How are you? Are your family and loved ones well? How’s work, your relationships and your life?
When asked how they’re doing, it’s not uncommon for people to say they are stressed about something. You may offer them a solution, a technique to help manage their stress, but this can feel like yet another thing for them to do, making them feel even more ‘stressed out’.
Sure, there are a lot of effective stress management techniques out there that work -- relaxation exercises, soothing music, meditation and the list goes on. But in response to this, I’ve heard many people say they just don’t have the time.
Fortunately, there is another way to manage stress.
Steps to dealing with ‘the stress’
Stress is a temporary state, and as such, I will refer to it as “the stress” not “your stress”. If something does not belong to you, the mind finds it much easier to let go.
So, how can we handle stress, especially when it is at its peak or we are triggered by an instant set back and we don’t have the energy, patience or time to do something extra to overcome it and find freedom?
The answer is simple. All you need to do is understand your thoughts and be kind to yourself by changing the dialogue you hear and the images you see in your mind. It really is that simple!
In my many years of studying human behaviour, I realised that once you make an unfamiliar habit common, stress management will become an involuntary process you adopt. Coping will become easier and, hopefully, over a short period, you will find a permanent stress management technique that works for you and not against you.
The brain’s response to stress
Understanding the brain’s response to stress is a great place to start. You’re probably familiar with the ‘flight or fight’ response, which is the primitive instinct of fleeing or reacting to a situation. Well, there is a third response that you may not have heard of.
There is a part of the brain that has a pause button, let us refer to it as being ‘mindful’. When you are ‘mindful’, your mind slows down to assess the situation, focussing on the present and changing the perspective of what we perceive instantaneously before we activate our instincts to spiral into our fleeing or defensive mode. We can use this to reassess our thoughts in a way that helps us take control. Once we have taken control, we are much better equipped to handle stressful situations.
Stop, sit down and breathe
The words you say to yourself and the images you create can have a huge impact on how you feel and stress level.
When you notice stress rising, pause. Learn to stop, sit down and breathe. If this means sitting upright with your back straight and breathing deeply in that instant and focusing on each breath - do it. If it means listening to music or watching a comical YouTube video - do it. If it means taking a walk and admiring your surroundings - do it. Even if it means staring at a light switch or taking a toilet break- do it.
Realign your thoughts
Realign your thoughts for at least a few minutes, as this will help you to take focus on those images you see and the words you hear in your mind. Once you hear the thoughts in your mind change the words into reasoning questions.
For instance, if the stress is because you have a presentation to give, let’s suppose the words you hear in your mind are: ‘I have a presentation to give and I don’t feel prepared.’ This may trigger anxiety, causing stress. Change these words to questions such as; ‘What have you done so far? How much have you got left to do?’ and ask yourself the question as if you were asking a friend; this is to activate your reasoning skills.
How we speak to ourselves is important, so be empathetic as you would to a loved one or colleague you get on with. Do not put yourself down by getting angry or upset with the thought, as this will create a negative image, for example; one of viewing yourself as foolish or embarrassed when presenting, which will then cause further stress as an outcome.
Remember, we are dealing with your third response, the mindfulness of what is happening around you at that moment. Be stagnant in the thought you have and flip the situation to questions that you can deal with.
Protection, acceptance and connection
We crave three things as humans; protection, acceptance and connection. Let’s stick with the example of negative stress caused by having to do a presentation.
When presenting, the fear of rejection or failure activates, which causes us to become protective. We may want to flee from the situation. Although most have been through this stress response, the feeling is still unfamiliar and it triggers worry and anxiety. Therefore, acceptance is important to our human conditioning. By pausing and recognising thoughts and flipping them to reasoning questions, you are able to better let go.
We want to reset the conscious thoughts to deal with the circumstances, without causing panic, anxiety or worry. By letting go you learn not to adhere to passing negative images, thoughts, feelings, sensations and impulses.
Whatever turns up is there, it is what it is. You may or may not be capable of dealing with it immediately. However, once you tell your mind to accept whatever it is causing the stress, the situation is being analysed by your conscious mind allowing and wanting to find a solution. That’s why acceptance is key here; it allows you to reflect on the situation where the third response now becomes a familiar reaction instead.
Pausing and being mindful helps you respond to things with conscious awareness and clarity instead of repeatedly reacting in the conditioned familiar ‘flight or fight’ response. Kindness and gratitude are positive traits, the connection we have with others we care about and what they think of us and how we are accepted by them are the same type of acceptance and connection we have to develop with the thoughts in our mind.
Our thoughts and the awareness of our self worth override any of the negative doubts that are triggers for stress. The positive images and new words you say to yourself have more impact than the situation you are in.
Be patient with yourself when understanding how your mind works. In becoming aware, having empathy and loving yourself by knowing you are good enough is what will help you manage any stressful circumstances you can control. This will then allow you to embark on the path to your freedom.
Belynder Walia is the principal founder and facilitator for improving wellbeing and lifestyles at www.serenelifestyles.com. The extent of her background experience led her to creating an organisation that helps individuals get the best results for both their personal and professional development. In addition, Belynder can create, positive care home environments and learning or working environments to improve personal, academic or business performance. She is a great believer that, if you change your thinking and become mindful, you can change and transform your life for a better today as well as tomorrow.