April is Stress Awareness Month so my latest blog article is all about managing stress – what it is, how to recognise it, how to avoid it.
Do you find that your ‘to do’ list is growing arms and legs? Deadlines getting harder to achieve? Feeling overwhelmed and out of control? Yes? These can all be signs that you are experiencing stress.
Don’t get me wrong – stress is not always unnecessary. It is linked our flight or fight response when our ancestors had to fight for their lives or run away from predators.
Stress has kept us evolving through the ages and still to this day helps us in times when we need that adrenalin to get us through a challenge. Just think driving test , job interview or even that first date!!
Think about when you had to slam your brakes on to stop you from smashing into the back of the car in front or jumping back onto the pavement as a car speeds round the corner. As you can see, stress is keeping us alive!
However, when we are exposed to high-levels of stress for prolonged periods of time this can have a detrimental effect on our physical, emotional and mental health. Therefore it is vital we learn to manage stress effectively.
The majority of adults experience stress as part of their daily lives, however, from time to time that stress can start to adversely affect us and we can start to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.
The first step in managing stress is to recognise when we are experiencing stress.
A useful analogy to explain stress is that of a rubber band.
When the band is stretched too much is will snap. However, before this happens it is possible to see the warning signs, such as fraying, thinning, holes appearing or changes in colour.
The same principle can be applied to people and it is usually possible to spot warning signs before we snap.
Sometimes it can be hard to identify and it can manifest itself in other behaviours, thoughts or feelings, such as
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Irritability, lower tolerance levels or anger
- Headaches and migraines
- Increase in alcohol, drugs or food
- A flare up of IBS or indigestion
- High blood pressure
- Skin conditions
Sometimes it’s others that notice these changes in us before we do and we can be unaware of it until we are deep within a fog, making it difficult for us to find a way out.
Other signs to watch out for are:
- Forgetting things
- Becoming withdrawn
- Being more accident prone
- Avoiding certain people or situations
- Loss of sense of humour
- Having more arguments or disputes
- Inability to make decisions
Stress can affect us in many different ways:
Everyone is different and can find different things stressful to varying degrees. For example, for some people preparing for a holiday can be really exciting and for others extremely stressful, the same could be said for the anticipation of going on a adrenalin ride at a theme park.
Sometimes stressful situations can’t be avoided and are part of our day to day lives. Therefore we need to ensure we are managing the flow of the stress to avoid becoming more stressed than we are comfortable with. This means we are constantly trying to balance day to day life, unavoidable stressful situations and our self care – this balance is very different for each of us.
Let me share another analogy – The Stress Bucket.
Imagine that your resilience is the bucket. Resilience is defined as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties and challenges.
The bigger the bucket the more resilience you have and the smaller the bucket the less resilience you have.
The flow of water into the bucket is all the daily stressors that are thrown your way – some expected and some unexpected. Some small, some large. Some repeated, some new etc…
If we are not careful, the bucket can quickly become full, to the point it overflows. This is when we suffer from excessive stress and anxiety, when we have lost the ability to cope and when we are a high-risk of burnout or similar.
In order to manage this process we need to ensure we have robust coping mechanisms in place – this acts as the tap – allowing the steady flow of stress out, to prevent the bucket from overflowing.
It is important that we identify the coping mechanisms that are effective for us and most importantly are helpful and positive.
For example – turning to drugs, alcohol or other risky behaviour may initially help to empty the bucket, however you will find that this will naturally flow back into the bucket as a stressor. Resulting in a cycle of stress.
If we identify positive coping mechanisms and engage in them regularly we will find that we can regulate the amount of stress we are experiencing and avoid the bucket from overflowing.
There are many different types of coping mechanisms, a few examples are listed below:
- Engaging in therapy
- Talking to a trusted person
- Good diet
- Being with positive friends and family
- Being in nature
- Mindfulness and Meditation
- Breathing Exercises
- Partaking in hobbies and interests
- Holding personal boundaries and learning to say no
- Adopting positive self talk (rather than negative)
How can hypnotherapy help me manage stress?
As a hypnotherapist I help clients to manage stress using a variety of techniques including hypnosis, combined this with other psychotherapeutic modalities. This means that we can explore your current situation and challenges and create a plan specific to you to help you get to where you want to be.
We will work together to identify your symptoms and triggers so that you can easily identify these in the future, allowing you to take control and use the techniques you have learnt to effectively manage the situation to avoid stress taking it’s hold again.