We casually use the term Stressed; ironic really! Stress and Lifestyle go hand in hand, read this page for more about Stress, Lifestyle and Stress Calming Hypnotherapy.
What is Stress
Keep your ears open for a short while in a public place and you will hear people talking, perhaps overly loudly into those mobile telephone devices or to each other. And soon you will hear someone refer to stress; we use the phrase quite loosely.
Stress is associated with the chemical Cortisol that is released in our bodies along with adrenalin at, well, stressful times. Given an intense enough trigger and the whole Fight or Flight sequence starts as we assess our options; albeit in a mentally challenged way.
So, keep in mind that stress is more than being annoyed.
What does it cause
The effects of stress over a prolonged period can be severe, and for some even a short exposure can have lasting effects. Some typical knock on effects of being stressed are:
- Trouble sleeping
- Low mood
- Over eating
- Sharper awareness
- Heightened Emotions
- Physical actions eg Shaking
These can further promote themselves and or trigger each other, along with other negative spin off associated with stress; resulting in a hard to break cycle of worsening condition.
What causes Stress
There are all kinds of triggers for the stress response, you could for example, feel threatened physically or emotionally, perhaps fear missing a deadline.
In his excellent book ‘The Idiot Brain’ Dean Burnett explains that while past thinking had suggested any stressful situation would have created the stress response (fight or flight) it now seems that we are far more selective. That not only does it need to be a stressful situation but also challenge to a goal.
Dean Burnett uses the example of walking down the street and having bird droppings land on you, yes this is annoying and perhaps harmful due to hygiene; but it is unlikely to activate Cortisol production.
By comparison if the same even occurred while you were walking towards a job interview (with a goal) your response mechanism could be somewhat different.
This not only opens up the door for a whole range of control techniques it also adds depth to some mental ‘tricks’ we play on ourselves. Think about when you are waiting for results from a test or event. You know your preferred outcome, but as a safeguard may construct a strategy for the unthinkable. Having this go to ‘backup plan’ can provide a positive direction; more about that later.
Is there a positive side to Stress
There is a large school of thought that a little stress can be a good thing, ever noticed how awake you can stay all night when there is a deadline to meet. Sure you may have dosed a little higher on the caffeine to aid your passage but as many students will testify an important deadline does focus the mind. This kind of short exposure is unlikely to cause lasting trauma, unless you’re running late of every essay throughout your education.
Evolving as we have and shaping our environment has provided for some of the population the best living conditions in history; this has not worked out for everyone and some find themselves in worsening places.
With societal and technological progression we have learnt and developed all kinds of skills and knowledge, while areas of our bodies and brains have not kept up. Some of our strategies and responses are a bit like my old counterbalance kitchen scales; they still work but somehow now seem a little cumbersome and perhaps rather over the top for occasionally measuring out rice. Best retired and replaced by the lighter, more accurate and easy to use digital scales.
The stress response is often rather over the top in modern life, harnessing it for positive use is close to impossible; like using petrol to light the barbecue.
So, the positive? Historically seeing a charging animal ready to attack you and having the Fight or Flight response, ideal, in a modern city less so.
A more modern-day stressor could be the now common phrase, ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’; it may not even be you using the machine. Repeated exposure even as a bystander can embed a trigger to create stress. How do you feel when you hear ‘sorry to keep you waiting, your call really matters to us’?
These are short and purposeful dalliances with stress, problems occur when the relationship is more frequent or prolonged, this may be fear of your boss, thoughts of your finances – two obvious examples but you get the idea.
About those Heightened Emotions
Part of the fight or flight response produces a rise in emotions and awareness. When working with Hypnotherapy in many, if not all to settings we work with the senses, heightening awareness and shaping responses.
While emotions are heightened we notice things more and build stronger memories (take care, memory probably doesn’t work like you remember) what are sometimes called ‘Flashbulb Memories’. These are intense memories and often resurface in full colour, easily called on by a variety of stimuli they can return you (psychologically) to the original situation.
Most people have experienced that process of time appearing to slow down as you notice an event unfolding. For me this would have to be while driving, with the ‘oh no am I going to stop in time’ as the car in front brakes hard.
Time moves so slowly, I notice everything…..the intensity of the brake lights in front is blinding, the pressure going through my leg and foot on the brake pedal so heavy, the slow movement of my eyes looking in the rear-view mirror, the slight smell or rubber and squeal of brakes. A ticking clock would be deafeningly loud. Of course, time doesn’t slow down, this is perception. How we ‘stamp’ time is another great subject.
From a Hypnotherapy stance at this point you are highly suggestible; if someone had whispered some positive suggestions to me in that moment they would be deeply imbedded.
These intense memories do have a positive purpose in building protective strategies, however they can also give false warnings; for example, seeing a brake light way up ahead and braking hard unnecessarily. Or more subtly, a single innocent element of a previous stressful experience being present bringing on the full stress response; perhaps inappropriately.
What about the Lifestyle bit
Lifestyle is a broad subject, some parts can have a huge influence on whether we find ourselves stressed or not, and how well prepared we are to deal with stress when it does arise.
It may sound a little obvious but avoiding stressful situations is a good start. Where stressors cannot be avoided managing our response to these can be very effective. Being in good general health makes dealing with the unavoidable less challenging.
On that point about being in good general health. Some of the crutches we tend to turn to at stressful times are doing nothing to promote a good longer-term health and sensible stress management. The easy go to example is Smoking, yes there are some ritualistic benefits in stressful situations, but this really is not a wonder drug. Effecting nearly every area of health in a negative way the habit itself create stress.
As a rule, we don’t like admitting our weaknesses, however noticing things that ‘stress you out’ has an upside. You can make plans to manage or ideally remove these stressors. Looking for stress to resolve is rather counterproductive, using hypnotherapy we do subtly look for stressors but only after building resources to manage them. So how about just agreeing with yourself to notice when, as you go about daily life you feel a little tense and when there is time stop to ask why.
How can we control Stress
A common phrase now, I can still recall the regional MD who I first heard use the phrase, ‘two kinds of problem.’ Going on the phrase ends with, ‘and this one isn’t mine.’ It sounds rather dismissive out of context; however the sentiment is wise.
If you don’t ‘have a horse in the race’, who wins has little bearing on you. While you may enjoy watching the stampeding beasts make their way round the course, the whole event is less stressful for you than the person who bet their house on the outcome.
Some stress is unavoidable, we frequently ‘make deals’ between cost and benefit; the stress of queuing to get in to see your favourite band on stage makes sense. Thinking about a difficult journey home during the concert, less so.
So we can keep ourselves in good general health, resist the urge to take on the stress of others and be wise when to start worrying.
Richard Carlson wrote the book ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ with subheading ‘and it’s all small stuff’.
In his book Richard Carlson talks about a variety of strategies that can help keep life in perspective; it’s a good read. The strategies resonate well with me and how I work with clients; perhaps though the best message is on the cover:
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and it’s all small stuff
No, this does not answer it all, and Carlson surely isn’t saying it does. What it does do though is provoke thoughts of where your stressors really are important; should you be devoting energy and health to them?
Stress Calming Hypnotherapy
There will always be stressors and building strategies to deal with these is wise. Hypnotherapy is ideal for creating calm space to develop these strategies. Depending on a client’s particular requirements I suggest working in a variety of ways; some examples are:
- Specific strategies for repeat situations
- Space to asses new threats
- Methods to manage responses
- Effective long term relaxation
- Rehearsal of upcoming events
- Balanced evaluation after stress