Tips and Tricks for keeping your Stress under control


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Stress is your emotional and physical response to pressure and happens when you feel unable to cope. Many people lead demanding lives and stress can arise from life events, illness, living conditions, work, relationships, and money worries. in fact the list is endless because people have different ways of reacting to and coping with stress. A situation which is overwhelming for one person, may not concern someone else in the same way.  Even those events which you see as enjoyable can be stressful, such as holidays, moving house, starting a new job or course, pregnancy, parenthood, and family get togethers like Christmas.

When you are constantly under pressure, the stress hormones remain in your body, leading to the symptoms that let you know you feel stressed. It’s important to recognise these symptoms early and prevent serious health issues such as high blood pressure. Everyone gets stressed from time to time – it’s a natural reaction to a threat or danger or prolonged pressure, so it’s a biological part of all of us. However, what is important is how you choose to manage stress. Some people adopt unhealthy coping strategies such as comfort eating, drinking alcohol or smoking which take a further toll on health. There are simple things you can do to give yourself a sense of control and help you to cope in a healthy way.

The first step is to identify what makes you stressed:

  • Where am I when I’m feeling stressed? What am I doing? Who am I with?

Even if there is little you can do about some situations, making some small changes can make a big difference. In stressful situations remember to Pause, Take a breath, and Don’t just react automatically. Ask yourself:

  • What am I reacting to?
  • Is it helpful for me to think this way?
  • What is within my control?
  • Is there another way of looking at this?
  • How important is this really? How important will it be in 6 months time?
  • What is the most helpful way to respond for me and others?

I see many clients who are struggling with stress and anxiety in their lives. Common to all of them is the lack of knowledge or skills for controlling these feelings. There are lots of tips and tricks for helping you keep stress levels under control:

  • Deal with problems as they happen. Bottling up your feelings allows them to grow until they overflow
  • Slow down. You don’t have to do things at 100 miles an hour. Eat, walk and drive more slowly. If you don’t get as much done as you would like, there is always tomorrow. Act ‘as if’ you are relaxed: slow down your speech, relax your shoulders, and don’t fidget. This will also affect how other people will react to you
  • Do one thing at a time. If you have too much to do and can see no way to cope with it, see if you can divide it up and then tackle the bits one at a time. Prioritise and then do the worst thing first
  • The words ‘must’ and ‘should’ create pressure. Work out what you can realistically cope with and be content with this. You don’t have to be Superman/Wonder Woman
  • If people expect too much of you, you don’t have to accept their targets. Learn to be more assertive and say ‘No’
  • Stress can make you hard to live with and create problems with those close to you. Nurture strong, confident relationships which give you people to confide in and help you fight stress
  • Talk to someone – if you don’t have a supportive relationship or someone to confide in, there are lots of professional therapists who specialise in helping people with stress
  • Treat yourself as you would a good friend. What advice would you give?
  • Help others – people who help others become more resilient themselves. This can be as simple as doing someone a small favour that costs nothing
  • Shift your perspective by noticing what you have to be grateful for. Problems are often a question of perspective
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings – get them out of your head
  • Accept that there are things in life you can’t change – people get ill, people die, people lose jobs. Bad things happen and everyone has to learn to accept them as a part of life. Focus on the things you can control instead
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and cut down on high sugar foods such as cakes, biscuits and sweets which may fuel anxiety
  • Caffeine can make you feel alert but the effects of too much are the same as those of stress and anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the brain and central nervous system. It can be found in: coffee, tea, Coke, Fanta, aspirin, cold remedies, headache tablets, energy tablets, drinks like Pro-Plus and Red Bull and even in chocolate at a low level
  • Stay hydrated by drinking more fresh, clean water
  • Some people believe that smoking helps them relax, but nicotine is a stimulant. The reported relaxation effect of smoking is nothing more than deep breathing when you inhale. Practice the breathing but lose the cigarettes
  • Make some time for relaxation, fun and enjoyment. If you think you don’t have time for this – you need it the most!
  • Learn Mindful Breathing (see my blog on ‘3 Quick Relaxation Exercises’)
  • Listen to music – sing and dance along to something upbeat, or relax to something calming and emotion-free
  • Physical exercise – get active even if you just go for a walk. Doing something physical completes the stress cycle and allows those stress hormones to dissipate, so you feel better
  • Get out in nature to feel uplifted – go to the park or for a walk in the countryside
  • Find a hobby or interest that gives you a sense of achievement – adult colouring books or doodling zentangles are great for feeling creative. Don’t know what they are? Look it up. Challenge yourself with something new
  • And finally….RELAX! Do some deep abdominal slow breathing or listen to my free 10 minutes Relaxation track on http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com to instantly feel a little better

I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Hypnotherapist based in York. I can be reached via my website at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com

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3 Quick Relaxation Exercises


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Perhaps you’re feeling stressed or anxious and you know that you need to calm things down fast. Knowing that you need to calm things down to feel better, just makes you more anxious and more stressed because you don’t know how to do it. It can be difficult to change that state of emotional arousal when you don’t have a clue where to start. I see clients every week who have this dilemma. By sharing these quick relaxation tips, they soon learn how to get back in control of any anxious, stressful feelings and reduce the physical symptoms that can feel so distressing.

Did you know that your breathing plays an essential role in stress and anxiety? Breathing is a powerful determinant of physical state. When your breathing rate becomes elevated, a number of physiological changes begin to happen. Perhaps you’ve noticed this yourself when you’ve had a fright; you might suddenly gasp, feel a little breathless or lightheaded, or notice tingling sensations around your body. The way you breathe is a major factor in producing these and other sensations that are noticeable when you’re stressed or anxious.

One of the first things I teach my clients is the important role breathing plays in controlling the stress response, and how changing your breathing can be used to send a strong, positive message to your brain that everything is ok, you are safe at this moment and you can allow yourself to relax and calm down.

So if you are feeling stressed give this a try now. Find a place where you will be undisturbed for a few minutes. You can close your eyes or keep them open, whatever is comfortable for you. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting lightly in your lap. If you wish you can lay down.

Exercise 1 – Breathing to release tension

  • Breathe in deeply (from your diaphragm) to the count of  7. Pause.
  • Breathe out to the count of 11. Pause.
  • Breathe in to the count of 7 and so on…

Just allow the oxygen to gently and slowly flow in and flow out. The numbers themselves aren’t important – it’s the lengthening of the out breath that does it. Sometimes people find it hard to breathe this slowly at first so adjust the numbers if you wish.

Once you have practised this breathing technique you can add the following:

  • As you breathe in, imagine that the air around you is a wonderful colour of calm. As you breathe in allow the colour to flow in and through your body like a wave of calmness, clearing any tension in your body or stresses in your mind
  • As you breathe out, imagine any tension or stress flowing out and away from you and disappearing into the air where it evaporates and disappears

Exercise 2 – Deep Breathing Technique

  • Breathe in so that your belly (not your chest) rises. This deep abdominal breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) is the correct way to breathe
  • You can check whether you are doing this correctly by placing your hands on your belly with your fingertips touching, on an out breath. As you breathe in, your fingertips should part

So why does changing my breathing help?

You might already know that you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. For the body to run efficiently, there needs to be a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide, and this balance is maintained by how fast and how deeply you breathe. Of course, the body needs different amounts of oxygen depending on your level of activity. When you exercise, there is an increase in both oxygen and carbon dioxide; in relaxation there is a decrease in both oxygen and carbon dioxide. In both cases the balance is maintained. However, when you are anxious, this balance is disrupted. You take in more oxygen than the body needs – in other words you overbreathe, or hyperventilate. When this balance is detected, the body responds with a number of chemical changes that produce those uncomfortable physical symptoms; dizziness, light-headedness, confusion, breathlessness, blurred vision, increasing heart rate, numbness and tingling in the extremities, cold clammy hands and muscle stiffness. The normal rate of breathing is 10 to 12 breaths per minute. What is your breathing rate and would you benefit from slowing down?

Exercise 3 – Mindfulness relaxation – it only takes a minute every day

This technique is simple yet very effective. Take a moment to practice it every day:

  • Close your eyes and focus your awareness on your body and become aware of any and all sensations there
  • Now focus your attention like a spotlight on any particular tightness or discomfort anywhere in the body. If there are none then just focus on the stillness in the body

You are not trying to judge any sensations or change them, but simply to become aware of them. If your mind wanders then gently escort it back to focusing on your breathing

  • You may find that any areas of tension begin to loosen and relax. You don’t need to try to do this, just be aware of any relaxation happening
  • You can stay like this for as long as you wish but even a minute is beneficial

Using these calming exercises, you can experience a minute of stillness, slow your breathing down and reduce your general level of anxiety. The key to gaining control really is practice, so set aside some time to do this every day. With enough practice, it will even help to reduce feelings of stress when you are in an anxious situation.

There are lots of breathing techniques out there so experiment with them and see what a difference this new habit can make.

I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Hypnotherapist and I work in York. I can be reached via my website at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com

Getting Motivated!


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Are you one of those people who can’t seem to get motivated? Perhaps you have a list of things you need to do or want to achieve, but can’t quite get around to doing anything about it? Would you like some help to make that all important start? If so then read on and get motivated!

Get de-stressed

Did you realize that stress has a massive effect on your levels of motivation? When you are stressed you are using the emotional part of your brain to make decisions rather than the rational thinking part. It is harder to think clearly when you are wrapped up in emotional arousal. To activate the logical thinking that allows you to plan, prioritise and problem solve, you need to de-stress first. It is worth making the effort to do this, however hard it may seem. It is not a waste of time as you will be so much more productive when you are calm and thinking clearly. There are many ways you can do this – relaxation, mindfulness meditation, self-hypnosis, breathing exercises to name a few. Try out my free relaxation track for 10 minutes of de-stressing here: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com

Plan

Set some time aside to make a plan. Having a strategy to follow will make things easier. Do you remember having to write an essay at school or college? It was often difficult to know where to start and the whole idea of writing several thousand words seemed overwhelming.

Making a plan first provides you with a framework and a guide to where you are going, which in turn makes things look more manageable. In the essay example it might be something like: Paragraph 1 = Introduction; Paragraph 2 = first argument/method/model, with evidence; Paragraph 3 = second argument ; Paragraph 4 = compare arguments; Paragraph 4 = Conclusion.

With a framework in place you can then decide the content for each section. Once you have decided what needs to go into each section one by one, the task doesn’t seem so daunting and you feel ready to make a start on the first smaller, manageable step. You also have a clear idea of where you are heading and the end goal. You can even set time frames for each chunk and feel a sense of achievement as each mini-goal is reached, which motivates you to continue.

So, back to that ‘to do’ list:

Step 1: Remind yourself why each entry on your list is important to you.

Why is it valuable to you? What do you want to achieve? Give yourself a sense of purpose.

Step 2: Prioritise

Have a look at your ‘to do’ list and for each entry consider whether there are any deadlines. Do some things need to be completed before others can be started? The answers you give will allow you to get your entries in order of priority.

I often carry out this exercise with clients facing exams with weeks of revision ahead. They often feel very anxious and completely overwhelmed by the amount of things on the list and can’t get motivated to make a start. By breaking things down into order of priority, you can make a start, ensuring the most important things are tackled first.

Step 2: Break tasks down into manageable chunks

Have another look at your prioritised ‘to do’ list and for each entry consider breaking tasks down further into manageable chunks. For an exam, a student might take ‘revise Art History’ and break it down into meaningful components by themes or artists or time periods etc. It may be necessary to break these chunks down further too and this can be determined by considering whether each chunk is manageable and can be realistically attempted and completed within the time scales available. You will also need to consider:

  • do I have everything I need to complete this
  • if not, what do I need and what action do I need to take to get it
  • what are the barriers to completing this task and what steps do I need to take to remove them

Step 3: Chunk down further if necessary. When you have manageable chunks you will feel that each one is achievable and this will motivate you.

Step 4: You are ready to make a start!

With a clear strategy and a guiding framework to follow it is so much easier to feel encouraged to make that all important start and also to stay motivated. Once you get going, notice all your small achievements along the way as you complete each meaningful chunk or mini-goal. This strategy can be applied in many different areas of life – wherever you need to feel motivated.

For example, I regularly help clients wanting to manage their weight. They will often set a goal of wanting to shed say, 30 pounds, which has so far felt so overwhelming that it has been difficult for them to make a start. Sometimes they have managed to make a start, but soon stumble when the end goal seems so far away, and then their motivation wanes and disappears. It’s usually when this feeling of hopelessness starts that they contact me for help. When we make a start of breaking this overall goal down to a realistic and manageable 1 or 2 pounds per week, things suddenly seem more achievable.  The client feels motivated again and we can set about planning ways to ensure that each mini-goal is reached within the timescale.

If you struggle with motivation, there are many professional coaches, trainers and therapists who can help you. I run a successful therapy practice in #York. If you need some help I can be reached via my website at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com/contact.html

Feeling inspired to make those changes? Feeling motivated? Make that plan now!

Have you ever considered how your diet may be affecting your mental health?


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As a specialist helping people to overcome issues that affect personal well-being and happiness, I see many clients suffering the effects of stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and fatigue. There are many techniques and tools I can use to help them and together we work to get them back on track. However, I also look at the big picture and it is noticeable how many people are not supporting their mental health by consuming the nutrients that are needed to maintain it.

Now I’m not a qualified nutritionist but I can guide people in the direction of sound nutritional advice from experts. Have you ever considered how your diet may be affecting your mental health?

It seems second nature nowadays to understand that a good, healthy diet is necessary for physical wellness, but there appears to be less awareness of the effects of poor diet on mental health and well-being. For example, there is growing evidence that what you eat plays an important part in the development, management and prevention of depression. Ensuring your diet has adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals can help protect you from mood swings.

Similarly, sugar can create inflammation in the cells and spike the levels in your blood, causing your energy levels to crash when levels dip, leading to irritability and low mood. Caffeine is a stimulant and affects your adrenal glands – just like stress. It isn’t just coffee that contains caffeine – it is included in tea, many fizzy drinks and in chocolate. In large quantities caffeine can increase blood pressure, feelings of anxiety, depressive symptoms and stop you sleeping. Caffeine is also a diuretic, meaning it promotes the production of urine and causes you to lose water from the body. It is very important to stay hydrated – we seldom drink the amount of water we need. Effects of mild dehydration include irritability, loss of concentration and reduced mental functioning. Without the essential nutrients you need in your diet, how can the body and mind rebuild and maintain itself properly. All those nerves and synapses in the brain need nutrients in order to connect and fire in the right way.

Just as caffeine is a stimulant, we know that alcohol has a depressant effect on the brain. Alcohol can quickly create low mood, irritability and/or aggressive behaviour. As a toxin, it has to be deactivated by the liver and your body uses many nutrients to complete the detoxification process, depleting any reserves you have.

Today’s diet has developed along with new production techniques, which gives us easy access to processed food. In our busy lives, we often go for the quick, easy option and bypass fresh food, which takes longer to prepare. We are ingesting more sugar and additives than ever before. I’m sure you have heard of the recommended 5 a day, but not many people eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, despite the availability of frozen options. Apparently in the UK we are also eating less fish, so our consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is declining. Have you noticed those supplements on the shelves promoting that they boost brain functioning?

It’s not just about what we eat either! It’s also important to consider when and how often we eat. In order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and avoid mood swings, we need to eat regularly throughout the day, including breakfast. Low blood sugar creates low mood, irritability and tiredness. When you notice that dip in blood sugar, eat a healthy snack such as raw nuts with a piece of fruit or raw veg. Eating wholegrain foods and complex rather than simple carbohydrates (think a raw apple rather than apple juice) fills you up and gives you a slower release of energy which helps stave off those hunger pangs you notice, when blood sugar levels dip and send you craving for the easiest option such as a sugary snack.

So perhaps this has provoked you to think more about the nutritional value of what you are eating. Look carefully at your next meal and consider this – is it just empty calories, or are there vital vitamins and minerals that supply the brain with what it needs to function well? For example we know that the brain needs the amino acid tryptophan, which can influence mood, and is provided when you eat protein. If you have a diet rich in sugary, processed foods and little protein then you are cutting off your supply.

The best way to eat healthily and not get too bogged down by the detail of what each food group provides, is to eat as wide a variety of foods as you can and mix things up a bit. On your next shopping trip why not spend a little longer looking at what is available – try a different fruit or a new vegetable – there are many weird and wonderful examples from all over the world in every supermarket. Your brain will love you for it!