How to Manage Stress
Who isn't stressed nowadays? Too much to do, not enough time - that's the story of everyone's life, right? But, it need not be so. A few changes in mind-set, and a review of life choices, might just unfurl those sails and get you coasting again. Read on if you want to learn some stress busting ideas and techniques. If you want to get your head around stress and how it works, then take a look at another blog in this series - "Understanding Stress".
Attitudes and Internal Resources
Certain events, situations and circumstances are inherently stress provoking, but the internal resources of an individual can help. It's because the stress response is a balance between our perception of a demanding situation and our perceived ability to cope with it. If we appraise stressful situations to be within our resources to cope, we are less likely to feel stress. This points towards a strong sense of self-belief and self-esteem. It also suggests a positive attitude to life. But how do we develop this ?
The Internal Bully
Of course, our childhood is very important in this regard. The messages we have heard repeated by our parents, peers and teachers over the years easily become our own internal narrative or story. What others think of us, becomes our own thinking about ourselves. Loving, empowering and accepting messages help us feel good about ourselves, and by extension about our abilities and skills. Such positive experiences of growing up help us to take greater risks, and in so doing we develop greater confidence. A positive developmental cycle is created and maintained. Unfortunately, not all of us are lucky enough to have such good upbringings. At worst, we are constantly criticized, to the extent that we develop an internal bully, who keeps criticising us long after these negative messages were first received.
How to Gain Relief
If stress seems to be a recurrent problem for you, and it is having a negative effect on your enjoyment of life and physical health, you may need to seek help. Here are some ideas for you to consider;
1 First, try to slow down. So what if you can't do something today - there is always tomorrow. Considering how many demands you can realistically juggle at one time, is key. If you are a 'yes' person, you'll agree to requests over and over again. Perhaps you don't like to disappoint, or you hate conflict. A simple technique is to add a 'but' after the yes. You can offer to help with the proviso that the task can be done in 2 or 3 days, or next week - depending of course on what you have planned. Sometimes, asking the person to call or email you in a few days helps take the pressure off..."I'd love to help, but I'm really busy right now. Why don't you drop me a line on Tuesday, and we can talk then?".
2 Plan your day, the night before. Perhaps you can pack your lunch, or get your diary and bag ready? Think about how you will pace yourself. What I mean is, make sure you have some regular breaks - for a drink, for lunch and if you can manage it, a 10-15 minutes walk outdoors. When it comes to fluids, water is key. Teas and coffees can initially relax us, especially if we have become habitual to them. But they are also stimulants, which work the heart. They trigger the bladder too, so we find ourselves more dehydrated, the more we drink! Limit the caffeine to 2 cups a day if you can, and no more than 3. Sugar in your drinks, and sweet indulgences will give you an initial energy rush of energy, followed by a crash of lethargy and fatigue. Replace them with some fruit, nuts and seeds and you'll also be taking care of your teeth and waistline.
3 Thinking about your day also includes the evening and week ahead. What will be your resting and stop-off points? Can you factor in a meal out, or some social company at home? What about setting aside a Thursday evening for special time with kids? When you have something to look forward to, it helps ease the stress of current demands. Having regular 'islands' for playfulness through the week take the pressures out of life, and refresh you too. It might seem like another demand, but these activities give much more than they take. And when you are always giving to others, it's important to replenish yourself. If you are empty, what good are you to anyone else?
4 When you go to sleep at night, consider how blessed and fortunate you are. You have a house to sleep in, and a bed to keep you warm. When you wake, thank the universe for another day - there are many people who won't open their eyes this morning...ever! When you roll out of bed, consider that you have the strength to stand, and walk. Some are not so fortunate. Then you have running water - hot and cold...simply amazing, if you really think about it. You have clothes to wear, and work to get on with. So many people are bored with nowhere t go, and nothing to do. You get the picture of course - it's about cultivating a positive attitude of gratitude. It will make you shine on the inside, and others will notice. Try it, and see.
5 If you have financial stress or debt problems, don't bury your head in the sand ! Talk to your bank early, and anyone else that has loaned you money, and expects regular repayments. This would include companies expecting you to pay utility bills. Visit a debt counsellor, through organizations like the Citizen's Advice Bureau, who can lead you through this process.
6 It can also be helpful to talk with people you trust about aspects of your life that are creating the most unhappiness for you, financially or otherwise. For example, you may be struggling with an unfulfilling or neglectful relationship with your partner, which needs to change. Perhaps your work-play balance is way off the mark, taking the zest out of you. You may need to be encouraged by someone dear to you, to make some changes. Sometimes, a listening ear can be enough to help you bring personal problems into focus, and then feel encouraged to work on them.
7 Regular and planned vacations can be a release, but you need to guard against this becoming a form of escapism from troubles - are you running away from problems that need you to be more present in order to resolve them ? On the other hand, are you making a planned decision to recuperate and relax, with the intention of finding solutions when you return ? It can be expensive to plan big holidays, so you may wish to consider small breaks, more often. A long weekend once every a month can be great, even if it's just spending time pottering around at home or in the garden.
8 Regular exercise and changes in the usual routine are also good antidotes for stress. Try a new class at your local gym or community center - perhaps some yoga, pilates or tai-chi. Alternatively, try joining a club which involves doing things that you were once interested in, but have fallen by the wayside as you have become busier. Evening classes can also be a good change from the norm, but do guard against taking on more work! If nothing else, pop onto youtube, and spend 10 mins of your time practicing against a mindfulness or yoga video - it really can help, and it's free!
9 For some people, there is support to be found in religion or spirituality. Visiting the local church, temple or synagogue can be a very easy and welcoming way to build a new support network, and develop a fresh attitude to life and living. Faith can build hope and perseverance, especially at times of hopelessness and despair.
10 Highstreet shops and health stores stock a range of relaxation and meditation tapes, which can be played before you sleep at night or whilst you take a slow bath. Techniques such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Self-Hypnosis training can be accessed through such audio recordings, with good results.
11 Alternatively, you may wish to pick up a book from your local library or bookshop, on matters of time management, organizational skills or developing a more positive attitude. There are volumes of very interesting and engaging books on these topics, available for you to access. If you don't have time to read, why not pick up an audio tape ? Sue Jefferson's 'Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway' is a good starting point.
12 In more pronounced cases of stress, it may be advisable to consult your GP. He or she may offer professional advice on matters of diet, lifestyle and health related consequences of chronic stress. A sick note might give you some respite from work, and an opportunity to gather your resources before making changes. A visit to the GP may also form the beginning of a more specialist assessment for anxiety or depression. Most GP surgeries employ counselors on site, so that talking therapy can be accessed without a long waiting time.
13 In more severe cases of stress, a referral to the local mental health service may be warranted. This can lead to a range of specialized talking therapies (and medication if required), to problem solve the stressful situations in your life. At a more fundamental level, psychotherapy can get individuals in touch with how they approach life, and why this might be so. It can help them relearn more helpful messages and self-narratives, so that self-esteem and self-efficacy can be enhanced. By building such internal resources, you are more likely to be able to cope with difficult circumstances now and in the future, so this can be a long lasting solution to stress related problems.
14 If things feel hopeless, don't try to cope alone. The Samaritans run 24 hour helplines, and can guide you through how you feel. Chronic stress is usually a sign that something is not right in your life, and you could see it as an opportunity for important changes to be made.
Dr Bobby Sura Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Psychotherapist
Dr Bobby Sura is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He works both in the public (NHS) and private sector, being the proprietor of Clinical Psychology Direct and Partner for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Dr Sura is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and
Association of Family Therapy (AFT).