Stress! It affects all of us at various times of our lives, but what can we do to manage and reduce it? I’ve worked successfully with many clients to help them alleviate the effects of stress and anxiety, using both hypnotherapy and counselling or a combination of both. If you’d like to talk to me to find out how I can help you to manage your stress levels, give me a call on 07810 405525 or drop me a line.
Read on for more information about understanding and managing stress…..
Winter often brings with it increased levels of stress and anxiety. The Christmas and new year period can be a challenging time for many of us, with strained family dynamics or increased money pressures. January is the time of year that most of us get back to our usual routines, and it’s also the time that many of us choose to take stock – reflecting on our lives and sometimes implementing changes. It is the busiest time of year for job searches, diets and new gym memberships. Yet it can also be an incredibly stressful time – when we can feel overwhelmed by the return to our daily lives or worried about what the future holds. But what exactly is stress and how can we learn to manage it?
Stress is caused by the activities of the most primitive part of our brain, which is programmed to respond to danger or threat. In prehistoric times it was even more important that we be aware of risks to our physical health and be able to respond to them rapidly. You may have heard of the fight or flight response, and this is stress in action. When it perceives a threat, the brain stimulates production of the hormones which help us to fight or take flight – primarily adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones enable our bodies to respond quickly and take action, and their physical effects include:
- increased heart rate
- faster breathing
- increased pulse
- increased perspiration
- heightened nerve responses
These responses will indeed help us if we do need to fight, or run away, but in most modern day scenarios neither of these is usually necessary when we are under stress, but our brain still stimulates the stress hormones, with the result that we can experience:
- excessive sweating (which may include the palms and face)
- feeling flushed
- dry mouth
- general uneasy and nervous feelings
Stress normally affects us most when we feel overwhelmed, or when the demands made upon us seem like more than we can cope with. Stress in itself is not a medical condition, but if it isn’t managed sufficiently, prolonged stress can lead to anxiety or depression, both of which are recognised as mental health problems. Stress is often associated with times of change, so it you are going through any of the following you may find your stress levels increasing:
- Moving home
- Separation or divorce
- Children leaving home
- Starting a new job
- Retirement or redundancy
- A new baby or adoption
- Managing illness (ourselves or others)
These are times when we can feel that we are not fully in control of our environment, and this feels like a threat to our security, which can bring on the stress response. If you feel that your stress levels are so high that you are having difficulty coping, sleeping or are experiencing panic attacks (exaggerated anxiety leading to physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness or palpitations that may come on suddenly) then it is important that you consult your doctor. But for most of us there is much we can do to manage our stress levels to prevent a worsening of symptoms and to help us feel better.
Tips for managing stress:
- If you are stressed because you are so busy, try to plan your day more. Use a planning tool to set aside time to deal with each task and stick to it as much as you can, also remembering to schedule in time for rest and relaxation. Here’s a nice simple weekly planner that you can download for free. This will make you more effective and help you to feel that you are more in control.
- Get enough sleep. Tiredness increases feelings of stress and makes us feel less in control. Have a fixed time for going to bed every night and stick to it as much as possible. Before going to bed make sure that you unwind for at least an hour, avoiding activities that are too stimulating (TV, computers or exercise for example). A warm bath or a hot caffeine-free non alcoholic drink may be helpful in unwinding and reducing stress before bed.
- Take a time out when your stress levels start to rise. If you can, give yourself a 20 minute break from what you are doing. You will return to your task fresher and with a clearer mind. During the 20 minutes rest your mind by meditating, using self hypnosis or doing some gentle exercise (yoga or stretching are ideal). Have a glass of water or a hot drink (preferably caffeine free as caffeine can exacerbate stress responses).
- Eat a regular healthy diet of balanced meals and avoid sugary, fatty foods or snacks which can have an effect on stress hormone levels. Drink plenty of water or non-sugary drinks throughout the day as the brain needs plenty of hydration. Avoid alcohol during stressful times as it dehydrates the brain and affects our responses and emotions.
- Get plenty of exercise. Regular physical activity makes our bodies more resilient, fitter and better able to cope with the physical effects of stress, it also helps the body produce feel good chemicals (endorphins) which can counteract stress.
- Learn to control your breathing with breathing exercises such as those taught in yoga classes. We tend to hyperventilate when stressed which can reduce oxygen levels in the blood. Slow, steady breathing relaxes the body and reduces stress levels. Try breathing in deeply and slowly for a count of 7, pausing for a moment then breathing out for a count of 11. Repeat this a few times and you should automatically feel calmer.
- Practice relaxation, meditation or self hypnosis regularly – even when not feeling stressed. Just 20 minutes a day of focused relaxation can be as restorative as a full night’s sleep and can help to insure you against the effects of stress. If you’re not sure how best to relax, meditate or use self hypnosis, join a class, read a ‘how to’ book or ask a hypnotherapist to teach you.
- Consult a hypnotherapist who can help you to manage your stress levels by teaching you relaxation techniques and helping you to address the causes of your stress. A few sessions of hypnotherapy can teach you how to deal with stressful situations more calmly and confidently and to feel better about yourself, all of which will reduce your levels of stress. Hypnotherapy works at the level of your subconscious mind to ‘re-program’ responses or habits that are not helping you and helps you to make changes to your daily life, it can be very effective as a tool for reducing stress.
Finally, don’t forget that stress also has positive effects, particularly when it helps us to avoid danger. It is also helpful when performing publicly, or playing sports as it can heighten awareness and make us more focused. But most of the time stress is unwanted and unhelpful, so learning to manage it can keep us healthier and happier!