Would you Know if you were experiencing Stress? Part 3- Management

What steps are you taking to reduce your stress?  How are you managing the stress in your life?  Do you have stress reduction management plan? Now that you are more aware of the presence of stress and its impact in your life, what are you prepared to do about it?  In part 2 I talked about generating awareness of stress and in part 1, I discussed why people do not realise they are experiencing stress in their lives. If you’d like to know more about the signs of stress and why people lack the awareness please go back and read these blogs via the links.

How are you managing the stress in your life?

In the third and final part of this blog series about stress, I want to share some areas to point you towards, so that you can take an active role in your stress management.  Life coaching is all about generating awareness and taking action.  So as a life coach I want to support you in taking responsibility for your life and empowering you to make choices that create that life you want for yourself.   If stress is an issue for you, I am guessing you want to get it under control and start moving your life forward rather than allowing it to hold you back?

My personal journey with stress started with a lack of awareness.  It took a divorce and a health scare to get me to look at the things that were not working in my life.  I expected it to be something big.  I looked at career change.  Perhaps changing my partner would do the trick? What if I changed location? But none of the big things really changed anything significant at all.  So, I started looking at the small things.  As I explored, I started to make progress: feeling calmer; being more content; having a clear purpose and direction in life; being healthier; having more energy; feeling more confident.  Now I have my own stress management plan that I use every day to reduce stress and remain effective.

Stress Management

Stress happens for a reason.  It is one of your body’s ways of telling you that things are not right and could be better.  If you are experiencing stress, that is a good sign.  It means you are open to change.  In this world that tells you that stress is bad, that stress means you’re weak and that you can’t cope, stress is a problem.

If you can see it as a useful feedback tool, it helps.  Like feedback you might receive in an appraisal, as long as it is delivered in a constructive and compassionate way, you can hold it as useful and something to build on.  Stress is your body’s way of doing that.  It even points to where you want to make changes if you are prepared to listen.  At the same time, it also shows you where you are going well.  It gives you all the information you need to create a great stress management plan.

All it takes a little research and consideration as you interpret your body’s language of stress.  It is a personal journey, so these pointers are restricted to my experience and those of friends, family and clients.  You’ll probably need to fine tune the suggestions you use and do some additional research so that you “get it right” for you.

Meditation

In other words taming the “Monkey Mind”. Your mind is trained to think and sometimes it is hard to switch it off.  It needs training to allow it to step aside from time to time and be still.  Some people refer to it as “getting out of your head”.  The thing is, where do you go to “get out of your head”?  One answer is the breath.  Another is the body.  Meditation uses both to bring the “Monkey Mind” under control.  Inevitably your mind will wonder to thoughts (in your head).  When you notice that happening, bring your attention back to your breathing or your body.  We all struggle with this attention and focus.  That is natural.

Please don’t chastise yourself or give up.  The more you practice, the more you cultivate your ability to be in your body or with your breath rather than in your head.  As your head slowly loosens its grip on your attention over time, you will find yourself getting calmer and more peaceful.  You will focus better and get less irritable.  When you see positive progress, please don’t give up either.  Keep going.  It builds and develops.  Compassion and self- understanding naturally develop from here too.  There are many meditation techniques.  One very popular App is Head Space.   Meditations that I use regularly are from Nourish the Flame Within.

Mindfulness

Jon Kabat Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction technique (MBSR) says that “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Merriam- Webster Dictionary refers to Mindfulness as “The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

It is similar to meditation in that it brings your attention away from the past and the future and plants you in this moment.  Though you carry the benefit of meditation with you all day, the advantage of Mindfulness is that you can use it anywhere and anytime.  Just focus on your breath, a part of your body, the food you are eating, a sound in your environment, a thought, a feeling and you become present.  In presence there is no stress, worry or anxiety.  You are in this moment and so act from this place of peace and power.

Centring

There are many forms of centring. I use a technique that comes out of martial arts, taught and practised by Paul Linden.  Bringing your awareness to your body, balancing it in your standing or sitting posture and then relaxing through the centre of the body from the muscles in your face and neck, through the chest and abdomen and finally the pelvic floor.  Now bring in your loving heart and radiate that loving feeling out like a light or flame.  Practice this and then use it in situations in which you experience stress.

Sleep

Our relationship with sleep has changed over the centuries. According to Arianna Huffington’s “Sleep Revolution”, the idea of a solid, straight eight hours’ kip is a modern phenomenon.  Waking in the wee hours was a common, even expected thing, when you might get up and use the quiet time for writing, art, reflection or contemplation, even love- making.  Sleep- inspired insight was to be captured and expressed in some way.  Then, you would go back to sleep and rise for the day refreshed, having honoured the deep connection sleep brings with the subconscious.

Now, it’s seen as a problem if we wake in the night.  Creating more stress and anxiety as a result.  Perhaps using that time for creativity would be more useful than worry?  Maybe expression rather than medical prescription would bring sleep to you more easily, healthily and naturally?  Why not start a journal?  What about painting, drawing or pottery?  Your creations don’t have to be any good.  You just want to express whatever is bubbling up inside. I have done this for years.  I have written books based on my late- night musings.  They started as scribblings in notebooks for private viewing and personal reflection.  They’ve grown into something larger, but that was never the point.

Rest and relaxation

I am a doer.  You probably are too.  Yet, we are not human doings.  We are human beings.  Sometimes we simply need to be.  To rest, be still and quiet, to be with friends and family and relate.  Time used to be the most valuable commodity.  We are often paid by the hour.  Yet, in this age of technology, we can maximise our time and live and work like a machine.  We are not machines.  Our energy needs replenishing in a healthy and natural way.  Sufficient sleep and healthy, balanced diet are part of that equation.

Rest and relaxation are essential as well.  All spiritual traditions have a rest day- the Sabbath.  I learned recently that the reason for this is that rest and celebration are all part of the working process.  Use this time to recharge, rejuvenate and reflect on your journey, so that you have energy for the next step and you can set off in the right direction.  This down time for joyous living with a movie, friends, a good meal, theatre or cinema, reading, an indulgent massage or spa day with girlfriends, or an outward- bound day with your male friends is essential.  In our busy lives we give little time or importance to these things and often fail to approach them with this mindset of celebration and joy.  They are not another thing on your to do list, though they can become so.  They are a celebration of life.

Diet

This was the biggest surprise to me on my stress journey. Aside from caffeine, which is common knowledge as a possible source of anxiety and stress- behaviour, it had not occurred to me that food could be a source as well.  On a trip to Japan, eating traditional Japanese food, I noticed how calm my body felt.  When I returned to UK and resumed my normal diet, I noticed the familiar edgy and nervous feelings in my body returned.  Research and kind instruction from Charlie Hart showed me that sugars, hydrogenated fats and gluten are sources of stress for the body through a process called inflammation.   Once I reduced these or cut them out of my diet, my body has felt so much better and it is easier to regulate my weight.  I also feel more energised, calmer and overall healthier.

Exercise and Movement

This is a great stress manager for many reasons. Exercise requires time away from the things that stress you: your work; the kids; your head; the incessant problems etc.  Often time away gives you space and new perspectives.  It may even give you the solution you’re looking for.  Exercise moves your muscles and keeps them strong, limber and flexible.  Tension is less likely to build up leaving your loose and pain free.  The added oxygen in the body has great health benefits and makes the brain work better and gives you more focus.  The additional energy you get will make you more productive and help you to think “out of the box” for creative solutions.  Exercise makes you calmer, more resilient and better able to focus and concentrate.  It also helps remove toxins from the body more efficiently.  Good abdominal breathing will also do this.

So, find the exercise that you love.  Go for walks in the day.  Stretch regularly. It doesn’t have to be a yoga or Pilates class.  Just lightly move your body rather than remaining sedentary.  If you want something more high impact, running, swimming or cycling might take your fancy.  Develop a loving relationship with exercise.  Many people view it as too hard.  If you bite off more than you can chew, it probably is too hard.  Start with a walk rather than driving somewhere.  Take a turn around the office. Use the stairs.  Your body will love you for it.

Saboteur

Holds the self- limiting beliefs that hold you back and make you feel stuck. Listening to this voice can be very stressful.  This is the voice that says, “You aren’t good enough” and asks you “Why bother?”  It sabotages your efforts to move forward and begs you to remain safe.  While this has the advantage of keeping you in your comfort zone it also feels stressful to remain stuck where you are when something inside of you desires to move forward.  Also, its negative self- talk can undermine your confidence and self- belief and increase your worry and anxiety.  In short, the saboteur, or Gremlin, can run riot in your mind and run and control your life unconsciously.  Life coaching can offer you strategies to by- pass your saboteur and work with it to overcome your limiting beliefs.  A highly recommended book “Taming your Gremlin” has many strategies you can use as well.

Awareness and Expression of Emotions

Points 1- 8 lead to greater awareness of emotions, allowing separation from these emotions and express them in a useful and constructive manner. We have a complicated relationship with emotion.  The heat and power of it can be overwhelming.  So, we push it away often.  This itself can be a source of stress.  Emotions are information, either telling you there is an issue to be addressed or something that you like and want more of.  Ignoring or suppressing emotion long term means build- up of stress. Expressing emotion releases stress.

The above techniques will help with gaining awareness of your emotional state in any given moment.  Then you can practice expressing that emotion in an appropriate way.  Speak about it, write about it, draw or paint about it, dance about it, sing about it…….. you get the idea.  The energy of suppressed emotion does untold damage to the body.  Express it in a way that does not harm others.

Removing stressful environmental influences is important if you can.

Experiencing stress is unavoidable.  It is part of life and experienced short term is vital for your survival.  Step out in front of a bus by accident and feel that adrenaline surge move you into action to get out of the way!  Yet long term it is detrimental to your health.  Try your best to actively remove sources of stress from your life:

  • Interact with family that upset you as little as possible.
  • Cut “friends” out of your life that you know are not supportive.
  • Have at least one space at home that is clutter free or even better if you can, have as little clutter in your entire living space as possible.
  • Make the commute as calming as possible by leaving more time to travel, have books to read or listen to or listen to music.
  • If your town or city causes you stress, get out into nature or, if you can and you want to, move to a place where nature is more prevalent.
  • Is your stressful job really that fulfilling?  Is it really worth being kept up all night for?  If not, perhaps looking for new employment or career path would bring you a better quality of life.

If you do decide you want, or have to, put up with things the way they are, you have all the points from 1- 9 above to help you manage them.

Why is this so important?

Long term stress diminishes your Light.  It stops you living your life fully and bringing your gifts to the world.  Stress management allows you to access the wisdom that lies within you and share that knowledge and understanding with others.  Stress has you playing small because that is the only capacity it leaves you able to work with.

Management of stress keeps the stressors to a minimum, allowing you to remain focused, energised and inspired.  I wish for you that you live in your greatness, that life is fulfilling and your purpose, whatever that means to you, is lived out in every area of your life.  Give yourself that chance by relieving some of the pressure you are under.  Use the resources in this blog to free yourself.  Then you will have the energy and insight to make as great a positive impact on the world as you wish and feel the confidence and completeness of living that truth.

Over to you

Which of these stress busters do you use?  Are there any that are new to you?  Which ones will you experiment with?  What steps will you take to create a stress management plan?  Do you already have one?  What benefits have you noticed since implementing your stress management plan?  How could you improve it?  Please comment in the box below or message me on Twitter,Facebook or LinkedIn.  I’d love to hear from you.  And of course, if there is anything I can do to assist you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Pass it on

Why not pass this blog on to a friend, colleague or family member you think might be struggling with stress and would benefit from a stress management plan?  Or at least some new ideas about busting stress.

Workshop case study- developing practical strategies to manage the pressures of everyday life

“David and I discussed at length how best to help staff to manage physical and emotional well-being, which is a key priority for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health as without a healthy workforce we will not be able to deliver our ambitious agenda.” Louise Frayne

I was approached by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to do a workshop at their London offices.  The workshop was designed after detailed discussion with the Head of HR & Organisational Development, Louise Frayne, who was looking for content relating to stress- management, well- being and confidence.  We had “met” on an on- line discussion I was running about confidence.  Louise was intrigued about my use of the mind- body connection for greater confidence, managing stress and workplace wellness.  Because of my martial arts background, I designed a workshop that focused on mindset, body and posture.  It also centred around movement, connection and the relationship between mind and body.

“I contacted David to design and deliver workshops here at our London office to help staff develop practical strategies to manage the pressures of everyday life. David and I discussed at length how best to help staff to manage physical and emotional well-being, which is a key priority for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health as without a healthy workforce we will not be able to deliver our ambitious agenda.”  Louise Frayne, Head of HR & Organisational Development, RCPCH

Stress, Communication and the Body

We started by using the work of Paul Linden and gaining awareness of how the body responds to threat.  By eliciting a stress response, attendees paid attention to where they became tense in their bodies and how they moved when threatened.  Then they learned a centring technique by balancing and relaxing the body, bringing them to a calm and broadened awareness.  As a result, they responded to threat in a much more effective and confident manner.  We explored how and where we might use this in our personal and professional lives.

We extended this theme by looking further at posture and breathing.  How do they impact on our confidence and perception of the world?  Also, how that impacts the people we interact with. We practised scenarios and realised how some postures and breathing made for more receptive and open communication than others.  It was agreed that using these more open postures for meetings and general communication around the office and at home would be beneficial.

We continued the embodied theme by looking at boundaries and being able to maintain those boundaries in the face of challenge and conflict.  These challenges and conflicts can be external and internal, yet it is the person’s personal relationship with the challenge or conflict that is vital for success. Thinking about boundaries alone is not powerful enough.  Integrating the work in the body can make for much more empowered behaviours and statements.  Attendees chose challenges they wished to say “yes” to and “no” to. These were as diverse as requests from work colleagues, personal health challenges such as diet and exercise and behaviours that improve well- being such as relaxation.  Embodying and centring gave more powerful and assertive “yes” statements, giving inner confidence and resolve.  “No” statements could be said confidently and calmly so that it would not damage relationships.

Finally, we tied all these strands together with a communication exercise.  Using Aikido principles of flow, we built a metaphor for communication based on remaining engaged and curious in conversation through movement.  We explored the relationships between leading and following and coming to conversations with an agenda and being agenda free.  Also, we discovered that entering the relationship with our own personal confidence and strength gave us the ability to play our role well, contribute effectively and enjoy the process.  We used the centring, breathing and postural techniques learned earlier in the workshop to make for better communication in a range of relationships so that we experienced win- win outcomes.

Feedback and further workshop development

The feedback from this workshop was very positive:

“David’s wealth of knowledge and expertise was invaluable.  The first workshop introduced core principles of breathing and relaxation. Feedback was so positive that I commissioned two further workshops to build on the themes of the first workshop.  Take up by staff was enthusiastic. Feedback from staff who attended showed that they felt able to use the strategies David had shown them in a variety of settings and they particularly liked how David developed trust and rapport in the room, so everyone could talk openly, which is so important for this type of event to work well. I would have no hesitation in recommending David and his workshops to any organisation.”  Louise Frayne, Head of HR & Organisational Development, RCPCH

Louise and I discussed the content for two further workshops to be carried out the following year.

Presence, Values and the Body

We continued these themes in the second workshop six months later.  Our objective here was to explore values.  How do they impact on stress?  In what way do posture and energy affect our presence?  How does all that impact our relationships with others.  Finally, we looked at meditation for greater rest, resilience and relaxation.

Attendees noticed how posture improved responsiveness, agility, intention and commitment to values.  Focus led to more power, strength and resilience.  Combining these qualities, it was easier to express their individual values, stand up for them when challenged and work more effectively and productively when their values were aligned with those of the College.  We also drew on learning from the previous workshop, adding further strength and confidence to participants’ resolve, resilience and presence.

We finished this workshop with some simple relaxation exercises.  Requests for issues to be addressed included the negative impact the commute has on employees’ health and well- being.  I thought it would be useful to offer attendees relaxation exercises they could do on the train, in the car or while they walked to work.  These exercises could be used as a method to get to sleep or return to sleep so that they felt more rested.  We explored how breathing and muscular relaxation can reduce muscle tension, pain and discomfort.  They can also be used to calm the mind and bring mind and body to a centred space.  We also explored the build- up of negative energy in the body (through unexpressed emotion, lack of movement and exercise as well as compounded stress) and how that impacts health, well- being, relaxation, productivity and creativity.

Resilience, Emotions and the Body

The third and final workshop saw us look at resilience and managing emotions at work.  We used the metaphor of a bank account to explain how resilience works.

We focused the resilience exploration on three areas:

  • goal setting and the intention and focus to achieve those goals
  • effective emotional communication
  • how the body can be used to achieve these ends

We discussed goal setting and how it can positively impact resilience. We also looked at how set- backs and challenges can be dealt with more effectively and a more resilient mind set can be achieved through focus, commitment, body posture and intention.  In addition, we explored the power of surrounding yourself with people committed to and supportive of a similar goal.

The final section of the workshop looked at managing emotions, particularly anger.  The plan was to use the centring exercise from Paul Linden used in the first workshop, to show how it is possible to express and receive anger in a healthy way at work.  The attendees got a lot out of the different perspective offered.

In conclusion

The body is so often over- looked.  For many our primary concern is “the body beautiful”.  Perhaps that might extend to body health.  Yet, my hope is that these workshops presented new awareness of “the body powerful”.  That the resources of the body are so much more than how good it looks and physical health.  These are important factors in their own right.  And there are more.  The body can influence impact on:

  • stress
  • health and well- being
  • mental health and agility
  • living life on purpose and with meaning
  • presence
  • confidence
  • creativity and productivity
  • self- management and regulation
  • personal power and empowerment
  • employee engagement
  • communication
  • relationships with oneself and others

Caring for the body’s health increases its capacity to support us in all areas of our lives.  Awareness of our body’s sensations, feelings and emotions gives greater scope to explore the full human experience and perform at work and beyond in fulfilment.

If you would like bespoke workshops designed for you and your teams around stress management, resilience and well- being using the body, please get in touch and we can discuss your requirements.