“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” Caroline Myss
Managing anxiety and stress – an introduction
Please note: Relaxation or yoga therapy is not intended to replace any medication you are currently being prescribed by your GP or consultant. Please do not alter your medication without instruction from your health practitioner. If you have any concerns about your health please speak to your doctor immediately.
There is so much information around these days about stress and anxiety management that it is almost difficult to avoid advice on the subject, but much of it tells you what not to do, (for example don’t panic) but gives you very little practical advice on what you can do and why and how you should do it.
Perhaps what we need is a far more practical approach – how we actually develop ourselves through self awareness to combat the damaging effects of stress.
Clearly, being able to deal with anxiety is a useful skill and one that we all will probably need to draw on at some point in our lives. However, many people give up a it can take practice and a lot of patience to learn the practical tools to help us through challenging times.
Fact – it’s a tough world out there at the moment. Doubt, fear and pessimism about the future are increasing stress levels like never before. Nearly all of us have got issues that are not pleasant. It’s important not to confuse our circumstances with ourselves.
Why do we feel so stressed?
Sadly stress is affecting people more than ever and is now widely recognised as a modern day disease. Many experts now believe that stress could be responsible for many illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Studies have also shown that many common ailments are on the increase because of higher stress levels:
Insomnia, headaches, digestive disorders, eczema, asthma, and muscular tension are all known to be to some extent stress related. Even knowing that suffering from high stress levels for too long can affect your health, may make you even more anxious!
So how does stress affect our anatomy / What are the signs of too much stress?
As science gains greater insight into the consequences of stress on the brain, we are understanding more about how the stress response affects the body. The picture that emerges is not a pretty one. Long term overreaction to stress overloads the brain with powerful hormones that are intended only for short-term duty in emergency situations.
Over-secretion of stress hormones adversely affects brain function, especially memory. Too much cortisol can prevent the brain from laying down a new memory, or from accessing already existing memories. This is why our minds often “go blank” in stressful situations.
During a perceived threat (whether real or imagined), the adrenal glands immediately release adrenalin. If the threat is severe or still persists after a couple of minutes, the adrenals then release cortisol. Once in the brain cortisol remains much longer than adrenalin, where it continues to affect us.
Muscles tense, ready for action and the heart beats faster to carry blood to the muscles. You breathe faster, sweat more and your mouth becomes dry. We are familiar with this automatic response as it is well known as the “fight or flight” response.
The key is learning how to manage the stress response – not allow it to manage you.
Pessimistic thoughts, especially about our health, can be totally overwhelming and the sad thing is that in many cases negative thoughts can both stop us fulfilling our true potential and make us more ill.
We need to stop for a moment to analyse our thought processes and more importantly, look at what effect our thoughts are having on our emotions.
The good news is that there is an awful lot we can do to feel better, get ourselves back in a positive frame of mind so we can live life more enjoyably, letting go of fear.
We know that our emotions are triggered by thoughts – our emotional response to a particular thought being triggered by a secretion of hormones. When we can understand and rationalise our feelings in this way, many people can begin to see how they can get back in control.
When we understand that many of the physical and emotional symptoms of stress are a result of adrenalin and cortisol in our bloodstream, and this hormonal surge has been triggered by a thought in the conscious mind, we begin to see the link between our thoughts and our stress levels.
It follows therefore that if we can control our thoughts and our thoughts are the things that generate our emotions, we can, by changing our thoughts, consciously change the way we feel.
Many people today do not feel able to control their thoughts and I guess to most people it would be quite an alien concept.
How many of us are victims to an overactive mind that is constantly chattering? Can we remember the last time we had no thought? How often can we switch off our thoughts or re-direct them to a better feeling thought?
Fact – we can control our thoughts (with practice) and this is something that we often forget or are not aware of.
We are not our thoughts, we are “masters” of our thoughts
By learning specific techniques we can learn to observe and redirect our thoughts and in doing so dramatically reduce the negative effects of stress responses.
If we are less stressed, we feel better, if we feel better, we have a happier life, despite our circumstances.
This is the most important step we can take to managing stress when we feel it is adversely affecting us. In fact this is a great technique that can be taken anywhere and has loads of applications.
Sounds great doesn’t it? So – how do we put this into practice?
1. Observe the thought
2. Recognise the link between that particular thought and the resulting emotion
3. Ask the question – is this thought serving me?
4. If the answer is no, then it follows that we must consciously change the thought
5. How? Reach for a better “feeling” thought.
If we don’t change the thought, often another negative thought joins the first and we enter a downward spiral – a kind of chain reaction.
But reaching for a better feeling thought takes us into an upward spiral, one step at a time. So what we need to do is start examining our thoughts and constantly search for better feeling thoughts as much as we can, step by step moving up the “ladder” of thoughts until happier ones come more often.
If we can master this technique – observing and deliberately re-directing our thoughts, and combine this with breathing and relaxation techniques, we can really begin to see an improvement in stress and anxiety related symptoms.
We may not be able to change what’s going on in our lives – our circumstances, but we can change how we think (and therefore feel) about them. This gives us back our personal power – our emotional Intelligence.
We change the thought which changes the emotion, which relieves the stress.