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Managing stress

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

It gets a bad rap doesn't it? Stress... " I'm so stressed", "I'm trying not to get stressed", " This is stressing me out". Never a welcome mat for stress... But here's the thing; we need stress in our lives... read that again. Stress motivates us, gives us the push to get things done, it's how our system works. Also, our minds and bodies can't distinguish between good and bad stress. So stress about a work deadline, and stress about choosing a band for your wedding reception won't feel any different. Stress is NOT the problem, the problem here is how we manage stress. First we need to recognise it; stress symptoms arise in the body; maybe a tightening in the chest, shallow breathing or a gippy tummy. You probably know your own stress triggers. When the body gets stressed it sends a message to a particular part of the brain signaling danger. This old part of the brain goes on alert, perhaps there's a lion about and we are in mortal danger. It releases stress hormones, Cortisol, into the blood stream and readies us for " Fight or Flight". Of course most of the dangers we face aren't life and death anymore, We need to calm our nervous system down and assure our minds that this is not a life or death situation. Please don't just tell yourself to " calm down", and don't tell anyone else either. It's annoying, and it doesn't help. As a Psychologist, I've worked with hundreds of people to teach them ways to bring their stress levels down. This is important because we are built to deal with; " short, sharp " stressors. The danger comes and we are ok when it passes. What happens in our very busy lives is that the stress isn't acknowledged in the body and continues to build til we become chronically stressed. This can lead to all kinds of stress related illnesses. So what should we do?

  1. Get into the habit of checking in with your body, Breathe and become aware of how stress manifests in your body

  2. Take a pause, stop what you are doing and be still for a moment

  3. Notice where the mind is - what is causing concern - no judgement here, just notice

  4. As you breathe, allow the outbreath to be a little longer than the inbreath. We tend to hold our breath, or take shallow breaths when we get stressed. When we slow the breathing down, we send a message to the brain that all is well ( to be technical; when we extend the outbreath, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system). This is often enough to calm ourselves.

  5. When you notice the body relaxing, you might offer yourself a calming few words: " I've got this", " I need a break"," Let me get some help on this". You'll know yourself what helps.

6. Remember thoughts are only thoughts, when we pause for a moment, we can observe our thoughts and see that what we are thinking may or may not be true. So when we notice thoughts like " This is a disaster", or " Well, it's all ruined now", we can re group and offer ourselves something more helpful and soothing. Perhaps: " It's disappointing, but I'll get over it", or " I think it can still work".

If you're getting married and and your partner is your number 1 choice then you are sorted! The colour of the napkins or the shade of the bridesmaid dress is not worth stressing over. Remember the words of Mark Twain: " My life was full of catastrophes....and some of them actually happened!"

Keep breathing....xx

ps: I also teach Mindfulness courses online and in person in Dublin, get in touch if that might be something of interest to you

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