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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 March 30, 2020

    How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

    How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

    You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

    There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

    Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

    The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

    In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

    Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

    Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

    Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

    If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

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    However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

    In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

    A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

    How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

    First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

    My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

    A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

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    The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

    How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

    Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

    So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

    1. Performing Arts

    One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

    Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

    One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

    A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

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    2. Visual Art

    Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

    Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

    Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

    3. Zone Out

    If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

    I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

    Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

    Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

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    4. Practice Mindfulness

    The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

    Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

    You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

    Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

    Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

    Final Thoughts

    So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

    The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

    Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

    More Tips on Boosting Creativity

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

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