One of the most effective things you can do is manage your anxiety. In the face of uncertainty, you cannot often manage the concerns beyond your control. Instead, managing your reaction to them is where your power lies.
Do you find it hard to relax? Are your muscles tight and painful? Would it be useful to be able to let them release so that you feel at ease and calm? Could that muscle tension and discomfort come from stress and anxiety? Where can you find the support to ease that pressure?
Covid-19 and lockdown are both emotional subjects for a lot of people. I am noticing that there are many emotional responses as individuals, families, businesses and communities come to terms with the impact this pandemic is having on all our lives. This varied emotional response is completely normal, natural and healthy.
Coronavirus is touching a lot of our stress points. It has thrown our known world into turmoil. Many people are struggling with the anxiety, worry, doubt, confusion, uncertainty and isolation. The question is:
What can you do about it?
It is very normal to experience these feelings when you are going through change. Your biology is designed and programmed to maintain the status quo. The scientific jargon for that is homeostasis- keeping things the same. It is partly what drives habits and why they are so hard to change.
Change is threatening because it upsets the status quo. It takes time to settle into the new normal. And that transition period can be challenging to many. Think how conscientious you have to be to change a habit and how long it takes. But once you’ve crossed that bridge, you have a new status quo.
Loving the uncertainty
Some thrive in change and uncertainty. For them, THAT is normal and their preferred status quo. When things are stable and consistent, these people get stir crazy. For them, the challenge is routine.
So, if you are one of those people that thrives in volatile times then you are probably enjoying the creativity and opportunities presenting themselves. During instability, things are dynamic. It is an ideal time to create and lead. Those that thrive in that will play a large role in creating whatever the new normal is going to become.
Are you struggling with change?
What can you do if you fall into the earlier category of people? Like me, you might be experiencing anxiety, worry, tension, shallow breathing, finding it hard to sleep and struggling with the uncertainty. Financial worries, your health and the health of loved ones, unpredictability of work, isolation at home, how long will this last, what are the guidelines we are meant to follow and so on. And that anxiety makes it hard to create and lead in a positive way.
Also, the feelings come in waves. You might not be worried all the time. But you’ll hear something or think of someone and that will get you going. Or you’ll fall asleep at night but wake up and find it hard to go back to sleep because your mind starts working. Perhaps the government changes its stance (which it seems to do daily) again and you are left reeling with apprehension and doubt. Or you’re getting conflicting advice as you try and find out what to do for the best.
So here are 5 tips to help you through these challenging times.
Limit your intake of news
It is easy to want to stay abreast of every twist and turn of news as it happens. Keeping the 24 hour news channel on all day is not going to do your well-being any good. It keeps you in a perpetual state of anxiety.
The internet has multiple opportunities to catch up with the news. From pop ups when you log in the e-mail to social media posts. Limit your intake. Personally, I watch one bout of news a day and that is it. I resist the temptations to click on links that will take me to breaking news on the internet. That scheduled 30-minute news blast is enough to keep me aware of developments.
Knowing that I have that planned towards the end of the day means I can get on with my day and not worry about missing something important. At the same time, it allows me time to remain positively focused. And that helps me control my fear and anxiety.
In these uncertain times, certainty is a blessing. Set your alarm to wake up and have your morning routine. It’s all too easy to stay in your pyjamas all day when you’re working from home or self-isolating. Get showered, get dressed, have breakfast. You don’t have to do it like you would if you were at work. But whatever routine you decide on, make sure it works to keep you productive, creative and buoyant physically, mentally and emotionally.
Connect with friends and contact them at regular times.
Have your workouts timetabled. Joe Wicks has his online classes to follow. Yoga teachers are doing similar things (you can find some incredible examples at Yoga and Movement Classes). Join Gareth Malone’s online choir which happens every day at 530pm UK time or the Embodiment Circle Online which has multiple sessions of body-based meditation and mindful movement throughout the day. There are loads of different options online.
Routines can reduce uncertainty by giving you structure, focus and predictability. Giving you a strong foundation from which to tackle the uncertain things you have to face.
Even with the lock downs that many areas are having, exercise outside is great to make you feel more resourced. Running, cycling, walking will help to make you physically, mentally and emotionally more resilient.
You don’t have to go out in public. You can exercise in the garden, in the house, on your roof (as long as it’s safe). Even regular sets of press ups, sit ups, squats or whatever exercises float your boat are a great way to stay active.
Why not take up something new? Use these usual and unprecedented circumstances to try online a yoga class, Rolfing Movement Integration sessions, Feldenkrais’ Awareness through Movement, Kettle Bells classes or anything that might be fun for you.
Keep your space tidy
When you are at home a lot, it is important to keep your living space tidy and well-organised, for your well-being and peace of mind. It really helps to reduce anxiety when your space is clear, clean and well organised.
As best you can, limit where you work in your living space. And if you have to work on the dining room table or in the lounge, pack it all away at the end of the working day so that you have a clear separation between work life and home life.
And if you feel the stress and anxiety creeping in, in spite of these above measures, you can always centre.
In fact, I recommend centring throughout the day as a matter of habit. It has helped me immensely to regulate and manage my anxiety. And when specific situations occur that I find stressful, that centring process is well-engrained and I can tap into that resource whenever I need.
Centring is a quick win, easy access tool that allows you to manage your response to stressful situations and anxiety. Here is a video of me taking you through BODY Centring as an example.
What is there to appreciate about Coronavirus?
These 5 tips that I’ve shared are great stress- busting tools. My hope is that you will use them and as a result you’ll be able to step back from the brink of anxiety and fear. Instead, you’ll be able to relax and calm yourself a little so that you can be more creative, resourceful and solution-focused. So that you can come through this crisis having grown, learned and developed as an individual, a family or a business.
And, these tips are not limited to a Coronavirus pandemic. You can use them throughout your life. Whenever you feel anxious, worried or doubtful, these tips can help you do a U-turn on your stress-based way of thinking. In the calm, you’ll create by practising these tips, you’ll be better placed to create positive solutions.
In fact, if you use them regularly, they’ll help make you more resilient, so that you do not drop into that negative way of thinking. Over time, things that once stressed you no longer will. You’ll build greater momentum towards positivity and learn to manage yourself more skilfully when the going gets tough.
And one of the plus sides of the drastic measures governments are putting in place is that you have a long period in which to engrain these new habits. Start any of these tips now and within a few weeks, you will be doing them as a matter of course.
They are great for maintaining and sustaining well-being. If you are not using them now, pick at least one and start practising a new habit. By the time we get back to our new normal, that new habit will be firmly in place and you’ll be able to keep using it to maintain your well-being.
Over to you
Are you struggling to manage the daily changing landscape of our lives at this time? Do you worry about how you’re going to make your way through this?
Which one of these tips are you going to try out? Would you like some support or accountability? If so, reach out and I would be happy to offer help in that way.
Pass it on
In these times of isolation and disconnection, show someone you are thinking of them. If you think they might be struggling with anxiety and worry, please forward these tips to them. Let them know you care and that they are not alone.
My idea of active relaxation comes from the fitness industry’s concept of active rest. When you are trying to achieve your fitness goals, your body needs recovery time. Intense exercise tears muscle fibres which require time to heal so that muscles continue to work optimally, healthily and injury free. Without that rest, increased fitness and strength cannot occur. Active rest is best because it keeps the body moving without the intensity of heavy weights, endurance or prolonged impact. The body likes to move, so some light exercise as active rest is far better than no exercise at all. Walking the dog, a gentle cycle ride or swim, relaxing yoga or stretching session would all be examples of active rest. Active rest will aid recovery and make you stronger, faster and fitter as part of your fitness goals.
The Relaxation Response and Active Relaxation
Active relaxation works in the same way. You have goals and deadlines: prospecting calls, book-keeping, meetings, proposals, blog posts, social media, networking, your own well-being and that of your clients etc. as a solopreneur. And as a parent you have goals: kids to get ready for school, after school clubs, help with homework, sleepless nights, early mornings, your own well-being and that of your family etc. These things may give you great pleasure and they can also feel frustrating and stressful as well as drain you of vitality, enthusiasm and calm.
When you choose active relaxation, you are choosing activities that bring your body into the relaxation response so that your body can rest, digest and restore itself. Active relaxation benefits the body, mind and emotions at the same time. In the relaxation response, your body can heal and repair itself, your muscles can relax and release tension, your mind can become calm and creative and emotionally you are more receptive to play, humour, building relationships and a solution-focused, positive outlook on life. Can you see that achieving those goals and deadlines is much easier to do if your body is in the relaxation (rest, digest and restore) response and consistently achieving a state of relaxation?
Some Stress is Good, too Much makes you Cranky
Your body spends a lot of time every day in the stress response. From getting the kids to school on time to the work commute, or meeting deadlines for work and managing conflict over the TV remote control at home. It can all send adrenaline into your system for the majority of the day. And for the most part, that is great. It makes you productive, creative and effective in your personal and professional lives. It is designed to make you active, to step out into the world, be seen, take action and take ownership of your life.
But too much of that makes you cranky. Unrelenting stress without a break, drains your system and resilience. Have you noticed that when you are stressed you are less kind to yourself and others? That negative self-talk and lack of patience with others doesn’t feel good, does it? Its also difficult to find creative solutions to situations when you are stressed too much. And you are simply not operating at your best. When you notice these things happening, it is time for active relaxation.
So, what is active relaxation? In short, it is anything that brings you out of the stress response and into the relaxation response. In other words, rather than activities that promote prolonged release of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones) you actively and consciously choose activities that shut down the release of these stress hormones. Consequently, you feel calmer, more energised, ready to take on whatever the next challenge is with more resilience, centred, balanced, grounded and in more control. These might include:
• Going for a walk (with or without the dog)
• Reading a book for pleasure
• Cooking with care and eating wholesome food
• Watching one episode of your favourite programme or a great movie
• Activities with friends (a meal, weekend break, spa day, walk, pub/ wine bar/ coffee shop)
• Writing- journaling, reflective, creative, poetic, narrative,
• Painting, drawing etc.
• Yoga class or similar (Pilates, Awareness through Movement, Rolfing Movement Integration)
• Dance- partner classes, nightclub, conscious dance like Five Rhythms
• Comedy- a live show or something at home
What would YOU choose to Actively Relax?
Only choose the ones that are actively relaxing for you. If the idea of a dance class stresses you out, it may not have the desired affect of calming you and feeling more resourced. However, to try some new things might have some surprising and beneficial effects. Some on this list are more dynamic than others. The active bit of active relaxation is more about being engaged with the activity you are doing, rather than how physically active you are.
It also speaks to your conscious choice and awareness throughout the activity. This is why long hours in front of the TV does not appear on the list- after a night on the sofa with the TV or on-line, you can feel more drained and less resourced. So, be careful and honest with the impact these activities have on your vitality, resourcefulness and resilience. Active relaxation, like active rest, is meant to give you more enthusiasm, strength, passion and endurance for your chosen life activities, be it parenting, running your own company, being CEO of a large organisation, writing books, running marathons or walking the dog.
The Cycles of Life
You are not a machine. Humans have rhythms and cycles that have us being more, or less, active, depending on the stage in the cycle we are in. Like years have seasons, humans have seasons too. We are perhaps more active and productive in our youth, having more energy, vitality and vigour. Later, that energy can change to be more reflective, calmer and peaceful. You may be very awake and raring to go first thing in the morning but at night want to turn in early. Or you might be the opposite way around? Alternatively, you might be most productive first thing and late at night and prefer a snooze in the middle of the day. What are your natural rhythms?
You go through rhythms and cycles in which you are preparing for an activity (Spring), which leads into being involved and engaged in it (Summer), and then to wind down as it approaches the end (Autumn). Active relaxation appears in the Winter phase- when the activity is done, you have stopped and you are in the midst of reflection, celebration, commiseration, learning and integration.
Winter is a little used phase. As a society, we are used to moving from activity to activity without the rest time in between. Valuable insights are lost if we miss out Winter. The gathering of experience, vitality and energy as well as assessing what the next direction will be, the intention, desired goals and resolve are all essential if we are to enter the next phase with any chance of success and enjoying the journey in the process.
Energy and Inspiration
Active relaxation gives you the recharge to have more energy for whatever you love to do in life. It is easy to keep going because that is what it seems everyone else is doing. But, eventually, you will burnout. You will have less energy for what you love. Perhaps you may stop loving the thing you once loved doing. Not because you are bored of it, or out-grown it, but simply because you are not listening to your body. Your body needs recharging and care. You want to give it time to do that. Otherwise, it gets tired, low in energy, unwell, negative, depressed, uninspired, blah.
Life isn’t meant to feel that way. Sure, there might be brief periods you experience that flatness- because sometimes life is shit and challenging and you have nothing in the tank to push against it. But often, that is avoidable, by consciously choosing active relaxation as part of your day. You cannot carry on regardless. Recharging through active relaxation gives you all the energy you need for an active, vital and passion-filled life.
Over to You
I was inspired to write this blog because I have many clients who struggle with active relaxation. I have struggled with it for years myself and sometimes get the balance wrong. This drive to do more, be more, faster, harder and longer can ruin your enjoyment and passion for your work and life and can damage the relationships with your loved ones……… and even the relationship with yourself. It’s relatively easy to turn around. Explore that list of active relaxation opportunities and find out the ones that work best for you. That will depend on your natural rhythms and cycles as well as your commitments. Let me know how you get on and if you would like some assistance, get in touch.
Pass it on
If you found the content of this blog useful, why not pass it on to a friend or colleague who might benefit from it too?
Are you fed up with being “strong”? Are you tired of the pressure you are under to perform without showing signs of losing composure? Or having an emotional outburst?
Do you feel that it is your role to have the answers all the time? If that expectation is hard to meet, is that difficult to admit to?
How are you at having to be right? Is it a matter of great face and honour or are you OK with making mistakes?
Do you feel the need to be “happy” all the time and find it hard to admit that you might be below par or even struggling to cope?
Do you really thrive under stress, or are you struggling to manage, but afraid to share the truth for fear of what people might say- the boss, your partner, friends?
A meaning of “Strong”
This out-dated notion of being “strong” needs a modern update. Too many people are crumbling under the weight of carrying on regardless, pushing through at all costs, meeting ever-increasing expectations and ever-closer deadlines. And all for the sake of being or appearing “strong”. It is a relentless drive, that is driving many of us into poor physical, mental and emotional health and well-being. “Strong” seems to mean something close to perfection.
So, rather than “strong” meaning perfection can we change that definition? I get the need for an external persona that makes it look like you have the answers, you’ve got it sorted and you can cope. And I hope that is the case for you a lot of the time. But is it reality? And when it isn’t reality, do you have people to turn to so that you can talk it through, bounce ideas off, admit mistakes to, ask advice from and share your emotional pain when you are struggling?
This need to be “strong”, I believe, is stopping people feeling comfortable speaking to others about their struggles. “It makes me look weak.” “How will anyone respect me?” “What will people think of me?” “Will I be able to hold on to my job?” In silence, they battle on, often getting ground down by the weight of fear, doubt and worry.
Get Wise Counsel
My experience as a coach, and a Samaritans volunteer, is that speaking to someone about these very normal emotions is not only good for your health. It also gets you to an answer much faster. And to a much better answer than you might come up with otherwise. You do not need to carry the burden alone. But who can you talk to?
All great leaders have a team of people around them who they can talk to and lean into for support. (you can find out more about this in this Brian Tracy article). Can we not learn from the cream of our business leaders? We are all leaders. If only leaders of our own lives. And many of us will also lead families, children, work colleagues, groups, teams, businesses and countries. Honest and open leadership starts with these personal qualities in our own day to day living. Having people around you with whom you can confide makes you healthier physically, mentally and emotionally and allows you to be more effective in anything you do.
So, choose your team carefully. Perhaps it is good friends you can talk to? May be its your hairdresser or tennis coach or physio? You could have a formal relationship with a mentor or coach or therapist. Or may be you have people you work with you can confide in? Whoever is in the team, you need to be able to trust them. The more people, the more resources you have for advice, listening, support and guidance. And with that comes more resilience and well-being that means you can bounce back faster when you experience setbacks, disappointment and failure.
Who makes you “strong”?
It is not rocket science, but it is startling how few people we actually talk to. In our fast-paced society, we race from moment to moment and barely touch the surface of our own lives. Let alone the lives of others. We take less and less time to connect to people and so lack the depth of relationship we once enjoyed. But it is this depth of relationship that allows us to feel safe enough to reveal our pain to others and be vulnerable. As Brene Brown says, it takes courage to be vulnerable. I think this is the real “strong”. And to do that we want to build relationships over time that make it easier to be vulnerable when it serves us and others to be so. All of that takes great courage.
Throughout my divorce process, I had people to whom I could talk about the conflicting emotions I was experiencing. Some of those ears were professional (a counsellor), but others were family, friends, colleagues and even our beloved dog, Tigger. In the pain I felt more resilient. Amongst the confusion, I had people to tell me it was OK and normal to feel this way. And when it got too much, I had people who would simply be with me.
I witness great courage in my coaching clients, who are vulnerable about their emotions and experiences. Great insight, bonding and emotional healing come from this intimacy. It is the human power of connection that helps to keep us whole when we are most in danger of being swallowed up by our pain, fear and loss. It is not “strong” to suffer. To remain in silence and isolation prolongs your suffering.
And others suffer as a consequence. People notice. And want to help. Make no mistake. So be brave. Be “strong”. And reach out to someone who cares enough about you to listen as you express your pain. It is the greatest expression of their love. A worthy gift to match your strength and vulnerability.
Over to You
What does “strong” mean to you? How are you “strong”? I’d love to know and get this discussion moving towards helping more people manage the stresses and pressures they face in daily life. Our health and well-being demand it. And if we can role-model this transparency to our children and grandchildren, to those we mentor, lead and guide, the bonds of human connection will be deeper and stronger. And we will never need to be “strong” again in isolation and loneliness. We will be vulnerable and courageous, share our wisdom and pain and show our strength in unity and camaraderie.
Pass it on
If you enjoyed this blog, please pass it on to someone you know. Or share the social media posts. Thank you.
Have you ever wondered what life coaching is? Or perhaps what it isn’t? The word “coaching” is used so broadly it can be a little confusing what people mean when they say “I am a coach” or “I offer coaching”. One of the first questions prospective clients ask me is “What is coaching and what can it do for me?”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As I said in Part 1 of this blog series, stress is a natural part of life. We all experience it. If you think that you do not, perhaps you have a different word for it? May be instead of stress you would say you are anxious, worried, excited, challenged, driven, focused, frustrated, upset, in anticipation, overwhelmed, exhausted, tired or withdrawn. Whatever the word, my meaning of stress is that there is something in this lifestyle of yours that generates the Stress Response in you.
Are you experiencing stress?
The Stress Response is a term for a group of physiological symptoms generated when you are feeling threatened in some way. You are getting ready to fight or run away. So, you might experience quickened heart rate, dilated blood vessels and shallow breathing accompany increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones). For short periods this is beneficial for your health and well- being. Long term however, and the negative impact on your immune system, mental health, quality of sleep, productivity, overall resilience, creativity, relationships and vitality are immense. Here are some of the signs to look out for that tell you that you might be experiencing stress (or whatever word you might use):
- Do you find it hard to get to sleep? If you wake up in the night, do you struggle to go back to sleep? Do you feel tired in the morning? Are you getting less than 7 hours sleep a night? If you say yes to any of these, you may well be experiencing stress. These may happen as a consequence of your stress. They may also be contributing factors to your stress. Either way, good quality sleep is essential for many reasons. If you do struggle to sleep or wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, this audio might be useful.
- Do you eat a lot of sugary foods or foods high in fat? Can you get through the day only if you have sugary and caffeinated drinks? Sugar, fat and caffeine interfere with your body’s natural rhythms, disrupting sleep and other natural highs and lows of your day. Many processed foods place your body under a lot of burden, damaging blood vessels, creating bloating and inflammation. Not to mention the effect of artificial chemicals in our food that poison the body and bring it into imbalance. All of this is stressful for your body and impacts on your overall ability to cope.
- Muscular Tension. Light, regular exercise and movement leave the body feeling flexible, mobile and limber. Sitting still all day, barely moving your body, makes your muscles short, tight and painful. It puts the body under a lot of stress. Think how lovely it feels to have a stretch at your desk after you’ve been working at your computer for a couple of hours. Feels great right? Also, little body movement leaves people in “their heads”. In other words, listening to the logical and rational part of the mind rather than balancing it with the instinct and intuition of which the body is a part. Muscles also become tense due to unexpressed emotion. Emotions are energy in motion. If they are not expressed, they are internalised (in muscles and internal organs), another source of stress for the body. Muscular tension from all sources pulls the body out of alignment, generating postural stress that can have long term impact such as shoulder, knee and hip replacement operations, diminished mobility, nerve damage and quality of life.
- Suppressed Emotion. Are you the type of person who never feels or expresses emotion? Or if you do it is usually fits of anger or rage? Do you have a “stiff upper lip” or are you known as the “strong one” in the family/ relationship? This can lead to a lot of stress in the body. Gabor Mate, in his book “When the Body Says No- the cost of hidden stress”, explores the impact of suppressed emotion and how it can lead to many debilitating/ life threatening diseases such as MS, ME, numerous types of cancer, motor neuron disease, IBS and more. In short, the stress on the body from unexpressed emotion is so great, it manifests over time as physical illness.
- Grinding/ clenching your teeth. This is a sure sign you are experiencing stress. If people mention that you are doing either of these, it’s a strong indicator you are stressed.
- Holding your breath. Or breathing in a shallow manner. This can be a response to stress. It can also become a habit that keeps the body in a more heightened anxious state. Learning deep breathing exercises will lower blood pressure, deactivate the stress response in the body and generally make you feel more calm, relaxed and mobile. Belissa Vranich’s book Breathe gives detailed instructions and exercises about how to breathe more effectively for better health.
- Lack of focus. The Stress Response makes you very insular. Therefore, focus on other people, projects at work, problem solving and other things that require focus just doesn’t happen. It’s your body’s way of saying “Stop paying attention to other things, I need some attention here!!!!”
- Short temper and irritability. If your body is tired and debilitated by long term exposure to the effects of the Stress Response, you have no or very little reserves in the tank for additional stress. My experience of this is that as a response to feeling powerless or out of control, we tend to lash out to protect ourselves. This is a sure sign that you are reaching the end of your tether. Consciously activating the Relaxation Response will give you more reserves to tackle any additional stress whilst keeping off “Red Alert”.
- A little worry is healthy. We can use it to assess situations and scan for trouble before the event. Anxiety takes it to another level, assessing endless scenarios without resolution. This is usually a clear sign that you are stressed. There is a much calmer life for you to enjoy beyond anxiety if you can find the ways to manage your stress.
- Feeling like life has no purpose or direction. Life without purpose has no direction. Without meaningful goals, aligned to what is most important to us (whatever that may be), life can feel pointless and meaningless. We can feel powerless and that comes with its own stress. A lack of energy, vitality, engagement, power, strength and focus. Purpose infuses our life with direction and meaning that gives momentum, energy, pace and vitality to life.
Natural Ways to manage stress
Please note, this is not an exact science. There might be many reasons why you are experiencing these symptoms. If you suspect stress at all, consult your doctor and a healthy dose of common sense and discover the ways YOU can undo the effects of stress. Rather than pop a pill which might be the easiest way to deal with it, I invite you to explore more natural ways to manage your stress. I am not a trained medical professional, so please do not take my word as gospel. However, there is something empowering about listening to your body and intuition and finding the right answer for you. Managing the stress is the key. I discuss some of the strategies I have discovered on my travels with stress in Part 3.
Over to You
Do you notice that you often do not sleep well? Perhaps you sleep very soundly. Or maybe you are affected by someone who has disturbed sleep? Are there parts of your body that get very tight? Is that due to lack of movement, emotional stress, worry, anxiety or body misalignment? Or is your body limber, relaxed and agile? Would you say you were an emotional eater? Do you find it hard to focus? Or do you have laser- type focus and excellent concentration? Are you more irritable than you used to be? Perhaps you are more calm and unflappable than ever before?
Do you feel lost in your life and feel life is getting smaller? Or is your life expanding and you are discovering new horizons? I’d love to hear your experiences and grow this body of wisdom in the Potentiality Coaching community. Please share in the comment box below or on social media. Thank you.
Pass it On
If what I have been talking about sounds like someone you know, why no forward this blog to them and ask them to give it a read. It might be the turning point for them to start listening to their body and recognise the signs that stress is present. It’s so easy to deal with. Awareness is the first step. The next is action. See you next time for Part 3.
Would you know if you were stressed? Do you have a sense of what the signs might be if you were experiencing stress? Do you notice when other people are stressed? Are there occasions when people say you are stressed and you have no idea what they are talking about?
Having recently run a workshop on stress and talked to many people over the years about stress one thing comes through loud and clear:
Stress is rife in our lives and many of us are totally unaware that we are living with it.
People do not seem to realise they are experiencing stress. They just don’t see it! But that does not mean they are not affected by it. Nor does it mean family, friends and colleagues are not impacted by it as a result. Having been one of those people myself, it is hard to stand around the side lines and watch people struggle with its affects. As a result, they go about their daily lives oblivious to the signs and symptoms of stress thinking that all is well.
The Impact of Stress
I’m sure you know many of the statistics about stress. But just in case you don’t, long term stress can negatively impact your:
- Life expectancy
- Quality & duration of sleep (sleeplessness, disturbed sleep, nightmares, fitful sleep)
- Behaviour (withdrawal, irritability, restlessness, depression)
- Relationships (impacting those closest to us)
- Health & disease (increase risk of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease)
- Interest in sex & sexual performance
- Diet & weight (increase in fats & sugars raises weight or diminished appetite reduces weight)
- Productivity at work
Stressed? Not me!
So being unaware that you are experiencing stress can come at quite a cost. I will discuss the signs you want to be looking for, that tell you stress is present in your life and perhaps having an adverse effect on your health in Part 2 of this series. Before I do that, I just want to explore why people don’t notice the stress in their lives:
- The signs creep up slowly over time. You live with yourself 24/7 and often do not notice any changes that might happen in your life, except for the dramatic ones: the surprise birthday party, the heart attack, a heat wave or cold snap, not being able to get into those trousers or tops you once used to fit into, a new addition to the family. Look in the mirror daily and you do not see yourself getting older. You do not notice your shoulders getting tighter or your waistline bigger. You’ve breathed so shallow for years that you do not realise you’re barely getting any air at all. You get used to what you know and may not question whether this is best for your health and well- being.
- Social and cultural norms. Countries, regions, religions, companies, cities, individuals, cultures, towns and families all have their traditions. From what we eat and drink, to how we socialise, where and how we work, what exercise we do, where we pray and so on. Sometimes these norms are great for our health and well- being. Other times, these habits are not. It’s hard to do things differently to the rest. If other people don’t seem to experience stress as a result of these habits, then surely nor do I. Yet, we are all individuals and what may be calming to others could be causing untold stress on someone else. And remember, they may be suffering from the same lack of awareness about the effect stress is having on them as you are. We just don’t want to go there in our minds, so we don’t. Nothing changes and the effects of stress mount.
- Stress isn’t something that happens to me. This is the misguided vision I had for years. Because I am a martial artist, meditator, student of philosophy, calm, confident and thinking of myself as a spiritual practitioner, how could I possibly have stress? As a result, I’m not looking for the signs. Struggling to sleep? Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress! Experiencing shortness of breath? Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress! Finding it hard to focus? Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress! You’re getting the idea. So, maybe you think that being stressed is something that happens to other people. Or you have a super power that means you can survive on 4 hours sleep a night. Trust me, we all experience stress. If it is long- term, it will have adverse effects on your health. Pay attention to the signs before it’s too late.
- Stress isn’t that important to worry about. Some people just don’t think stress is anything to worry about. Everyone struggles with it and gets on OK. What’s all the fuss? It’s a bit like President Trump saying there’s no climate change problem. Everyone knows that there is, but he doesn’t think it’s worth doing anything about. The attitude that “I’ll be fine” or “I’ve got it covered” I hear a lot. As a result, the unchanged life style leads to heart attacks, strokes, cancer and more. These people that I care about seem surprised when it happens!!!!!
- I’m too busy to change anything, or change is too hard. Yes, to make changes in your life style does mean things will be different. In people’s minds that usually means things will be worse! Our resistance to change is often because we are invested in the old way of doing things: not rock the boat with family or friends; stay inside my comfort zone; surely this tough stage will pass even if I ignore it; I don’t have the time; what about my career, relationship, income etc.; I don’t need to change; how will I be perceived if I change things; what if I fail; how will life be different if I succeed. Resisting change is normal- there is a degree of uncertainty and that comes with its own challenges. If we do not make changes, nothing changes. There are signs telling you that change is necessary, even essential, if only you would pay attention. So, please listen.
Do any of these five points sound like you? If so, you might be experiencing stress and not realise it. Left untreated for many years, it could have adverse effects on your health, well- being, quality of life, length of your life and the degree to which you enjoy your life.
The Body has the answer
It’s great that you are deep in the cut and thrust of life, building your business, developing your career, nurturing your family, creating your life. To be immersed in life is wonderful. Sometimes you get caught up in the momentum and think “What’s next……?” As soon as the last job is done, you’re rushing off to do the next one. If you don’t take time to check in from time to time with how your body feels, you’ll never know where you are at…….. and you may well miss the signs that stress is building up.
Your body is the answer. It will tell you whether it is experiencing stress. Your head may tell you that there is nothing to be concerned about. It’s too busy being busy. Try this instead. Take time to connect to your body. How? Centring, mindfulness and meditation are great ways to connect in. Also, Mindful Movement workshops are a great fun way to connect in with your body and begin rebuilding a relationship with your body again. As a result, your body will become a friend, a confidante, a trusted partner. You will reap the benefits of living mindfully, managing stress effectively and enjoying life fully for mind, body and soul.
Over to You
What is your attitude to stress? Is it something other people have but not you? Are you too busy to deal with it or do you make time in your day for managing it effectively? Is stress another “Climate Change” issue or are you taking it seriously? Do you know you have to deal with the stress in your life or are you too busy to change? So, let’s get a conversation going and bring the effects of stress to people’s attention. Then they can take control and begin to live more fully and vibrantly.
Pass it On
If what I have been talking about sounds like someone you know, why not forward this blog to them and ask them to give it a read? It might be the turning point for them to start listening to their body and opening to the possibility that stress is in their lives. It’s so easy to deal with. Awareness is the first step. The next is seeing stress in action in our lives. So we’ll be covering that in Part 2. See you next time.
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