Feel everyday pressures are taking over from the good things in life? Patrick Holford, co-author of a new book, The Stress Cure, has some easy stress-relief methods to redress the balance.
Change your thinking, change your stress level
The first step to stress relief is to look at the typical stress reaction, which follows a standard sequence.
First, the trigger or “activating event”. Next, your “beliefs” about it, which send signals to the body to create the “consequence”, also known as the “fight-or-flight response” – that surge of adrenaline- and cortisol hormones, which raises heart rate and blood pressure, and releases glucose. Remember the sequence by thinking of these three steps as an acronym: ABC.
Stress relief methods
Now, for quick stress-relief, unpick all of the subconscious beliefs that are causing your stressed feeling. Think back over recent stressy moments and identify your trigger. A massive fight between your two teenage kids this morning? Ignored by a shop assistant while you stood around feeling stupid? How did these moments make you feel? Upset and somehow responsible during the family fight? Angry and humiliated as you stood around in the shop?
Next, go deeper. What is the hidden belief underpinning those feelings? “My family should always get along.” “I’m responsible for keeping everyone happy.” “I’m invisible.” “I should never be ignored.” These are your stress-inducing thoughts. We all carry beliefs that are self-defeating and impossible to live up to – and it’s these, not the small stuff of life, that cause the stress surge.
Recognise stressful thoughts
Stress-inducing thoughts often begin with “I must” and “I should”. “I must find solutions to everyone’s problems.” “My house should always be clean and tidy.” “Life should always go smoothly.”
Now identify alternative, stress-alleviating thoughts, to counter them. Examples could be saying something like “I can support my teens as they find solutions; I don’t have to always find solutions for them.” Or “A situation is rarely 100% my fault – or anyone else’s.” Try stepping back to ask yourself: “Will this really matter in an hour? A week? A month?”
Help your heart
It isn’t hard to understand the power our thoughts have in initiating the stress response. What’s more surprising is that our heart rates also play a part.
Studies show that maintaining a calm, coherent heart rate allows you to think clearly, see the bigger picture, and almost “trick” your body out of releasing that cascade of hormones. Conversely, an irregular, jerky heart rhythm is more likely to trigger it. This forms the essence of the Heart Maths solution , which involves practising three simple steps each day to “reset” your physiological reaction.
Take five minutes somewhere quiet, then focus your attention on your heart area. Now imagine your breath flowing evenly in and out of that area, perhaps inhaling every five seconds, then exhaling every five seconds – if that’s a comfortable rate. When you’ve practised, add the third step – recall a positive emotion. This might be happiness at a special family occasion, time with your friends when you all shared a laugh, or visiting a beautiful location where you had a great sense of peace and contentment.
Now try to re-experience it as you breathe in and out, focusing on your heart area. It may sound simple but, done daily, this becomes a useful technique to counter a stressful situation – like sitting in heavy traffic – and keep you functioning well on an even keel.
Locate your little piece of complete calm
Becoming more resilient to stress is like building up a muscle. Find something you can do frequently that calms you, gives you an elevated perspective, and puts you in the zone where all feels well with the world.
It could be gardening, walking, sketching or simply stroking your cat. Or it could be more specific, like meditation or yoga. It’s important to have something you can return to frequently that removes you from the noise of life.