Tag Archives: stress

Anticipatory stress

 

stress photo

Anticipatory stress

I’ve noticed with many of my clients that they become stressed when they think about all the chores and duties they have ahead of them. It goes something like this:

“First I have to be up by 7am and get ready to be out of the house by 8.15 am. Then I have to make it through the traffic to work. I have a meeting at 11am but also have to fit in loads of phonecalls and I don’t know if I will have time to get them all done. I don’t know how I will squeeze lunch in as I have a report to write and I know two people are trying to pin my down for urgent meetings….etc”

When we consider all that we have to do all at once, it can seem like we have an insurmountable mountain ahead of us and can lead us to feeling panicky. Anticipatory stress comes from the fear of having to much to do and not being able to cope.

Instead of looking at everything that has to be done, break the day/week/month down into smaller pieces. This is called “chunking” and can help reduce and minimise anticipatory stress.

Deal with the morning separately from the afternoon and/or evening. Anxiety arises from the threat seeming overwhelming and our belief that we will not cope. If this feeling of being overwhlemed continues indefinitely however, it might be that you seriously need some proper time out. When last did you have some time off? We all need to have a few days in a row (at least a week, two weeks ideally for a proper rest) to re-assess and recharge. If you constantly feel tired and overwhelmed it may be that you are burnt out.

Have a look at what brings you positive energy (things, people who inspire you and leave you feeling happy and energised) and what drains you – negative energy. This could be toxic people, a bad job or a bad relationship to name a few. When we are out of balance and have too much negative energy in our lives, it’s common sense that we are going to feel tired and stressed. As much as possible, realign what you can to increase positive energy and reduce negative energy. Balance is key in counteracting stress.

Mindfulness techniques (I will write about this in a future post) can also be extremely useful in reducing anticipatory stress. We all tend to live in our heads too much, worrying about the future and learning to remain in the present moment is a fantastic skill that can allow you to really be present in your life now.

Stress is a part of life but we can learn to manage it effectively. Try the above tips and book that holiday!

Mandy X

Dealing with my anxiety

Photo on 2013-10-16 at 13.33 #5

Dealing with my anxiety

I never really acknowledged my anxiety for many years. I always felt I was more depressed than anxious but now I realise that anxiety has been a constant companion by my side. I have just learned strategies to help get me through.

We all feel anxious at times and this is healthy. It is the body’s way of preparing us for a threat. The problem is that in modern day living, the threat won’t usually kill us yet the body reacts the same way it would if there was a real danger to us. Psychologists say that this is down to evolution and the fact that the ‘old brain’ – the amygdala and the hypothalamus still activate in the same way that they would have thousands of years ago when faced with a hungry lion, for example. So, nowadays, in modern living, we can be triggered by our body’s natural reactions and interpret this as real danger. Understanding that even though our bodies are preparing us for a fight/fight or freeze response does not necessarily mean we are in immediate danger has helped me to separate physical symptoms from any real threat or danger. Well, it’s a start at least!

The other strategy I try to use is to ask myself whether my worry is a real worry or a hypothetical worry (a “what if” type worry). If it is a hypothetical worry, I try to dismiss it and distract myself with something else. I used to believe that worrying would somehow keep me safe but I have since challenged the idea that worry is a good thing. I can think if many times when I have worried and it has had not effect on the outcome. One of my favourite quotes is: “Worry is like a rocking chair, it will give you something to do but it won’t get you anywhere”. I think this is very true. I see worry as mental torture now and although I cannot stop the thoughts coming, I am better at dismissing them and not focusing on them or giving them any attention. Think of it this way – you can’t control who knocks at your door but you can choose how long you wish to entertain them for. Your thoughts can be seen in the same way.

I also remind myself that thoughts are not facts – they are just my perceptions of reality, not necessarily the actual reality out there.

Anxiety comes and goes in my life. It has been debilitating at times but I have learned that the only way to reduce anxiety is to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone by confronting my fears. Anxiety is caused by overestimating the threat and underestimating our ability to cope. I talk to myself more positively and tell myself that I will find a way through, no matter way. I have to repeat affirmations to myself regularly but they do help me.

Anxiety can be managed, I know because I have done it. I am still a work in progress though as life is naturally ‘up and down’ and anxiety always seems to hover nearby. Having said that, I do feel I am less anxious than I used to be and I keep working at it and resisting it. You can too!

Mandy X

 

Managing Type A behaviour

 

calm person

Woman with eyes closed sitting in meadow.

Managing Type A behaviour

10 steps to manage type A behaviour:

Modern society has changed over the last two decades. The pace has increased and so has stress-related illnesses such as coronary heart disease and strokes. We all have different temperaments but for some, life is a constant rush and this can seem normal when in fact it isn’t. The style of behaviour often has its roots in the early childhood whether need to achieve and be successful is instilled from an early age. Type a behaviour is associated with heart disease, allergies stomach ulcers and an exaggerated response of the sympathetic nervous system to stress (fight or flight response) and poor levels of mental health (anxiety and depression). Type A behaviour also seems to be linked with high levels of success in career and financial terms.

1) Slow down

Become more aware of how time focused your lifestyle is and make an effort to slow down. Deliberately eat slower and tried to do one thing at a time. The more present in the moment rather than living your life in your head, worrying about the future. It really is a case of taking the time to “smell the roses”.

2) Take breaks

Built stress free ‘breathing spaces’ into your daily and weekly routine. Use these spaces to focus on relaxation. This could be a five minute period where you carry out a muscle relaxation exercise or breathing exercise (slow deep breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth). You could also use this time to take a walk in the park or read a newspaper. And regular holidays and if possible get away to a different environment.

3) Commit yourself to hobbies

As part of an effort to broaden yourself and reduce obsessional time focused behaviour, it is A good idea to develop activities and hobbies such as sailing, gardening, sewing or walking. Try to engage in uncompetitive trivial activities just. This helps the brain to be more balanced and open to new things.

4) Express feelings

Try to adopt a more positive approach to expressing yourself and how you feel. Take time to think others and show appreciation and get into the habit of identifying the emotions you feel on a daily basis. Our emotions are messages that we need to listen to. Emotions are like our internal compass letting us know whether we are on the right path. Expressing emotions to others helps us to feel connected and brings true contentment, more so than achievement or possessions.

5) Practise listening

Search out somebody who talks slowly and deliberately. Have a slow conversation. Try to hold back from making yourself the centre of attention. Ask yourself ‘do I really have anything important to say?’

6) Forget time

Give yourself breaks where you remove your watch try to lose your sense of time. Break the habit of always being punctual, deliberately miss a few deadlines alternate from meeting five minutes late. This may seem odd advice but working against your usual patterns of behaviour is a good way to mentally reverse ingrained habits. The less time focused and more ‘experience focused’.

7) Manage your hostility

Identify the triggers-keep a diary. It is essential to challenge your rigid thinking. Be especially careful of the words “must, should and ought”. Loosen up those thoughts, use ‘it would be nice if’ instead of ‘should’. Occasionally to say to yourself “it doesn’t matter”. Get into the habits of challenging the thinking that puts you under pressure.

8) Learn to relax

Learn a relaxation technique and try to practice once a day -whether this is some form of meditation or yoga or just practising being in the moment, learning to quieten our minds is a valuable skill.

9) Have a chat

Make a point of chatting or engaging in conversation that has no specific purpose. Slow down and try to be less task orientated. Learn to idle the time away. Try to laugh or make somebody.

10) Understand the reasons

Take time out to assess the cause of your type a behaviour. Did your parents approval depend on how successful or achieving you were as a child? Ask yourself, “what am I trying to prove?” Does your idealism and striving improve or diminish the quality of your life?

Research indicates that, with the right intervention, people can manage their type A behaviour effectively thereby reducing the risks of physical and mental health without impairing their performance.

Mandy X

Don’t despair

 

despair

Don’t despair

Life can certainly get on top of us all at times. I know I get days when I feel like nothing is going right and everything is awful. That’s normal and it’s a horrid place to be. The trick is to give yourself a time limit. Self pity and wallowing is fine, even necessary, but after 2-3 days it’s time to take hold of your wayward thoughts and focus on climbing back out of that depressed hole you have dug for yourself.

Yep, sometimes life sucks and it can truly feel as if you are completely alone in what you are going through but you can take solace in the fact that we all get those times. We are all just good at hiding it from each other. It’s okay to feel like you have had enough. Despite all my psychological training I have not found a way to prevent life from getting to me at times.

We can easily go off track and begin to focus on everything that isn’t working and give in to our insecurities. Remind yourself that it is just a frame of mind, not necessarily the reality. You may feel that you aren’t loved or that you are unimportant but more often than not, the reality is not that way at all. It is our thinking that needs adjusting.

Write a list of all the good things you have in your life. Write a list of all your good qualities – what do you like about yourself? These can be physical attributes or personality characteristics.

At times, it’s not about having what you want ‘its about wanting what you have. Focusing on what you don’t have or looking at your perceived lack is never going to help you to feel better. Do what will work – force yourself to think about what is going right for you, no matter how small and build on these small successes.

Also – force yourself to DO more. Even a small thing like walking the dog when you don’t feel like it or getting out of bed one hour earlier. DO it – be strong. Talk to the strong part of you and take back control. You are in control of your life, not your thoughts.  Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are wonderful..you are amazing…believe this at all costs. Mandy X

positive affirmations

 

Cognitive behavioural therapy and anxiety

 

worry photo

Cognitive behavioural therapy and anxiety

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a great intervention for anxiety. Understanding where anxiety comes from is extremely useful in being able to tackle feelings of fear and doubt creeping. Cognitive behavioural therapy looks at the interaction between the thoughts we are having, the feelings that arise from these thoughts, the behaviour that ensues as well as physical symptoms associated with the thoughts feelings and behaviour. Anxiety is part of the normal response when we feel fear. The moment we feel threatened our bodies go into “fight, flight or freeze mode”. This mode consists of physical sensations such as sweating, heart palpitations, dry throat and so on. This is the body signal that something is wrong. Researchers refer to the old part of our brain as being the part that reacts without thinking-the part that our Neanderthal ancestors used. The newer part the brain include the frontal lobe which separates us from other organisms. The frontal lobe is responsible for reasoning and allows us to think things through rather than react instinctively. Cognitive behavioural therapy helps us to use the newer part of our brain by stopping and thinking.

We all have ways of reducing anxiety but sometimes the habits we gain end up complicating matters even further. For example, someone who is afraid they will lose their job may begin drinking more alcohol in an attempt to reduce their anxiety. This unhelpful behaviour will compound the initial problem rather than resolve it. Cognitive behavioural therapy examines our unhelpful and irrational thoughts helps us to replace these dysfunctional thoughts with more realistic ones.

For example: a recent client told me that they are a failure in life. When we look for the evidence of this we may find some examples that led to the client to believing this but they will also be just as many examples that refute this idea. Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches us to reframe our core beliefs. An alternative way to think might be: I may make mistakes in life that does not mean that I am a complete failure.

Part of cognitive behavioural therapy also involves looking at the behaviour that comes from the unhelpful thinking. Typical examples of unhelpful thinking are-over generalising, black and white thinking (a.k.a. all or nothing), catastrophising and negative filter (where we only look at what is wrong and ignore the positives). The above thinking will lead to unhealthy behaviours. Cognitive behavioural therapy involves challenging thinking by setting up social experiments to challenge the thoughts. For example: if someone feels anxious about going to a movie on their own because they worry about what others might think, a behavioural experiment might involve taking small steps towards going to a movie on their own. Usually what happens is that the anticipation and the thoughts of what might happen never arrive and this helps a person to reframe the thinking. This is also known as cognitive restructuring.

Challenging thinking and doing what you fear of great ways to reduce anxiety. Having goals and purpose in life are also a great way to keep anxiety at bay. When we have direction and purpose it is more likely that we will spend less time ruminating and obsessing, often over things we have no control over. Unfortunately anxiety is part of life for some of us is far more intrusive than it used to be. Thanks to cognitive behavioural therapy, there is now an effective method to counteract the distressing effects of anxiety.

Mandy X

Photo by spaceodissey

3 ways to embrace and reduce stress

 

peace photo

 

3 ways to embrace and reduce stress

I find life very stressful these days. There seems to be less time to enjoy life and most of my time is spent rushing about trying to complete chores and ticking off items on my to-do list. I know I am not alone as many people that I speak to seem to be sharing a similar experience. When did we let it get to this? Stress seems to be an integral part of modern day living. I have found a way that helps me to feel less stressed in the moment and here it is:

1) Acceptance

I have often found myself resisting what is happening in my life. I get angry at the injustice as I see around me, I feel sorry for myself at times and feel frustrated when life doesn’t turn out as I hoped it would. In the past I have spent countless hours resisting ‘what is’. I am getting better at accepting what is going on in my life rather than wishing I had a different life. This does not mean that I have become passive but it does mean that I have stopped resisting the reality that I am experiencing. Acceptance has a lot to do with acknowledging what is going on. Once we accept the true nature of our experience we can begin to create a realistic plan.

2) Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a tricky skill to to master. It requires that we calm our busy brains and focus our attention on the present moment. I find this incredibly hard to do because my mind is always wandering off. Mainly I worry about the future and can get myself into a right tizz over possibilities that may never come to be. Mindfulness ensures that we enjoy the present moment and the present moment is all that we really have. Touch, taste, see, hear and smell everything around you. Engage your senses in the present moment.

3) Detach from negative thinking

Our thoughts create our emotions. If our thoughts are negative and full of worry, our behaviour will be in line with this thinking and our focus will be on our fears and insecurities. Learning to detach from our thoughts is a skill that can be learned. When you find yourself thinking a negative thoughts such as, “I will never find someone to love me”, immediately challenge it. Ask yourself where the evidence is for this thought and check whether there is an alternative way to view the particular problem or issue.

There is a saying: “when you are in your own mind, you are in enemy territory”. This saying is so true. Our thoughts can lead us to heaven or hell. Learn to separate your thoughts from the reality. Thoughts are often based upon our own insecurities and false assumptions.

I have found the above three strategies very useful. When I am in the middle of an anxious phase I stop myself and I mentally go through the above three strategies. I have found them to be very effective in lessening my anxiety and I hope you receive the same benefits.

Mandy X

Not coping with life

 

stressed out photo

Not coping with life

Does it ever just all feel too much? Are there times when you feel fed up with life and wish you could just disappear? Well, you are not alone. I come across many clients who come see me to help them find ways to cope with life.

Dealing with the tough times in life is made all the more difficult by the fact that there is pressure on all of us to keep going, keep functioning and be successful too. There must obviously be something wrong with us for not feeling able to cope – looking at the lives of others can make us feel worse as everyone else seems to be coping. Others seem to have great lives, running along smoothly mostly whilst you suffer silently with inner turmoil.

So what can you do to get yourself in to a better frame of mind?

Sometimes, there isn’t much you can do. This may seem disheartening but sometimes life just IS. You will have ups and downs and a little amount of acceptance helps. Go with the flow, bide your time and you may gently emerge from the tough time of feeling overwhelmed, and enter into a new phase.

What you can do to minimise the  negative feelings:

1) Don’t catastrophise

Don’t allow your thinking to imagine the worst case scenarios – not helpful! Saying things like “I will never feel right again” or “life is awful and things will always be this way” won’t help and will make it worse plus these thoughts are irrational. Life isn’t that black and white. When you catch yourself catastrophising, change your thoughts. Challenge this type of thinking and replace it with thoughts such as: I may feel depresed, anxious right now but it doesnt mean the rest of my life will also be like this.

2) Be kind to yourself

Don’t chastise yourself and put pressure on yourself to “snap out if it”. Be kind to yourself as you would a best friend. Give yourself a little bit of time out. Take a day off if you can. Get a nap in the afternoon. Chill out and relax. Stop the “shoulds” and the “musts”. They can wait for another day when you feel more upbeat.

3) Be patient

Some things can’t be forced. Life sometimes needs a bit of time for the energy to change. When you’re in a vulnerable place, try to rest, avoid people who make you feel worse and do things that make you feel good about yourself. Go for a massage, declutter the house or help someone in a worse place than you.

4) Focus less on yourself

We are egocentric beings as we see the world though our unique interpretations. When we are depressed or sad and anxious, we see the world in a distorted fashion. We tend to think about all the reasons why we are failures and this makes us feel worse. Try to focus on events and experiences where you aren’t the main focus. This can help lend perspective to your life, especially when you are in the doldrums.

5) Don’t compare

When we compare, we tend to take all the awful stuff about out own lives and compare it to the little that we see of other people’s lives – or the little they allow us to see. This is a filtered version of their life -you don’t really know what is  going on in their lives. When we feel depressed we tend to look at our own lives negatively and see other people as doing much better than us, Again this is unhelpful and most importantly – this comparison is HIGHLY inaccurate..so stop it.

6) Don’t overthink

There’s a saying “When we are in our own minds we are in enemy territory”. This is especially true if you are feeling depressed. Accept that your thinking is ‘off’ and try not to overthink when you feel you are not coping with life. Distract yourself – buy a colouring in book, paint a picture, take the dog for a walk…DO something and leave the thinking for later when you are in a better place.

7) Take care of yourself – personal hygiene!

It doesn’t get talked  about that often when referring to depression but it is common for people who are depressed and not coping with life to forego personal hygiene. Survival mode takes over and sometimes just getting out of bed can be a victory.

Try to take care of yourself though and keep clean and looking respectable. Keeping yourself clean and prepared for any surprise intrusions from the outside world is an important psychological defense in emerging from a depressed state. You may feel like giving up on life and society but never give up on yourself. When we lack hygiene we send ourselves a message that we don’t value ourselves and this can make us sink further into the dark abyss of depression. Force yourself to keep yourself looking (and smelling!) respectable – for YOU, not for anyone else!

8) If all else fails…

If your low mood persists, it may be time to visit your GP or counsellor to see if anything more can be done. Sometimes we need a nudge in the right direction and there are times when we need external help for this. It isn’t a failure, it’s the wise person who does whatever it takes to make the most of their life and to minimise the amount of time they spend feeling miserable and isolated.

I have had many times when I have felt I am not coping with life. There have been dark times and dark thoughts have haunted me.

We are all in this together and we all go through times when we feel we are not coping with life. Life can be tough and no one escapes without a few scars. Reach out to others, ask for help and don’t isolate yourself. There is love and care out there but sometimes you need to look for it.

Mandy X

 

Photo by anna gutermuth

thinking brain vs emotional brain

The thinking brain versus the emotional brain

 

thinking brain photo

The thinking brain versus the emotional brain

According to experts, the human brain is not a single working organism. There are different parts to it, with each part controlling different parts of the body, thought, and emotions.

While there are many factors to anxiety, the emotional brain is often seen as responsible for a great deal of the response to stress. That’s why in many ways combatting anxiety involves learning to control the emotional brain.

Human beings have a higher thought plane than other animals thanks to the development of the neocortex – the area of the brain responsible for problem solving, conscious thought, and language. But before this area of the brain developed, human beings were like every other type of animal: acting mostly on instinct instead of logic.

But before the neocortex, there was another part of your brain – the mammalian part of your brain. This part of your brain acted on emotions, feelings, and instinct, which is why we call this the “emotional brain.” This is the part of your brain responsible for attraction to beauty, ducking when you are about to walk into a branch, and preparing your body to deal with fears and dangers.

The Conflict Between the Two Brains

Your neocortex is extremely powerful. That’s why human beings no longer act strictly on instinct. Humans are able to decide what they want to do in any given situation, weighing the pros and cons faster than a computer and making countless decisions and calculations to decide how to act. Often they act against their own instinct, and use logic to overcome what their instinct may be telling them.

That’s why humans can learn to speak in public, for example. There’s little evolutionary reason to speak in front of a large group, and it’s not uncommon for everyone to experience some nervousness before they make a presentation. But there are public speakers today that were able to overcome that nervousness, and they overcame it using the power of their own mind. They decided that it was in their best interests to make the presentation, no matter what their instinct said, and now they’re profiting from that decision.

Our thoughts and decisions can control a lot of the way we feel. But it can’t always control all of it. There are times when the emotional brain becomes too powerful. That’s what causes things like road rage, violence, and, of course, anxiety.

How the Emotional Brain is Winning

When you suffer from anxiety, it’s essentially your emotional brain winning the fight over your rational brain. You know that you shouldn’t have these fears, or these physical symptoms. But your emotional brain is still managing to cause these symptoms to occur. There are even those that experience anxiety symptoms even when they have no anxious thoughts – this is an example of the emotional brain taking control.

The exact reason this occurs is not widely known. But it likely has to do with inadequate coping abilities of the neocortex to talk down the emotional brain and keep that feeling in its place. Coping is a skill that your brain learns in order to experience less anxiety and stress from the world around it, and when that skill is lacking for any reason, anxiety becomes more powerful and affects people even when there is no reason for that anxiety to occur. When that happens, no amount of thoughts can stop it.

Neocortex – Thought (including planning, language, logic & will, awareness)

Limbic System – Emotion (feelings, relationship/nurturing, images and dreams, play)

Reptilian Brain – Instinct (survival, breathing/swallowing/heartbeat, startle response)

That’s why it’s so important to re-learn coping abilities that will help you keep your emotional brain in its place.

Mandy X

References:

http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/emotional-brain

http://www.sustainablesonoma.org/keyconcepts/threebrains.html

Photo by _DJ_