Zoe Foster, Counsellor & Psychotherapist
The subject of stress comes up so much in conversation these days. Whether it’s part of a client discussion or catching up with friends. Whilst the word ‘stress’ remains the same, it affects each of us in different ways. Most stress is positive, driving us to achieve goals and hone our focus. We may show great resilience in one situation and feel completely overwhelmed in another. The methods we use to manage our stress levels also differs person to person. Some of these methods are successful, some can perpetuate the problem. Methods that perpetuate stress are simply ‘self-defeating’.
A visit to the GP will reveal that to remove our anxiety one must first remove the source of the stress. In practical terms, running a project at work or dealing with a family crisis means you cannot walk away. Using counselling is a positive step. This allows us to understand the situation, our reaction and potential coping strategies. Building a sustainable management approach to stress requires dedicated space and time. For those who cannot afford counselling – this is not realistic.
So what can you do for yourself to help manage ongoing stress and the symptoms? You may read of various techniques – some suggest a ‘catchall’ to fix any individual’s stress. Should such a technique not work – the person concerned may feel further failure.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. As I mentioned above, clients all demonstrate that their experience of stress is unique to their view of the world. For you, there may be multiple aspects to the stress. Take the time to explore your experience of it. You may feel out of control, have no time to exercise or be struggling with mindset. The ideal is that you see a counsellor.
If you cannot go and see a counsellor, you may not be able to understand the core issues behind your stress. However, you can learn relaxation techniques to help control your stress and give your mind time to reorder itself. Be open to the fact that one technique may work well for one person and not for another. You may find that to relax you need motion or a lack of motion; this is why a strong walk works for one person and mindfulness for another. The key is not to give up. There are many flavours on the techniques menu.
What works well for you in day to day life? A client of mine felt more stressed from the breathing techniques we tried. So we explored her preferences further. She experienced life through a kinaesthetic (feeling) and auditory (sound) modality. We found a special place where she felt calm – sourced from a past holiday. She could hear calming sounds and feel a breeze on her face. She still used the breathing; but instead to create rhythm to help order her thoughts. She found it easy to move into this place, even after a particularly stressful episode.
A friend of mine recently decided to use music to help her through her labour pains. She knew the breathing techniques were only helping to a point. Now lets face it, giving birth is never relaxing!! However, the music allowed her to find a rhythm and retain control of her thoughts. She practiced this technique for months knowing that it would be tough.
What about visualisation? This may be visualising waves moving in and out on a shoreline. It may even be visualising the crowd rising and falling at a festival! Your relaxation work may be of a more practical nature. There is a process called ‘Creative Writing’. For some, writing about their difficult periods can help. This can form a journal style or perhaps letter writing style. There is a current craze for adult colouring-in books – a method that allows a person to tap into their creative self and allow thoughts to calm.
Mindfulness is often shared as a method to relieve stress. Actually, one of the simplest introduction to the meditative approach is a short illustrated guide written by Matthew Johnstone – Quiet the Mind.
Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) impresses upon us the need to practice. Practice is the key to making relaxation really work for you – it can be really hard to do sometimes, but work at it, its really worth it. We all work hard to practice many activities in our lives. Practicing a golf swing, a recipe, a speech, training for a charity event. Why not practice our self-care?
Taking time to consider our thought processes and manage our mental health makes us more effective. The volume of information and emotion our brains processes is huge. It is an immense ongoing task. This valuable time strengthens our coping mechanisms and overall resilience. Relaxing is not a waste of time, its the most important time for a busy person.
It doesn’t matter what technique you use. You might need to use a combination. If it creates a calmness that allows you to relax and order your thoughts – you are half way there. Most of us know the things that create calm for us, but often time for these is given up for something ‘more important’. Building time into your week can be tough, but it’s possible. Keep adjusting the techniques until you find something that suits you.
Consider it this way, you fill up your car to keep it moving and you eat in order that you can survive. Give your mind its check over and oil those cogs regularly. Go look for ideas – go wild on Google. There are many great books – check out your local library. There are even online stress management courses. Good luck!
If you wish to have a free telephone consultation, call me on 07764 667249.