Stress, distress, anxiety, tension, pressure, we all call it different things but they are all closely related. As a life coach and teacher of Developing Effective Thinking Skills, I listen to people talk about their feelings quite often and the phrases I hear most are that they:
• Put it to one side, it will go away
• I’m just being silly, I need to carry on
• Other people have worse things to deal with than me
• It’s not that bad because I don’t feel desperate all of the time
Unfortunately though, when you do this, the feelings don’t go away and quite often grow into something a lot bigger, even into something huge. If you imagine this thing that is growing inside of you rather like a weed in the garden, it will eventually take over and strangle the positivity, the creativity and the enthusiasm in you, leaving you feeling, tired, restless, and passionless, confused and out of control with low confidence and low self-esteem. It is now known that these negative feelings have a huge impact on your health. The anxiety creates adrenalin, which is a good thing but not over a long period of time. Adrenalin is the chemical in our bodies which raises our blood pressure that gives our heart and muscles the right conditions to be able to either fight our way out of a threatening situation or run away from it. It is pumping our bodies up for a reason. When we are constantly under pressure to perform in our job, act a certain way in relationships or are struggling to manage our feelings, this adrenalin isn’t getting used up, creating abnormal chemical imbalances in our bodies. In the long term, if these feelings of stress are not addressed then it could result in heart disease and other conditions such as panic attacks and palpitations, eating disorders and skin complaints to name a few.
When you see it in these terms it makes sense to start tackling the real issues of stress, especially when 1 in 4 people will suffer from some sort of mental health problem in their life.
How Do You Manage These Feelings?
When I’m supporting someone with stress-related illnesses I like to support them from three angles.
1. Pinpoint the cause of the stress and understand it
2. Listen to your body. What are the warning signs?
3. Learn new management techniques to support new thinking habits
As we go through our daily regimes, with school, college, work, our families, looking after their interests, looking after elderly parents we allow difficult feelings to build up and build up, becoming a habit. If we don’t sort some of these feelings out, this mountain of feelings is going to get so tall it will inevitably topple over. The majority of us allow ourselves to get to this stage because of the excuses above but also we tell ourselves:
• I couldn’t possibly take time off sick
• I’m being selfish, my family needs me
• I’m too busy, I haven’t got time to think about this at the moment
• I will think about it tomorrow
• I don’t want to be a burden to anyone else
The time off sick, the selfishness and the tomorrows only come when it is too late; the pile is toppling or has toppled over. To be able to recover you need to take the time to spend on yourself. My mother always says to me,
“How are you going to be able to look after others if you’re feeling like this?” And she was right.
There is no shame in going to the doctor, explaining how you feel. There is also no shame in taking time out from work or asking for extra support from your family and friends. If you keep things bottled up then how are they going to know how you’re feeling and how they can help you? After all the people who love and care about you will be more than happy to help and support you because you are important to them.
How else can you support yourself?
Here are a few simple adjustments that can be made to help you feel more positive about yourself and your life.
• Find interests that you enjoy and work out how you can incorporate these into your week. We all need time for relaxation and enjoyment no matter what demands are laid upon us.
• Think about all aspects of your life and decide what can be put to one side for a while until you are feeling in a strong position.
• Put the negative things that are swirling around in your head to one side. These negative things will be seeping your positive energy and burdening you unnecessarily. Some people do this by writing them down and then putting them in a sealed container. When the container is full they throw them away, shred them or burn them.
• Think about how you want to be feeling instead of how you are feeling. Before you go to sleep at night think about what you want from the next day and say it to yourself in a positive way with a positive tone of voice and posture. E.g. I will be happy. I will feel strong. Write it down in a diary if you want to. Then remind yourself of this as you wake up in the morning.
• At the end of the day think back over the day and remind yourself of all the things you are grateful for and write them down. E.g a smile of someone, a kind act someone did for you. It doesn’t have to be a big thing because often it is the small things that can make our lives richer.
• Do your best to work into your day some exercise. Exercise produces feel-good chemicals called Endorphins which will energise you, help you feel better about yourself and will help to use up excess negative energy. The exercise will also be good for your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, help your appetite and burn some calories. If you are a poor sleeper or just find it difficult to relax, the exertion will help combat this as well.
There are lots of different techniques you can work on to support your stress levels but the most important is to recognise what sort of a person you want to be and give yourself permission to be that person. It is only you holding yourself back.
A word of warning.
I need to be honest with you though, and this is my word of warning. It isn’t going to happen overnight. Your brain has created thinking habits that have probably been going on for a long time. The process now is to form new habits which need to be practised every day. They will only start to become automatic after about 30 days so you need to be kind to yourself. It will be hard to sustain at first but the more your practice the easier it will become. Forgive yourself if you relapse into an old habit, reflect on it and then get yourself back onto your positive cycle of change.
You can find a lot of helpful information from charity websites