How resilient are you under pressure?
How well are you able to rise above and positively deal with everyday stress?
While most of us would say that we suffer from anxiety and stress in some form, the extent to which we are experiencing it is chilling and far-reaching.
In almost every workshop that I deliver, I am confronted by good people who are seeking ways to combat this epidemic.
The evidence is overwhelming that no matter where in the western world you live that this is the case.
Do you know how to beat stress and anxiety?
Why Stress and Anxiety are a Worry
The Stress and wellbeing in Australia survey 2015, conducted by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) for the fifth year in a row, found people reporting severe levels of distress are more likely to engage in potentially risky behaviours such as drinking alcohol (61%), gambling (41%), smoking (40%) and recreational drug use (31%) to manage stress.
In the UK:
- In 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.
- The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work related stress, depression or anxiety (LFS) were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support
- Source: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/
In the US:
7 Top causes of stress:
- Job pressure due to co-worker tension, bosses, work overload
- Money pressure due to loss of job, reduced retirement, medical expenses
- Health worries due to health crisis, terminal or chronic illness
- Relationship distress due to divorce, death of spouse, arguments with friends, loneliness
- Poor nutrition due to inadequate nutrition, caffeine, processed foods, refined sugars
- Media overload due to television, radio, internet, e-mail, social networking
- Sleep deprivation due to inability to release adrenaline and other stress hormones
- Source: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/highlights.aspx
- Work-related stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe — after musculoskeletal disorders. Around half of workers consider it to be common in their workplace.
- 50–60% of all lost working days can be attributed to work-related stress.
- In a recent European poll conducted by EU-OSHA the most common causes of work-related stress cited were job reorganisation or job insecurity (72% of respondents), working long hours or excessive workload (66%) and being bullied or harassed at work (59%).
- The same poll showed that around 4 in 10 workers think that stress is not handled well in their workplace.
- Source: http://hw2014.healthy-workplaces.eu/en/stress-and-psychosocial-risks/facts-and-figures
The rise of anxiety and stress in our western world is scary. And, even scarier is our seeming inability to counteract it, even though we have more tools, techniques, insights and wisdom on the subject than ever before.
Stress and anxiety.
Anxiety and stress.
Are you experiencing one or more of the following symptoms of stress?
Signs of stress include:
- Sleep disturbance, insomnia
- Upset stomach
- Anger, irritability
- Feeling overwhelmed, out of control
- Inability to let things go (rumination)
The Effects of Stress on Your Body
To find out more about the extensive damage stress can have on your body, check out this interesting article
12 Ways to Beat Stress and Anxiety
How do we effectively manage and then maintain a realistic and moderated lifestyle: where we teach our children the meaning of “balance” and calm?
Today I share 12 ways we can get that stress monkey under control and learn how to self-regulate and bounce back better….
One: Awareness and Conscious Thinking
The act of being present is grossly under-rated in today’s busy world. Much has been written and researched around the seriousness of not being present. I write about the “wandering mind” in this article and its impact on our health and wellbeing.
Simply put, our feelings and thoughts drive our decisions. Our decisions drive our behaviours. Our behaviours drive the results we get both at work and at home.
Becoming more aware of our feelings is a critical first step to combating anxiety and stress.
85% or so of our decisions are made at an unconscious level (see this article for more detail) due to the way our brain works to conserve and release energy for important decisions.
The key to using our feelings is to recognise our feelings and how they are driving the decisions we are making, at a conscious level.
Conscious thinking is the key to overcoming most of the challenges we face.
When we are able to consciously notice and name what is happening to us, we can interrupt any negative feelings or thoughts that are driving poor decisions and replace them with better, healthier thoughts and feelings.
Find 2 great extra techniques to help with this here
Two: Journal Your Feelings
In almost every workshop I train where I ask learners to list all the feelings they have felt over the past 24 hours, inevitably they will share an average of around 4 – 8 feelings experienced.
The truth is closer to 27 feelings experienced every waking hour which is very much off-the-mark of the results they give. (source: Emotional Intelligence 2.0)
We are so removed from how we are feeling that we are often surprised by our reactions in the face of stressful situations. And, this often leads to use having little control over how we manage them too.
By simply journaling your feelings over a 3 – 7 day period, you will start to notice dramatic results in awareness. Once you are able to notice how you are feeling, you can start to notice the themes that come through. This can give you better insights into what affects you and how to better handle situations that you don’t feel comfortable in.
Three: Get More Present with Yourself
A daily check-in is essential in times of stress and anxiety because it will help you to keep grounded and allow you to make better decisions on how to handle yourself.
A great question to ask yourself when you are aware that you are under pressure is, “What is the best thing I can do for myself right now?”
Whether it is a toilet break, a trip to the kitchen for a cup of water, a quick stretch or grabbing a healthy bite to eat, asking this question will allow you to make better decisions and help you look after yourself.
Breathing is such a simple and effective way to combat anxiety and stress because it ensures oxygen gets circulated to the brain, helping us to perk up and stay present.
Our ability to breathe deeply and from our diaphragm is undermined when we are anxious or stressed.
We end up breathing from our upper chest and this results in short, choppy breaths that don’t allow oxygen to flow to our brain and therefore impedes our ability to think smartly in the moment.
Taking 3 – 5 deep breathes in and gently releasing them, calms you down and grounds you.
Before you go into a meeting or what could be a stressful situation, take a few moments to breathe. It could be a life-saver!
Five: The Joy of Meditation
The benefits of focused breathing cannot be underestimated. Meditation used to be the area of “woo-hoo” and “out there weirdo’s” but with neuroscience putting the spotlight on the effects of meditation, it has become more mainstream. Read more about meditation from my article on this here.
Meditation includes a wide-variety of techniques like prayer, guided imagery walks, self-focused breathing techniques and is widely used in yoga classes around Brisbane where I live.
I like to keep things simple by closing my eyes and focusing on my breathing for a few minutes.
When I am under pressure, this calms and relaxes me and allows me to get back my focus.
Some great apps to help you with meditation include:
Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk aiming to make meditation accessible. He delivers the directed 10-minute sessions in his relaxed style – no hippy talk here, he strips it down to basics and throws in the odd joke.
Free and paid versions available: http://www.getsomeheadspace.com
- Smiling Mind
Adults aren’t the only ones who are stressed. Sometimes you need to think of the kids too. Smiling Mind was created in Australia and is aimed at helping young people de-stress and stay calm. There are tailored programmes for different age groups, all delivered in relaxing Aussie tones. There’s one for adults too so you don’t have to miss out.
Free, available on iPhone, iPad and Android: https://smilingmind.com.au/smiling-mind-app/
Six: Personal Power Statements or Affirmations
The field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming allowed us to understand how we think, feel and act better.
It has also given us affirmations which are a very powerful technique if used consistently.
Positive affirmations are very simply: positive self-talk.
They provide us with a way of intercepting our negative unconscious thoughts and biases that may be holding us back.
Your affirmations should be positive and in the present tense.
By saying the affirmations consistently each day for a period of 63 days, you create a new neural pathway that will over time become more powerful than the “old, self-limiting” belief you held.
Your brain responds to your affirmations because you become what you say to yourself most of the time.
Some examples of affirmations when you are under pressure could include:
- I am ok
- I’ve done this before and it’s been ok
- I’ve got this
And, if your brain is resistant to what you are telling it, it may be that you adapt your language to include what you are becoming:
- I am becoming better at managing my stress
- I am improving in my positive self-talk everyday
- I am getting better at dealing positively with stressful situations
I like to suggest starting out with a list of 10 positive power statements or affirmations and working with these over a period of 63 days. You can add and delete to these as you need to.
- Read them to yourself out loud
- Read them out a second time, this time silently
- Read them out a third time by running your finger under each word as you quietly say them out loud
- You can say these out loud as often you as you need although I have found it useful to create a ritual of first thing in the morning and last thing before I sleep – but it’s up to you!
Seven: Reaching Out
Often we tend to shut-down and go into isolation mode when we are anxious and stressed. This is counter-intuitive because we were made for connection, not isolation.
Isolation increases our sense of overwhelm and anxiety. And that should give us an indication that it’s not good for us.
Instead, reach out to friends and loved ones for support.
Make time to go out for a coffee or a bite to eat at a favourite restaurant, or why not try someplace new to meet-up
The endorphins that are released when you share your troubles or even step away from them for an hour or two can be very beneficial.
And, if you don’t have a support circle you can turn to, there are a number of hotlines you can call that will put you in touch with the support you need.
US: www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines and https://psychcentral.com/lib/telephone-hotlines-and-help-lines/
South Africa: www.sadag.org/
Eight: Letting It Go
Did you know that hostility has a direct correlation to cardiovascular disease (Miller, Smith, Turner, Guijarro, & Hallet, 1996) and your overall health?
When you hold onto your anger and hurts, you sabotage your body because you hold onto and retain the emotions related to these.
And, when you hold on, you release negative chemicals that create inflammation – a known cause of cancers, cardio vascular diseases and so on.
Dr. Pietrini, at the University of Pisa in Italy, has been exploring whether forgiveness exerts a positive effect on you and me.
His research showed that anger and vengeance inhibited rational thinking and caused high activity in the amygdala, which is involved in the fight-or-flight response. Anger and rage, then, impede reason.
He found that because forgiving represents an approach for the individual to overcome a situation which otherwise would be a major cause of stress, it can have a significant impact on our body, emotional and brain health.
Your ability to cognitively control your emotions is a key factor in helping you reframe and let go of situations and experiences that are literally, weighing you down.
Three Ways to Reframe Negativity
Reframing involves using your cognitive reasoning to see things from different perspectives. So, although the facts stay the same, you are able to mentally “reframe” the picture so that it looks different. And, this can be very helpful in letting things go.
You can reframe in 3 ways:
One: De-escalating Reframe
You reframe an event by devising a new, less upsetting interpretation of a painful event.g. when my husband teases me about leaving my phone on silent after a day in workshops and his frustration of not being able to contact me, I often feel that he is criticising my ability to manage my life. By understanding how frustrating it must be for my husband or anyone trying to contact me via mobile when I have left it on silent, I can step away from the feelings of being criticised to seeing it as feedback from someone who loves me and wants to stay in contact with me.
Two: Positive Perspective Reframe
Another way to reframe is to consider a range of possible points of view that led someone to act a certain way. This makes it more difficult to blame and demonize that person and continue generating the same level of resentment as you did before.g. In a recent downsize in one of my client’s organisations, a number of errors were made that directly impact on my ability to put food on the table. Rather than taking the errors personally, I was able to step back and imagine the course of events that created the errors, the emotions my client’s staff were experiencing during a very difficult time. This helped me to let go of my frustrations and be more open to
Three: Opportunity Reframe
Finally, by asking yourself what constructive learning, meaning, or opportunity may have resulted from an offense and the suffering it caused. E.g. In the case of forgetting to put my phone off silent, I recognise that there is an opportunity for me to learn to pause at the end of my training day, before I rush off to collect my daughter from school and the chaos of life.
A great article on the science of forgiveness can be found here
Nine: Redirect and Refocus
Have you ever noticed how you tend to ruminate on a negative event – perhaps even waking up during the night because it has disturbed you so much?
When you ruminate and hang onto negative events, you release chemicals which are not good for you, your body or your brain to function well.
Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, may be good for you at level one – because it helps you stay on a task. But, at levels 2 and 3, it can cause serious long-term damage to your body, brain and emotional happiness.
Redirection and refocus is a great technique that a lot of parents use when their children are acting up. They use this technique unconsciously, to take our little people from a state of stress or anxiety, to a happier state.
And it works!
Have you ever watched a child who is getting really upset? If a parent or care-giver can intercede before they get to tantrum state and redirect their focus and energy, they can get the child to calm down.
As an adult, you too can consciously redirect your focus when you notice yourself starting to get sucked into the drama of a situation.
When you notice that you are starting to get anxious, angry, or overly frustrated with an event or person, change the activity you are involved in to redirect your focus.
It does take a little practice but the benefits are worth the conscious effort!
Ten: The Simple Gift of Gratefulness
Up until the early 2000’s, there was not a lot work in the area of gratefulness.
Until that is, when Emmons and McCullough shared their findings on this fascinating topic. In their journal, The Psychology of Gratefulness, the authors have brought together prominent scientists from various disciplines to examine what has become known as the most-neglected emotion.
Some fascinating studies into this little-known area are included in the journal and the results were pretty amazing: by practising gratefulness, you can increase your happiness levels and decrease the feelings associated with negativity, depression, anxiety.
The act of being grateful raises the positive chemical levels in your body and allow you to feel good about yourself, the people around you and the environment in which you work.
By choosing to focus on 3 experiences over a period of your day that you are grateful for, you can significantly increase your ability to focus and get into “flow” – that crucial part of your brain that allows you to get tasks done and feel good about yourself.
Eleven: The Extraordinary Power of Exercise
You know that exercise is good for your body.
Among other facts, exercise decreases the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke and related factors, decreases the risk of various cancers, lowers blood pressure, improves metabolism, reduces problems related to diabetes, assists in the maintenance of bone density, and improves your immune system.
But did you know that exercise is also good for your head?
In research that has been conducted, exercise was found to be an effective anti-depressant both immediately and over the long term.
In fact, over a period of just a few months, people who experience depression and related illnesses saw a significant improvement in their mental well-being.
And, interestingly enough, the form you take in your exercise doesn’t appear to matter, as long as you are exercising your body.
What was also discovered about exercise was that the greater the length of the exercise programme and the larger the total number of exercise sessions, the greater the decrease in depression.
So, stop making excuses and get moving today!
And, if you are stuck and are not sure how to create an exercise plan for you, check out this article from Helpguide.org as a good place to get you started.
Twelve: A Positive Approach to Stress, Anger and Others
Dr Ilona Boniwell is one of the most prominent positive psychology academics in Europe and I first came across her through her fast-paced Ted.com talk on how to teach children resilience, “Educating For Happiness and Resilience” See her ted.com talk here
Dr Ilona Boniwell uses the NUMB process to teach children how to manage stress effectively. I really enjoy this technique and have adapted my learning and application of it to suit adults in my workshops and coaching.
And, my experience is that it works just as well with adults…..
N = Notice the Negative Emotion
By being conscious of what is happening for you, you can learn to notice your triggers for stress. This could be from a physiological place (e.g. increased heart rate, butterflies in your tummy, pressure building in your head, sweating) or a head place e.g. negativity towards someone or something in the form of blaming, judging, criticism, being dismissive of them, taking what they say personally, getting defensive.
Try not to judge yourself when you notice you have been triggered or you will just increase your levels of anxiety.
Just learn to notice your triggers and accept them for what they are.
U = Understand your triggers and emotions and where they have come from as well as the affect they have on you
Once you have noticed and recognised your triggers, notice the affect they are having on you. Notice how your body reacts to them. E.g. your muscles in your neck start to feel very tense, your shoulders hunch up and in, your stomach tightens uncomfortably.
From a brain perspective, you may notice that your thinking becomes “foggy” and you feel like you are speaking or thinking through a vacuum.
M = Manage Your Negative Emotions
The most practical part of the NUMB process is learning to manage your emotions in a positive way, that lowers your stress levels and helps you stay in relationship with others.
3 Ways to Manage Negative Emotion
You can learn to manage your emotions in 3 ways through the acronym ACT. ACT is a 3-part series of “interventions” as Dr Boniwell calls them or techniques that allow you to work through and release your negativity energy.
When using ACT, I would recommend starting with A and then moving onto C and then T – in this way you, you will give your brain a “routine” that allows it learn how to calm down.
Active Interventions: e.g. go for a quick run, a brisk walk, run up and down on the spot for 60 seconds (you cannot do this activity and ruminate on your negative event at the same time!). This technique allows you to release the most potent part of your anger, frustration, hurt etc so that you can move to the next step. Remove yourself from the situation and try not to focus or think about it.
Calming: e.g. deep breathe, repeat positive affirmations such as “I am ok”, “I will get through this,” “I am going to be ok”, do some meditation for 2 minutes.
When you practice these techniques, you allow your body and brain to calm itself and regain your ability to think rationally and in the moment.
Thinking Interventions: e.g. consider your options, use a reframe to look objectively at the situation from both perspectives (see above section on forgiveness on 3 ways to do this) or work through the situation using some good quality questions to guide you (such as “What really matters to me in this situation”, “What is my goal and what is the shared outcome I want to achieve from this situation”)
Thinking in this way allows your brain to make objective, good decisions based on your values.
When you make quick decisions in the moment of hurt, you usually go “below the line” and you most likely will act out of congruence with your values.
This explains why you often replay and ruminate on negative events.
B = Build on the Positive Emotion
Once you have gotten a hold of your negative emotions and have some ideas on how to move forward, congratulate yourself. When you acknowledge that you have done the hard work of achieving your goal of working through this negative event, you can let go and move on.
And this is a very positive sign that you are building resilience!
Tying it Altogether
Stress and anxiety don’t have to be something that keeps you down and affects your relationships negatively.
By making some small changes to your daily routine and becoming more conscious, you can learn to bounce back from set-back and rise above the day to day stressors.
A summary of tips on how to beat stress and anxiety:
- Notice negative self-talk “I can’t cope”, “I’m too tired”
- Identify triggers, situations that make you stressed and try to avoid them
- Spend time with people who care about you and share your feelings
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet and /stay well-nourished
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs
- Get enough sleep
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