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Tips, tricks and strategies for overcoming stress.

Part 3 of a series by Joanna Gibb

Having outlined and discussed at length in previous publications the effects and dangers of stress, from psychological burnout to physical exhaustion, this instalment finally deals with coping mechanisms and ways in which you can combat this constant onslaught of triggers before it becomes damaging to your physical and emotional self.

Whilst this ‘cheat sheet’ does by no means replace a Resilience Programme workshop where you would be able to listen and discuss your personal relationship with stress and thus be afforded a more personalised set of coping skills, it may allow you to identify key areas that you wish to improve on, which could create a new kind of motivation and drive to pursue these goals.

Time-In

As mentioned in the first article on the lead causes of stress, stressors have the ability to radiate out and taint other areas of our lives. This is due to an increase in levels of fight or flight hormones in the blood, and a diminished ability to distinguish between the everyday frustrations you may find at home and would normally brush off, and the stressors you are being triggered by at the office. In order to combat this crossing-over of emotions, a ‘time-in’ can be used to relax and cleanse the body and mind of negative emotions in between the two places.

The process:

  • Once you have mastered this tool you may be able to use it for instant relaxation purposes anytime, anywhere, such as on the tube or on the bus, however for the first time you attempt this technique the conditions must ideally be optimum: switch off your phone, minimise the risk of interruptions by closing the door, ensure that there will be nothing playing on your mind at the time (nothing on the stove etcetera), and make your general setting comfortable in terms of temperature, clothing, and lighting.
  • Sit in a chair with your back in an upright position and your feet firmly planted on the floor in front of you; this will enhance your sense of being grounded and contribute to your feelings of being safe in your environment.
  • Close your eyes. Notice your breathing.
  • Breathe in feelings of relaxation, and breathe out the tension and negativity. Try not to alter your breathing pattern whilst doing so.
  • Body Scan: Imagine a golden wave of relaxation scanning your entire body, working down from your head to your toes, releasing tension as it does so. Remember to take note of your breathing.
  • Thoughts/ Feelings Scan: Scan your thoughts and feelings as they come to you. Don’t try to pause them or it will lead to a distracting automatic sequence of thoughts, just notice them as they pass by. Don’t forget to notice your breathing.
  • At this point an alpha state of relaxation should be reached.
  • To continue the relaxation process, walk yourself through your favourite memory or place in the world until you feel ready to re-enter the world.
  • Coming out of the ‘time in’: either count back or simply open your eyes when you feel ready. If you have used a ‘time in’ to relax before an event that will require an energetic approach, imagine the voice in your head counting back in a lively voice in order to gear up for a more energised feeling.

Inner Critic

The ‘inner-critic’ is the most over-looked of all stressors in modern life; it resides within us all and has the power to cast a negative pall over any situation, however there are techniques you can employ to diminish this voice’s power.

To master the inner critic, a ‘closed eye’ exercise can be used, which exercises visualisation techniques to give facial characteristics and personality to that nagging voice within us; the exercise reduces the critic’s influence by making the voice ridiculous and inconsequential. Whilst this approach may evoke scepticism in some, be assured this is not an avoidance technique designed to encourage the individual to ignore the emotions raised, but rather to reduce the inner critics power.

The process:

  • The exercise follows the structure of a ‘time-in’ in order to go into a state of deep relaxation, however once an alpha state of calmness is achieved the visualisation process may begin.
  • Imagine your inner critic, how he or she would look and sound and move. If you have difficulty with this, picture instead a little devil or gargoyle.
  • Slowly begin to morph this character into something farcical. Start with its physical aspects. Like the Boggart in the Harry Potter series, morph this figure that evokes fear and make it ridiculous. Add buckteeth, a feathered-hat, anything that makes you laugh.
  • Secondly, imagine your critic’s voice. If it’s powerful and booming, make it diminutive and squeaky. If it has taken the guise of someone you respect, a parent or teacher for instance, then force it to adopt the voice of a cartoon character.
  • The aim of this exercise is to reduce your critic's power and ability to control you, in order to do this it must lose all association to your loved ones and to those you respect.

A more cognitive approach to mastering your inner critic would be the self-examination technique.

  • Begin by observing and examining your inner-critic; where or who does this negativity come from? A parent? A schoolteacher? Perhaps even a past failing?
  • By understanding its origin you will begin to be able to deconstruct and minimise its power, and even be able to discern when it is telling the truth and when it is lying. For instance by identifying your critic, you can adjust your thought patterns from absolutist to relative, from ‘I’m no good at this’ to ‘I may not be the best but I’m going to try my hardest'.

Yes/No Tool

Stress often comes from the feeling of being overwhelmed and so this tool is designed to help you delegate and decide on the correct response in terms of your wellbeing when answering questions involving favours or requests. If you like to keep others happy by always saying 'yes' you may find this tool particularly useful!

The tool consists of asking yourself, whenever somebody is asking you to do something (a favour perhaps), 'what would I be saying no to if I say yes to this request?

To illustrate this, a workshop leader recently told a story in which she used the ‘Yes/No Tool’;

  • she was buzzing around the kitchen, balancing cooking and keeping control of an increasingly ravenous brood when the phone rang.
  • As soon as she picked up the phone what began was a thirty-minute tirade of pittances and woes from a long-suffered friend that ended with an expectant plea for a “coffee an’a catch’up”.
  • Gearing up to reply in weary agreement, she looked about her kitchen and realised something; by saying ‘yes’ to attending her friend’s monthly get-togethers, she was in fact saying ‘no’ to spending time with her children.
  • And so quickly and calmly she explained to her friend that she was unavailable for the foreseeable future due to family commitments and put the phone down. One less thing to juggle.

At such times it can be helpful to repeat this small phrase to yourself if your answer is met with returned guilt: “don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm”. So stop immolating yourself, ‘no’ can be a full sentence.

Are there instances in your life that could mirror this situation?

Language Reframing Technique

This is a tool that can be used on the go and throughout daily life thus creating a gradual change in your perspectives.

  • Use positive appraisal by increasing self-talk and challenging negative self-talk patterns.
  • Stop using words like ‘can’t’, ‘ought’, ‘should’, ‘we’ and ‘you’.
  • Start using words like ‘want to’, ‘choose to’ and most importantly ‘I’.

Cultivating Resilience

We have identified eighteen factors that are characteristic of resilient individuals - you can read more about the characteristics here. You can also take a questionnaire which will help you identify which of these characteristics you already have, and those which it would be helpful to develop further.

Below we look at five of these characteristics and how you might develop them:

Connectedness

Having connections to other people is a basic human need which provides meaning, significance, support and a sense of belonging. Through forming relationships with others we engage with different viewpoints, develop social skills and build strong support networks.

  • Work out what kind of connection suits you in terms of what it means and the depth of it. What level of sociability are you comfortable with? Do you fit in best with introverted people, or do you like to associate with extraverts?
  • Based on this, identify different groups you may wish to integrate yourself in. Would you find joining a community sports team a comfortable environment? Or would you prefer a group specialising in a particular hobby or subject area? Would you like to meet people in an intimate setting involving a greater amount of conversation, or do you prefer more activity?
  • Learn to be appropriately open with people whilst accepting that rejection is a possibility. This is much easier if you can cultivate a non-judgemental view of yourself (see inner critic tools and techniques).

Emotional Stability

Individuals who act in a rational manner when faced with challenging situations; they are able to effectively work through daily issues without becoming overly upset, anxious or angry.

  • In the event of something going wrong, rather than letting yourself get upset or angry ask yourself what the event’s significance is in the wider perspective of your life.
  • Don’t let the insignificant things monopolise your attention and give voice to your inner critic, instead focus on better, greater things to come.
  • Count to ten before acting on strong emotions - this allows time for the feeling to subside.  This will help you to avoid being hijacked by your emotions and potentially behaving in a way you later regret.

Interpersonal Skills

This encompasses being accepting and non-judgemental about others, having a sense of awareness about who we are and the impact that we might have on the people around us, to active listening and empathy when faced with challenging situations.

  • Address conflict resolution proactively with open discussion as opposed to gossiping with colleagues or friends as this can create feelings of mistrust and worsens conflict.
  • Furthermore actively commit to feedback in the workplace; by making suggested changes at work, this will show others that you have listened to them and value their opinions.

Proactive Development

A basic human need is growth, without it we start to experience a loss of purpose, and it is easy to see why; everything that exists on our planet is either growing or dying. If we adopt the right mind-set, we can seek a learning experience for personal growth in almost every encounter we have.

  • Have a target or aspiration and be consistent by working towards this every day.
  • Work on a schedule, not just when you feel motivated. Getting into this habit of personal effort will give you the willpower to follow through despite any obstacles you may face.

Stress Mastery

Stress in a natural part of our daily lives. In order to become resilient individuals we must learn how to master and manage these triggers in order to avert the burnout stage.

  • Avoid unnecessary stress by reviewing your lifestyle; learn to say no and delegate at work, seek out positive company and take control of your environment.
  • Try to change situations by being assertive, willing to compromise, and being good at portioning out your time effectively.

To further enhance your management of stress and cultivation of resilient characteristics, workshops are available by The Resilience Programme; to find details please visit the website at theresilienceprogramme.co.uk or look out for dates specified in later newsletters.

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