Sometimes stress builds up, and you feel totally overwhelmed. When this happens, you need tools that work in the moment to help you feel relaxed and in control
We all know that too much stress isn’t good for us. As well as damaging our mental and physical health, it can cause problems at work and in our relationships.
But taking action can be easier said than done. Making time for self-care, reaching out for support, and getting enough sleep, are all fantastic for keeping us calm, but let’s be realistic, sometimes circumstances don’t allow for this.
There are times in our lives when things build up, and the feeling of being overwhelmed hits you like a brick wall. When this happens, getting up from your desk at work to go to a yoga class, or saying “Sorry kids, I need some me-time, make your own dinner” isn’t always possible.
This is why having some tools to lower stress is so important. The following steps can help you do just that.
1. Say ‘stop’
Often when we’re stressed, our thinking becomes too fast and we spiral into panic. The trick to getting out of this is self-awareness. As soon as you recognise what’s happening, say the word ‘stop’, ideally out-loud – but in your head is fine, too.
The ‘stop’ technique (or thought-stopping) is often used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help prevent obsessive or worrying thoughts from taking over. By recognising what’s happening, you have the opportunity to change your way of thinking.
2. Focus on your breathing
A good step to take after using the stop technique is to deepen your breathing. When we’re stressed, we take more shallow breaths, and this can lead to physical anxiety symptoms such as dizziness and chest pain.
To counter this, try to breathe from your belly and exhale a little longer than you inhale. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is great at reducing anxiety and stress – simply breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight.
3. Visualise yourself somewhere lovely
This may sound incredibly simple, but a little visualisation can go a long way. Imagine yourself in a calm setting, somewhere quiet, and really allow yourself to be there. Maybe you’re on a beach, in your childhood home, or a tranquil garden. Find a place you feel safe. Remember a time you felt calm, confident and in control. Recall how you felt, and let your body respond.
4. Use the WOOP technique
Developed by psychotherapist Gabriele Oettingen, the WOOP technique can be a powerful way to move past mental blocks. Take a few minutes to think about the following:
Wish – what is your wish or hope right now?
Outcome – what is the ideal outcome?
Obstacle – what might be getting in your way?
Plan – what is one action you can take? Make the following plan: “If [obstacle], then I will [action or thought].”
There are times when stress is unavoidable, but it’s important to recognise when it’s taking over
5. Listen to your favourite music
Classical music has been shown to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress hormones. But if classical isn’t your thing, any music you love will give your mood a lift. Find something that reminds you of a happy memory and, if you can, have a five-minute dance party!
Use these techniques when things get busy, but try not to rely on them solely for reducing your stress. There are times when stress is unavoidable, but it’s important to recognise when it’s taking over and becoming a daily feature.
If you’re finding stress is affecting your health, you need to think long-term. It’s always worth speaking to your GP, but you may also want to try talking therapies such as CBT to help you understand the link between thoughts and behaviours, or hypnotherapy which can help you change your response to stress.
Stress affects us in many ways but there are also a variety of methods to tackle it, so don’t worry – the right help is out there for you.
For more information on managing stress visit counselling-directory.org.uk