We’re using Stress Awareness Month as an opportunity to get this out there – everyone gets stressed, it’s part of being human. How we manage it is what’s important to look at. During a brief career break, whilst my children were very young, I embarked on a degree in Integrative-Relational Counselling. After a challenging three years of studying, essay writing (that was the worst!) and training (which I loved), I achieved a first. Whilst I’m not currently practising, I use the skills I developed every day, at work and at home.
Everyone is different and we will all have different coping mechanisms that work for us. What’s really helpful is taking the time to consider this, really looking at what triggers our stress and then what steps we can take to help during these moments. Emotional resilience is learnt (ideally in childhood), which is good news. This means we can teach ourselves and develop new ways of dealing with these pressures. Exercise, sleep, healthy relationships, a bath with candles, a chat to a friend, a walk in the park will work for some, but I think the simple three steps below are universal pointers and can be really empowering.
Think about how our minds and bodies are connected. When we are stressed or anxious, we go into fight or flight mode as our bodies physically react to this mental strain. Next time you feel anxious, take a moment to really notice what’s going on in your body. Heart beating faster, sweaty palms, sudden headache, tense shoulders and stomach ache are all common responses to stress.
Simply acknowledging this can help massively. These physical responses are warning signs of feeling overwhelmed. Notice what’s happening in your body, accept it, reassure yourself it’s OK, and remind yourself that it’s what happens when you’re feeling under pressure.
If it’s your heart beating extra fast, you could put your hand on it. If your stress goes to your stomach, put your hand there. Sit with the uncomfortable feelings for a moment. That alone will ease them.
When we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow which means oxygen isn’t reaching our brain. Re-stabilising your breathing pattern will therefore help ease the overwhelming feeling and then you can carry on with your day. This makes it very hard to think straight. Tune into your breathing and take 5 deep breathes, breathing in for 5 seconds and out for 3 seconds
Lastly, now you’re feeling calmer, you can make a decision to take control. Ultimately, we always have the power of choice. Make a decision to replace the negative thoughts that the stress has created with a positive one.
It’s also really helpful to remember that feelings are temporary. Therefore, you might be feeling sadness, anger, frustration, panic or grief as a result of your stress, but this will pass. It’s not forever.