Two little words which are as helpful as a concrete parachute!
Although I have an understanding of what happens to my body and mind when I get stressed, it still has the annoying habit of catching me off guard.
We are told that a certain amount of stress can be useful. It keeps us alert, focused, allows us to flee from danger and perform at out optimal capacity. Although we have evolved, our fight/flight/freeze response dates back to our caveman ancestors. It was a matter of survival; fight, run, or die! In 2021, it seems the majority of us are living on our nerves. The stress response that may have saved us years ago is now a massive contributory factor in poor mental and physical health. Too much of the s word is really bad for us! That’s a stressful thought in itself.
So where is the line? How do we stop ourselves from crossing into the stress danger zone? What can we do if we find ourselves flailing around in a sweaty, heart racing, jaw clenching, stomach churning stress soup?
There are a few things I have found helpful when dealing with stress. The most basic one is having an understanding of what is happening to me on an emotional, physical and behavioural level. Don’t get me wrong, being aware is only half the battle and it takes practice. However, if I can catch myself before falling too deeply into the stress cycle then I have a chance of taking back control.
The perfect example is my most recent assignment deadline. I was quite tired and already feeling overwhelmed by the ticking clock. Deciding to power through and just get it done I set to work. The negative thoughts began to trickle in, so quietly at first I barely noticed them. However it wasn’t long before the critical voice was like a megaphone in my ear. “You are going to fail!” “You left it too late!” “Everything you write sounds like drivel!” Obviously my stress levels went up and the feeling of nausea and tension set in (physical). I wanted to cry, run and even quit my course (behavioural)
It was then I realised, I wasn’t doing so well. So I stopped. I actually told myself, out loud to STOP! The decision was made, right then to leave my work and focus on what I really needed. To take care of myself.
For me, that looks like a hot cuppa in a relaxing lavender scented bubble bath (not very original but it works). The negative thoughts were relentless in their quest to invade. While it would have been easy to get angry with their persistence, I knew the less oxygen I gave them the quieter they would become. So I calmly distracted myself with pleasant activities and let the noise continue in the background. The next day, feeling a lot better I managed to complete my assignment. It would be a stretch to say I enjoyed it, but it was definitely less painful!!
I recently devoured a great article on http://www.harleytherapy.co.uk that included tips from psychologists on how to handle a stressful day. They advocate this idea of having an “adult timeout.” By walking away from the stress even for 5 minutes, allows the anxious part of the brain to calm down. Once this happens, more rational balanced thoughts can come in and the physical symptoms have a chance to settle.
Deep breathing exercises are a great way to change what is happening in your body on a physiological level. I often use the 4-7-8 technique, even at times I don’t need it. By regularly practicing deep breathing it becomes sort of ingrained. This makes it easier to access at those times of stress or anxiety.
Mindfulness is another way to bring yourself back into the moment. You can even add exercise into the mix by going for a walk and being mindful of your natural surroundings. Use all 5 of your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, feel and taste? Really listen to the soundtrack of nature and concentrate on how the sun feels on your skin.
I have found it can also help to look at the bigger picture. Let’s be honest, life can be hectic and we often get so caught up on getting everything done that we forget how phenomenal our existence actually is. Here we are, on a planet that is positioned in the ideal place to sustain life. We are part of a universe so vast it is beyond our comprehension. When you view it from that perspective, does it really matter if you are five minutes late for the meeting?
I find mantras can help to ground me when I feel out of my depth. The soothing words bring me back to the here and now. It doesn’t matter what your chosen mantra is, if it brings you comfort and reassurence in the moment then that can only be a good thing.
These wristbands from Together UK – ZOX are awesome. They have a variety of phrases that can comfort and lift at difficult times. “I am safe” is my most used. Probably because when stress hits me, I feel anything but safe. These words remind me that what I am going through is just my body responding to a perceived danger. Most of the time it is all I need to calm down and reset.
Find what works for you, mantras, self care, exercise, a movie, a hug.
The most important person you can be kind to……is yourself!
If you are struggling, please reach out for support.
The Samaritans 116 123 www.samaritans.org
Mental Health Matters http://www.mhm.org.uk