Have you ever arrived home from work, opened the front door and felt like you only just left the office? You were obviously paying attention because you got there safely, but you didn’t notice the things you normally do on your way home like the little bridge you normally cross or remember to check the mail. That’s because you weren’t 100% present, you were stuck up in your head, thinking about your day and acting on autopilot. This happens to all of us sometimes and it can often be an indicator that we are a little stressed and need to take a break. Everyone experiences daily stress and even when it is not at a level of diagnosable anxiety, it can still have a negative impact on our lives if we don’t manage it well.
So how do we get rid of stress then?
“Stress is a fact of life, but being stressed out is not. We don’t always have control over what happens to us,” says Allen Elkin, Ph.D. We can never “get rid” of the stress in life and we also don’t want to avoid the things that cause us stress because this would be impossible. What we can do, is find ways to handle daily stress to keep it at a manageable level.
Managing our stress levels:
“Stress causes harm when it exceeds any level that a person can reasonably absorb or use to build psychological strength,” Lisa Damour, PhD,. There are a range of ways to manage stress and different things will work for different people. It is important that you find what works best for you personally. So please bear in mind that although there are only a few options discussed here, there are a vast range of ways to manage stress if you find that these are not a good fit for you.
The most well-known ways to reduce or manage stress are relaxation strategies. These work to reduce stress by reducing the physical experiences that go through the body when you are stressed (such as muscle tension), which in turn makes you feel more relaxed. These can involve deep breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or visualization.
These types of techniques can be really helpful in reducing stress at the time that you are experiencing it. What if there was a preventative measure though? A way that you could live your life that would make you less stressed rather than scrambling around for techniques when you are already stressed?
No, I’m not talking about winning the lottery or moving to the Bahamas’.
Would you believe me if I told you there was a way you could go about your everyday life with a slightly different perspective and this would help reduce the amount of stress you experience? Well, there is a way to do this and it is called mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of thinking (and being) that you take towards life in general (not just when you are stressed). There are two fundamental parts to mindfulness:
1) It involves focusing on and experiencing the present moment rather than focusing on past moments (that stupid thing you said to your colleague this morning) or future moments (like the presentation you have to give tomorrow).
2) It involves taking a non-judgmental approach and one of compassion towards what you experience (including your own thoughts).
So how does being mindful help?
Being mindful helps to ground us back to the present (gets us out of our heads when we are stressed). This not only helps reduce the anxiety these thoughts were causing on at the time, but it also takes you off autopilot and helps you to actually EXPERIENCE your life, be more present and connect easier with others. Later when we have the time, being mindful and taking a “non-judgmental” approach also creates a space where we feel comfortable and safe to sort through what we were worrying about without it causing us as much stress. Taking on an observant approach will also help separate us from these thoughts and this makes them less powerful.
So how can you start being mindful?
According to Melissa Cohen, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Coach, “stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge. Though stress is often perceived as bad, it can actually be good in some respects.” As with any new approach, mindfulness is a skill and something that will take some time and practice to develop. You can choose to pursue this yourself, or with the help of a professional that specializes in this approach. The beauty about mindfulness though is that it can take as little as a couple of minutes to practice and there are so many different ways you can work on these two fundamental aspects of mindfulness. The most important part is that you work on those two fundamental areas (being present, and non-judgmental).
Please be aware that this blog speaks about everyday stress if you find that your stress levels are much higher, you are finding it difficult to cope and it is starting to really impact your life please speak to a professional as you may be going through something more than just your average level of stress. A professional will be able to work out what is going on for you and discuss treatment with you should you both feel it is necessary. Contact your GP to find out how to access a psychologist or psychiatrist and they can help you with this.