Since I began working with people one to one over twenty years ago, I have found myself dealing with the issue of stress. So many people struggle with the continuous experience of cortisol and adrenaline pumping through their system, making them always feel on edge. Now there are many strategies out there that can help people who are stressed. I wanted to take some time not just to refer to some of them but also to explore a way of thinking about stress that might help. What is the answer to stress?
There is an idea out there that stress is either positive or negative. Positive stress has been explained as the kind of stress that keeps us safe and out of harm’s way. When we find ourselves on a busy street and a car comes towards us for example, we get a heightened state of arousal that gets us to take action. Negative stress is the fact that this ‘life-saving’ experience happens to us much of the time when we are not actually physically threatened.
Continuing from that logic, it would appear that stress is a kind of faulty alarm system. It not only tells us when we are at the risk of being hurt physically but also emotionally and sometimes it continues to send messages even if we have made ourselves safe. So, how do we maintain the good work that stress does and handle it better?
Well, I think firstly we have to ask ourselves what the stress is trying to tell us. Then I believe we need to figure out whether or not that is useful for us to know. If so we need to take action. If not, then what is our next step?
To me, since there is an emotional and physical aspect to stress, the smartest thing to do is to combine an emotional and physical solution to dealing with it. Emotionally we have a variety of strategies such as brilliant NLP techniques and Mindfulness as well as Positive Psychology techniques.
NLP teaches us to change how we feel by taking charge over the images we create in our head and how we talk to ourselves in our mind. We can change the tone of our own inner voices and that helps reduce the intensity of our emotions. We can make the images of what scares us smaller and further away and make the feeling start to disappear. These are just some of the strategies available from this magnificent technology. To me, NLP is the most effective set of strategies we have.
Mindfulness offers us the practice of staying in the present and simply observing our thoughts, our bodies and the world around us. By grounding ourselves like this we fail to focus on the past and future which is where much of our stressful feelings come from. Positive Psychology presents some research based strategies to conquering stress such as keeping journals and engaging in gratitude lists. There are also great strategies available from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy such as changing how much control we feel we have in our lives. There are effective breathing techniques and visualisations as well that can help. These are just some examples.
But, to me, the thing that is often missed is the work that we can do on the outside. By this I am referring to ways to handle the physical side of stress. Now, we all know that getting a massage can certainly help as can a nice bath or a stint in the spa. Also, exercising, resting and eating healthy are known to help the challenge of stress. I want to talk, however, about a really important aspect of how to deal with stress physically. It comes down to the power of our intention.
By intention I mean whenever you do something, the purpose and intention that you have for doing it plays a great part in how effective it is. For example, if you go to the gym and handle your stress by punching the bag and thinking of punching the people that caused you stress, that is not necessarily going to help. But if you imagine that as you punch the bag you are letting go of all the negativity and stress and worry with every punch then you will find yourself feeling remarkably better.
The same is true of simply writing down your worries or stressors. By writing them down with the intention of getting them out of your head and onto a piece of paper, your mind will follow through and help you actively feel this release. The power of your intention whenever you do what you do must not be undervalued. It can be the difference between practising stress and releasing it.
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