A stress free life
One of the commonest problems I deal with in my hypnotherapy and coaching practice is that of people needing help to deal with too much stress in their lives. This article is intended to give a few helpful hints on how to handle stress, as well as give a little bit of insight into how hypnotherapy and in particular neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is used to help and to coach stress sufferers.
What is stress?
We often have to deal with pressure in our everyday lives, both at work and in the home. Financial worries, illnesses, and the general hassle of dealing with the world around us seem to be more and more common features of modern life. Many people seem to thrive under pressure, however – like the footballer who elects to take the penalty kick when his team mates can’t even watch, for example. There are those who thrive on the adrenaline rush of the high pressure job – and it is adrenaline that is the key factor in understanding the stress reaction.
Adrenaline is a hormone which is released into the body when the subconscious mind perceives the body to be under threat. It causes rapid physiological change – diverting blood supply to the heart, lungs and muscles – preparing the body for fight or flight. Psychologically the two are opposite, yet controlled by the same hormone. Two people may ride the same roller-coaster at the fairground and both receive the same dose of adrenaline, but one wants to run away (flight mode) and the other goes into psychological fight mode and feels energised and on top of the world.
Clearly the adrenaline response is an important part of the human survival strategy. If you hear footsteps behind you on a dark lane it’s a good thing for the body to be able to be instantly ready to face, or indeed run away from, whatever might be lurking there. It is a quick response strategy, but once the adrenaline is released it takes a bit of time to “cool down” and get the system back to normal. Even when an argument is over, it does take a bit of time to feel calm and rational again, doesn’t it? The threat doesn’t even have to be real for an adrenaline response to occur. An imagined threat – like in a good thriller movie – is all it takes to get the heart pumping! Or it could be an imagined argument, conversation, confrontation or the like – or perhaps a threat such as financial difficulty or redundancy – the subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference and reacts automatically.
When the subconscious begins to feel there are more threats than it perceives it has the resources to deal with, stress ensues. The adrenaline reaction starts to become a “hair trigger” response and the fight or flight state is almost permanent. What should be a transient state enabling you to deal with a single situation becomes an exhausting, debilitating and continuous experience, characterised by a feeling of lack of control.
The symptoms of stress
The symptoms of stress (listed in the right hand column) can be quite severe, and can threaten physical and mental health in a very real way. It is important to recognise the situation and to begin to take appropriate action to reduce and remove the stress.
Ask your Doctor first
Clearly anyone suffering unusual symptoms of an unexplained nature should always obtain the opinion and permission of their family doctor before undergoing any type of therapy, so as to ensure that the symptom is indeed stress related and not related to a different medical condition.
Stress should not be confused with generalised anxiety disorder, which you can read more about by clicking here. Generalised anxiety cases are best dealt with by a course of analytical hypnotherapy, which involves using age regression techniques to establish the root cause of the anxiety – commonly in childhood. Quite often the sufferer has panic attacks for no apparent reason, or just worries seemingly for the sake of worrying. In cases of stress, the patient generally knows what the cause of the worry is. They just don’t know how best to deal with it. stress management
It is important to be able to react to
pressure situations in a way which does not lead to the
stress response described above. Usually the situation is
not, in reality, a “life or death” one and learning to be
able to access a state of calm, instantly and at will, is
one of the key skills I teach. It is also important to begin
to have an awareness of the internal perceptions that can be
causing a person to suffer from stress. Stress is quite
often caused not by the actuality of the outside world, but
by the internal representation we make of it. Our thoughts,
feelings and behaviours can make us feel bad – or good, if
we so choose. I teach clients to become aware of these
processes, and how to change them if they need to.
It is a good strategy to not only learn to handle stress, as indicated above, but also to take steps to avoid it happening in the first place. What kinds of things are stressing you? Apart from the often ignored internal sources of stress that I mentioned earlier – thoughts, feelings and behaviours – some common stress sources include:
- Expectations of others
- Expectations of self
- Trying to change what is outside one’s control
- Sickness or bereavement
These can often be minimised by adopting one or more of the following approaches, as appropriate:
Stress management strategies
- Avoiding unnecessary stress
- Altering the situation
- Adapting to the stressor
- Accepting the things you can’t change
- Making time for fun and relaxation
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle
These topics are covered in depth in NLP Mind coaching sessions.
Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
- Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching them. Taking on more than you can handle is a sure-fire recipe for stress.
- Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.
- Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic makes you tense, take a longer but less-travelled route. If going to the supermarket is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online.
- Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
- Prune your to-do list – Analyse your schedule,
responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too
much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds”
and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary
to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation,
try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things
so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often,
this involves changing the way you communicate and operate
in your daily life.
- Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.
- Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behaviour, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.
- Be more assertive. Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If you’ve got a project to finish and your workmate wants to chat, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.
- Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t over-extend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.
If you can’t change the stressor, change
yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain
your sense of control by changing your expectations and
- Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favourite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
- Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
- Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
Adjusting Your Attitude
How you think can have a profound effect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the throes of a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good; the reverse is also true. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must." These words are tell-tale signs of self-defeating thoughts.
Some sources of stress are unavoidable.
You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a
loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In
such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept
things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the
long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behaviour of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
- Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
- Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
- Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come.
Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and
bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own
needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.
- Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
- Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
- Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
- Keep your sense of humour. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.
Healthy ways to relax and re-charge
- Meditation or self hypnosis
- Go for a walk
- Spend time in nature
- Call a good friend
- Get rid of tension with a work-out
- Write in your diary or journal
- Soak in a long bath
- Light a scented candle or incense
- Savour a cup of tea or coffee
- Play with a pet
- Work in your garden
- Get a massage
- Curl up with a good book
- Listen to music
- Watch a comedy
You can increase your resistance to stress
by strengthening your physical health.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing pent-up stress and tension.
- Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
- Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary "highs" caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.
- Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.
Planning a stress free future
Once you have learned how to deal with as much of the present day stress as possible, a vital part of the coaching programme is concerned with the planning and installation of a strategy for a stress free future. This involves determining your values in life – those things which are so important to you that your life feels great when you have them and purgatory when you haven’t. We can only be truly happy when we live life to our values (not someone else’s!) so it is a very worthwhile exercise indeed to identify them.
Knowing your values and understanding them
empowers you to start to envisage a future in which you live
those values and is the first step on the road to true
happiness – the stress free road. The coaching process helps
you plan and implement the steps on that road.
Imagine a future in which you are living life to your values. Getting things done, feeling a sense of fulfilment, enjoying a calm and relaxed lifestyle and looking forward to each day as you get out of bed in the morning – 100% in control of your life, your happiness.To find out more, feel free to contact me.