Stress is very much a modern phenomenon, it seems. All of us experience stress in our lives from time to time. Some people thrive on it, even embrace it. Others are overcome by it and succumb to disabling physical and mental symptoms. Of course, if the stressful situation is of short duration, then we will probably be able to ride it out and cope without too many adverse effects. However, when stress is drawn out or continuous over a longer period, then it begins to cause problems.
Symptoms to look out for
First of all, how do you recognise that you are suffering from stress? Symptoms can be:
Migraines or headaches
Loss of appetite, weight loss / Comfort eating, weight gain
Digestive disturbances, such as IBS
Panic symptoms – racing heart, chest pains, tense muscles around the neck and shoulders
Inability to concentrate
‘No room in your head’ to interact with friends or family
Paranoid thoughts, seeing oneself as a victim
Continually feeling ‘overloaded’ or overwhelmed
Pretending to care, but actions and feelings are incongruous
Finding excuses not to see friends, attend events, etc.
Increased alcohol intake or smoking
Sudden mood swings
Anxiety in the evenings, dreading the next day
Can’t be bothered to get up or get dressed
Feeling irritable or short tempered with family, friends and colleagues
Eventually these symptoms can lead to Burnout, a state of complete emotional and physical exhaustion, putting oneself down, experiencing deep feelings of failure and lack of concern for others. Likely personal stressors in our lives, which we will all experience from time to time, include bereavement, moving house, relationship issues, caring for elderly parents, annual or family events such as Christmas and holidays, redundancy, illness or physical impairment. Our working lives can be stressful too through poor management, lack of support, difficult colleagues, bullying, excessive workload, lack of control or little personal autonomy over our work.
What can you do to help yourself?
Above are some of the symptoms of stress to watch out for. Monitor yourself carefully and, if you recognise that you are experiencing any or many of these, take action to help yourself. Firstly, no matter how much pressure you feel you are under, it is vitally important to set aside some time for yourself at least on a weekly basis. ‘Self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.’
Ensure that you have a healthy and active personal life outside of work. You can check this by mapping your individual support system – family and friends, colleagues at work, time you take for relaxation, exercise or doing something else you enjoy. When you have completed your personal map, check how you are connected to these various support systems. Are they easy to access, is the link strong or tenuous, are they the foundations of your life or are they ephemeral? Everyone will have different forms of support, different ways of relaxing and taking care of themselves. Once you have a comprehensive list, then ask yourself what prevents you making use of these supports. Do you fear criticism? Do you tell yourself you have no time? Are you fearful of being seen as weak or unable to cope if you need to confide in others? What are the blocks to your taking care of yourself and making changes in your life to reduce stress? You may like to share your list and your thoughts with someone else. There is much truth in the old saying, ‘A problem shared, is a problem halved.’
The important thing now is to formulate an action plan. What is the first step you are going to take to alleviate at least some of the stressors in your life? When are you going to take that step? Put a time and date in your diary now and make sure that you keep it sacrosanct. Will you need support to take the action? If so, who will help you? Make sure too, that whatever you plan to do, the time is yours – away from the demands of family or work – so that you can relax completely without interruption.
Exercise is a great way to de-stress. As human beings we are designed to move, not to sit on chairs all day, so exercise is an essential part of good body function. It helps to lower our stress levels and releases mood-enhancing endorphins – so called ‘happy hormones’ - the chemicals which help us cope with stress better. There is no need to go mad. Even if going to the gym is not for you, there are many other ways you can incorporate exercise into your day. Maybe you enjoy swimming or jogging. Even a twenty minute brisk walk – maybe to or from work or walking the children to school – can make a big difference. Perhaps you can agree to walk, jog or cycle regularly with a friend. The commitment to go with someone else can help to ensure that you do take that time out. Taking up a sport where you can mix with others – tennis, badminton, golf, for example – is another good way to relax. Perhaps you like to curl up with a book or watch your favourite TV programme. Many people find activities such as knitting or craft work relaxing, whether done at home or in a group where you can chat or socialise at the same time.
The important thing with all of these suggestions is to give yourself the gift of time and stick to it. Make your health and wellbeing your top priority. Remember, ‘You cannot nurture others from an empty well.’
Learning Mindfulness is a great way to relax. It is a very simple but effective technique whose practice is becoming more and more widespread. And the best thing is that it requires no special equipment, no special place. It can be practised anywhere, even on a crowded train. Here’s how to get started:
Close your eyes, if you feel comfortable doing so. If not, then you can just let the eyes rest on a particular spot.
Take a few moments to focus on your breath – feel the chest rising and falling – the ribs expanding. There is no need to control the breath – simply observe it.
Notice the air passing over your top lip – being drawn into your nostrils. Is it warm or cool?
Feel the air rolling down into your chest like a wave – where it breaks and flows out again, carrying with it anxiety and tension.
Perhaps you can imagine the breath flowing around the body, oxygenating the blood, drawing in energy – in and out in a regular rhythm.
Can you hear your breath? Can you feel it in your throat?
Are the breaths the same length? Is the outbreath a little longer?
Continue to observe your breath quietly for a few moments ………..
Imagine you are breathing in calm and relaxation and letting go of mental anxiety and physical tension.
Take as long as you need to slow the heart beat and allow tranquillity to spread through your mind and around your body.
Anytime you feel yourself becoming tense, anxiety rising or panic setting in any situation, you can use this Mindfulness technique to calm yourself without anyone around you knowing. And, in fact, you can do many other things mindfully to help bring about change or to allow yourself to become calmer. You can eat mindfully, savouring your food – aware of each mouthful, taking time to experience the taste and texture. You can exercise mindfully, walking or maybe swimming – allowing the physical activity to absorb your total attention. And when you find yourself worrying about future events – agonising over situations that might go wrong – remind yourself, ‘it’s only a thought – not a fact.’
Treating Stress with Hypnotherapy
If you are finding it hard to relax or to practise Mindfulness by yourself, or to implement some of the other suggestions above, then a session of hypnotherapy, where you can learn progressive, deep relaxation to practise for yourself can be immensely helpful. Many therapists around the world use hypnotherapy to help with stress, anxiety, pain relief, phobias or simply for deep relaxation.
Hypnosis is a natural phenomenon which everyone experiences many times a day, when we are driving or watching television for example. How many times have you arrived at a destination in your car without any recollection of the route you took, watched a TV programme and then had no idea what it was about, or eaten a whole pack of sweets in the cinema without even noticing? At these times, you have effectively been ‘in trance’. When we achieve a state of deep relaxation, with the help of an experienced and qualified hypnotherapist, then our conscious mind is stilled and our unconscious mind accessed. In this trance-like state, we can more easily let go of stress, limiting beliefs and unhelpful behaviours which are impeding our ability to live a fulfilled, relaxed and happy life. Because of this ‘altered state of mind’, hypnotherapy is particularly helpful with anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and stress related physical symptoms. A hypnotherapist will also be able to teach you techniques to help you relax yourself, or possibly provide a CD or mp3 to listen to and help you relax when you’re alone.
Joan came to see me because she had developed an uncomfortable and unnerving tremor in her neck which was causing her head to jerk every few minutes. She had been referred to a neurologist and undergone an MRI scan but no cause could be found for her symptoms. Joan had a demanding job with a large, multinational company. Fixated on the idea that exercise would help her to relax, Joan went ballroom dancing two evenings a week, did an aerobics class on another evening, horse riding on a Saturday and was a ‘meeter and greeter’ at her Church on a Sunday. When she got in from work, she would take a quick cat nap and then go off to her various classes, only eating dinner when she came home around 9.30 or 10pm. In addition, she was regularly visiting a dear friend who was dying of cancer.
Although Joan was unconvinced that her tremor could be due to stress, nevertheless she was willing to try hypnotherapy. I find that clients will often say, ‘But other people have much worse things to cope with than I do,’ seemingly unable to acknowledge or appreciate the difficulties they themselves are going through.
Joan had three sessions of hypnotherapy with me. Firstly I got her to relax very deeply and used metaphorical stories to open up her mind to the idea that she may well be suffering from stress and driving herself too hard. Her conscious mind would have been resistant to being told that she was doing too much, but in accessing the unconscious through the use of metaphor, the hypnotherapist can bypass resistance to suggestions that would be a helpful insight for the client.
In the following sessions, we concentrated on the physical symptoms, encouraging Joan to imagine or visualise the muscles affected by the tremor to let go and release, whilst continuing to give her just the right amount of support.
By our final session, Joan had been able to reflect on her stressful, driven lifestyle and come up with ideas of changes that she could make to allow herself time simply to relax and ‘be’. By the end of this last session, her tremor had almost disappeared. Joan continued with the changes she had made in her life and was very soon free of the troublesome tremor completely.
Article written by Jose Penrose - Woking
I qualified as a hypnotherapist in 2001 and have been working in private practice since that date. I specialise in brief solution focused therapy, hypnotherapy and life coaching. Clients bring a wide range of issues: stress, depression, lack of confidence, panic attacks or PTSD, as well as personal and work... [read more]