll ask you this, if you’re not for yourself then how do you expect others to be? I started being on my side for a change, I started saying nice things to myself, encouraging things. I read a great book called ‘You can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. It helped me realize that I am not my thoughts, but that I can change the type of thoughts that I think at any time. So with my thoughts I could think the ones that made me feel good instead of thinking thoughts that made me feel bad, sad, depressed. With practice I was even able to change feelings I was having with my thoughts. If I was feeling low, I could check in with myself and see what I was feeling, and what kind of thoughts I was thinking at that time, and I would say to myself, ’Well Paula, are those thoughts making you feel good or bad ? And sometimes I would allow myself to have an hour of bad feelings and thoughts, and then I would say to myself, do you feel better now? And if I didn’t I’d say well that didn’t work, now try thinking better thoughts and feeling better feelings. And with practice this helped lift my moods.
Other things I did and am still doing are:
Daily Walk – Rain or shine I go for my walk, exercise gets the circulation going. Daytime walks are good as you get 90% of Vitamin D through sunlight on your skin, yes even if it’s cloudy.
Meditation – I do this often. Even when I am walking I am meditating, focusing on my breath, my feet touching the ground, or focusing on the birds, or the trees etc. it doesn’t always have to mean sitting on the floor sayingOM! I meditate briefly every evening, nothing fancy, about a quarter of an hour before I sleep I focus on my breath and think about all the things I am grateful for, I do the same before I get up in the morning. It sets me right for the day.
Smiling – Have you noticed how few people smile, and that if you do smile, everyone wants to know why? When I started smiling, I had a pain in my face, because I wasn’t used to it. Now it’s the other way around. Smiling actually releases serotonin and natural endorphins, these are feel good chemicals. Your mood actually lifts when you smile. It helps your blood pressure too. Try it!
Make time for yourself – no matter whether you’re working or not working, a busy mum or dad, a student or retired, you need to put aside some time for yourself, a bit of ‘ME’ time. A time when you won’t be disturbed, where you can read a book, listen to music, go for a walk, have a bath in peace etc. Life is just too short, so find some special moments for yourself regularly and you’ll find this lifts your spirits and helps you to recharge your batteries. We all need this.
Well I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful, if they aren’t you can paint three circles on your door, instructions at the beginning of this article! Smile! comments and feedback are always welcomed.