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Stress is killing me! – How to survive the stress of the modern world…

Stress is killing me! – How to survive the stress of the modern world…

Stress is a part of everyday life, the pace of everything we have to do is increasing, what is expected of us as human beings is expanding, yet we are still the same people we were yesterday. There is an expectation that we have to cope with an ever increasing level of stress, however we often do not have the tools and techniques to do so.

Recognising Stress

The first and most important thing to do is to recognise the signs of stress, feeling stressed can be accompanied by physical symptoms which can include feeling exhausted with low energy, headaches, upset stomach and chest pains.

However, stress can affect each of us differently, some people have a higher tolerance to certain types of stress, but we all have a point at which we are unable to cope. You need to recognise the point, at which you are beginning to lose control of your stress levels, as this is the stage you need to take action.

Step 1 – Find the breaking point

Only you will know what your stress triggers are. Some people will tell you that they ‘thrive on stress’, however you will find that they have other triggers. Try to become self-aware and recognise the moments when a certain stress is affecting you.

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A good technique to help you is to use a ‘mood graph’

mood-chart

    In my mood chart for today you can see that there were pressure points around the morning meeting and then a review meeting with my manager. It allows me to recognise, over time, what specifically is causing stress. Note this is a very quick scribble, you don’t need to spend ages drawing a special chart, just something that you can read!

    This does not have to be complicated, what you are trying to capture is the points in your day when you became angry, upset or stressed. Be conscientious for a week and track your mood every fifteen or twenty minutes and each time you have a particular stressful moment.

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    If you hit a high or low point make a note as to what caused it,  this will create a chart which illustrates your specific trigger points. In the next step we will look for ways to conquer these.

    Step 2 – Run away!

    Okay, I am not suggesting that you run from your home or office but, that you run away from whatever has triggered your stress. When you recognise what is causing your triggers and you have become stressed you need to stop and escape the moment.

    Stand up and walk away from whatever is happening, if you are driving find a safe place to stop, if you are in the office use the opportunity to step to the toilet or have a coffee break. If you cannot physically step away, take a moment, close your eyes and pause for just a second.

    Where you can, you are looking to create a physical space from your stress trigger and you. It is important to break the cycle when you can, as you become proficient at recognising what will trigger your stress, you can better prepare.

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    Stop! But I cannot run away.

    If you have been in a place where you cannot escape your stress triggers, including being in retail, where you cannot step away. You need to take yourself away mentally. We will discuss meditation techniques later, but in the immediate moment when someone is yelling at you remember. This is not personal, the individual is shouting at the brand or organisation and an outburst of anger is no different to a toddler having a tantrum, stamping their feet and waving their arms. Imagine the stressor as a toddler, let them run their course and behold their foolishness.

    Step 3 – Be mentally prepared

    Just as you would do a workout for your body, you need to do a workout for your mind. You need to develop a mindset which will allow you to be resilient and protect yourself from the effects of stress.

    1. Make time for you daily – first, set aside five minutes a day just for you. This is time away from your stress and only for you. During this five minute window your responsibility is to work for you.
    2. Find your happy place – close your eyes and think back to a place where you were truly happy. It may be the beach, a forest or even your bed, visualise this place. Think of every detail (what does it feel like, what does it smell like, feel the sand beneath your toes. Embrace every sense). While you do so touch your thumbs together. This will take practice, visit your happy place in your mind often, building your feelings of where it is and how it feels. Eventually (and yes, this will take some time and practice) the act of touching your thumbs together will create this feeling in your mind.
    3. Find a musical mantra – find your favourite piece of upbeat music (for me it is ‘Can you feel it?’ – By the Jackson Five). Listen to your mantra music before you enter a stressful environment, feel the upbeat music flow through you and feel upbeat in yourself. Again this will take practice, but with time you will find that this track will make you think of positive times and you can use it when you have a stress trigger point.
    4. Manage your breathing – follow some simple breathing exercises. Close your eyes, breath in through your nose, hold your breath for a count of ten and the slowly breath out through your mouth. Repeat this for a minute. Take your time, concentrate on slowing down your breathing.

    These techniques will build your resilience, allowing you to take a moment to escape when you cannot run away.

    Step 4 – Be physically prepared

    Look for opportunities to exercise, physical exercise reduces your body’s stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol as it increases your feel good endorphins.

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    You don’t have to go to the gym necessarily, a good brisk walk or some exercises in your home will help you. The action of making time for yourself and moving your body will make you feel better.

    Step 5 – Manage your pressure points

    When you know what causes you to feel stress look for ways to overcome them. ‘Easier said than done!’ You may say, however this is your life and you need to manage what is making you ill. It may require a drastic change such as a new job but sometimes such change is necessary.

    You should find that, when you recognise your stress triggers and have an improved mental and physical resilience, you will be better placed to cope with your stress.

    Step 6 – Get help

    If none of this improves your situation you need to look for help. This is not a failure on your part and there is nothing wrong in seeking professional advice. If you have followed the steps you should find that you have a better idea of your stress and a professional will be better able to help you.

    Above all you are not alone, your friends and family are there to support you, failing this, there are professionals who will help you.

    Good luck!

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2018

    Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

    Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

    We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

    Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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    Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

    Looking at images of loved ones

    While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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    In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

    Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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    Exercise

    Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

    Meditation

    Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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    In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

    When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

    With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

    Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

    Reference

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