This week the Mental Health Foundation is hosting Mental Health Awareness Week; raising awareness of stress, how it impacts our lives and ways of tackling it to improve our quality of life.
In today’s society, stress is something which many people accept as being a normal part of daily life. In fact, when we are at our busiest we often don’t realise the impact it is having on our health, both mental and physical, or we fail to recognise the signs. You might find that you have a general lack of energy, frequent headaches or stomach upsets. Perhaps you have developed aches and pains or notice tension in your muscles. Insomnia and frequent colds can be another sign.
People often realise that they are stressed, yet are reluctant to talk to anyone about it and have no idea how to tackle it. Their big question is: “If I am unable to change my circumstances, can I reduce my stress?” The answer is yes, and mindfulness is one of the ways in which you can help yourself.
It may help to realise that stress is a reaction to a perceived threat. How we view and respond to that threat can increase or reduce our stress. For example, if you have a fear of dogs because you were once bitten by one, then when you see one in the street your muscles immediately tighten, your hands start shaking and your chest feels tight. This is a natural stress reaction. A mindful response would be to slow down, notice your breath and ground yourself by feeling your feet on the floor. Your thoughts may be telling you that dogs are dangerous and you are going to get bitten, but a more mindful response would be to assess the actual situation, notice that the dog is on a lead and tell yourself that this time you are safe. When you feel as if you wish to get away from the dog, tell yourself that this response is just a memory. You may find that you become frustrated with yourself, telling yourself that you are ridiculous, a more mindful response would be to reassure yourself that this is perfectly normal as your brain is trying to protect you from harm and these feelings will soon pass. Using this technique you can move from feeling fear, anger and shame to feeling kindness, reassurance and support.
It is interesting to understand that our brain responds to a threat whether it is real or imagined – it does not know the difference.
Whether our stress is a response to a fear of dogs, a work situation or relationship problems, mindfulness can help us explore this stress and respond with more compassion and kindness thereby helping us to connect with and reduce the stress in our lives.
Do you feel stressed? If so consider the following:
What are the stresses in my life at the moment and how do I react?
In tomorrow’s article we will look at a simple breathing technique to use in stressful situations.