HINTS ON HOW TO UNDERSTAND AND ALLEVIATE STRESS
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Most people (those that do not suffer from it) - think that stress is simply raising your voice or stomping around. In fact these traits are a kind of plea for help that can also serve as pressure valve to help release a persons inner turmoil. Stress has arrived in a person when any amount of banging around no longer serves as a cure. It is at this stage that a victim will start to experience some unusual physical and emotional symptoms. If left unchecked these "Odd" feelings can expand into a vast array of the most alarming sensations. As time moves on the sufferer begins to feel evermore unnerved, ill and frightened - all of which adds fuel to the self sustaining maelstrom that is STRESS. Below I have tried to itemise issues that may enable readers to identify and begin to understand and alleviate their stress problems.
List of common physical stress symtoms
1. Hyper active workplaces (e.g call centres)
2. Fear of death/illness
7.Major life changes
8.Living a lie
Relaxation tapes are an essential tool along the road to recovery. At first they may appear ineffective but after ust a few 10 minute sessions you will begin to ppreciate their value. Such tapes are devised to input subtle information into the listeners sub-consious mind by using light hypnosis techniques. Some people imagine hypnosis to be a skill that renders the subject unconscious and so when the tape is finished and they hav total recall of the session - they believe it to have been of no use what so ever. In reality hypnosis places a patient in awide variety of the stages of trance ranging from completeley aware to being fully under. People who use relaxation tapes will tell you that their experience various every time they listen to them. Most professional tapes will finish with a countdown to bring the entranced listener back to full awareness. At first encounter this countdown to conciousness may seem like a piece slice of fairground drama but I can assure you that if you concentrate fully upon the instructions on the tape/disc - for every 10 sessions you will experience at least 2 of them where all yo remember is the "Click" of fingers at the end of recording. This does not mea that the other 8 session have been worthless as all of the times you've listened wouldhave imparted valuable poines to your subconscious mind. For truly effective results it is recommended that you should lisen to the 10 minute tape at least 4 times every week. It is also important that you listen to it in a warm/comfortable room that is quite and where you will be completely undisturbed.
Actively distracting yourself from focussing on stress symtoms sounds obvious enough. An example could be where a sufferer is at one moment is feeling physically and or emotionally shot. By chance they might pick up a magazine and stumble upon an article that is competely absorbing and holds their absolute attention for 20 minutes or so. At the end of this period they put down the magazine and suddenly realise that they feel wonderful and "Normal" again. This euporia may last an hour or a day depending on how deeply its effect travelled. The tradgedy is that if one tries to duplicate this effect the results are not always forthcoming. It's almost as if you have to surprise yourself by pretending not to know that your intention is to duplicate your earlier success. The tool of actively distracting yourself is very powerful tool indeed but to master sneaking up on a spontaneous distraction takes some mastering. The key issue here is that the distraction must be of very real interest to and one that has not been enjoyed recently. Try looking back and rediscovering childhood passions such as model aircraft building or playing some music not listened to since your teensfor example.
Passive distraction is a term I use for occupying your mind by undertaking a simple non-absorbing task. Such a task might be gardening. housework, listening to music or any light passtime with just enough going on to distract the mind from dwelling on the symtoms of stress. In a similar way to active distraction this is merely another way of diverting the mind to permit a feelying of normality to return to your life for a while. The longer your can stay away from feeling unwell the more accustomed you will become to life without discomfort. Sometimes trying to duplicate an earlier success will fail to fool the mind as it knows exactly what your up to and this draws its attention back to the those same issue your trying to mask with this method. The trick is to diversify the types of passive and active distractions and to fall into them discretely. You could say that active distraction is to FILL the mind and passive distraction is to STILL the mind. Often when you embark on these exercises you may find that at first they seem ineffective. This is because your looking for the relief to begin and this action itself will prevent it ever happening. It is only when you forget to monitor your progress that the benefits will be discovered.
Self Hypnosis is a bit like Mindful Meditation except that instead of filling your mind with pleasant or distracting images you feed it instructions (suggestions). First of all you will have to get your body and mind into a relaxed state. There are many (web researchable) methods for doing this and so I'll just mention one such method that I've found to be OK. Find a quiet room that you will not be disturbed in and sit in a firm but comfortable chair. Avoid crossing your arms or legs as this may cause discomfort during the session. Close your eyes and breathe normally from the abdomen. I find it's best to keep like this for around 10 minutes or so which is long enough for closed eyes to shift the brain into an alpha state that is less troubled. At this point inhale deeply and hold for around 10 seconds and then exhale slowly whilst visualising all tension melting away (Saying R...E..L..A..X) as you breath out. Next continue shallow abdomoinal breathing for the next 5 breaths in and out. Then perform another deep breath and hold for 10 seconds followed by the (R...E...L...A..X) and 5 shallow normal breaths. Repeat one more time. The next step is to completely relax your body systematically by clenching muscle groups, holding them tight and then releasing the tension whilst thinking the word (R..E..L..A..X). I find the following tightening and release sequence is a good one. Hands and forearms clench/ release/ bisceps/ triceps/ shoulders up then down/ neck/ cranial skin/ forehead/ eyes/ face/ tongue and throat/ chest / hips and lower back / legs. Complete all of thes areas by clenching up the muscles and then releasing them. Exceptions here are the eyes and chest. To relax the eyes just keep them closed and focus on how still they are and gazing straight ahead. With the chest, tension is created by breathing in deeply - holding and then releasing. I would suggest using your relaxation tape/CD format for this part of self hypnosis. At the end of this proceedure you will be ready to begin giving your mind instructions. You can choose whatever words you like that you feel may suite your condition or mindset. Continue breathing in a shallow abdominal manor and mentally say your phrase, Breath in gentley and say the soothing / instructional phrase as you breath out . A phrase I used was simply "You are relaxed". Another time I would use words like tranquile or serene in a small sentence. You can mix and match your words and sentences as you wish but try to say or think your phrase as you breath out. Keep the in breath like a question and the out breath + words as the response. Continue this conversation for 5 or 10 minutes (Longer if you want to). After this period I generally go through a count down much like a stage hypnotist saying in my mind. "I will now count from 5 to 1. When I reach 1 you will awake and feel completely alert and refreshed." I then open my eyes and continue with my day. This kind of self therapy hits deaper than you would think. Over time it gets into the sub conscious mind and gets on your side in the war on stress. It's a heavy weight tool and should be used 3 or more times a week. (Each session lasting perhaps 20 minutes). For a shortened version of this self hypnosis technique you can skip the whole "Body relaxation" section and begin your phrase/words instructions immediately after the 3 x's deep breaths.
With stress and anxiety comes an acute awareness of every detail of the world around you. The body and mind are both on high alert for most of the time and all senses are primed and ready to deal with any incoming assault. As a spin off of this heightened state the sufferer can become conscious of a variety of normal automatic bodily functions such as breathing and heart rate. Focusing on breathing or heart rate can become an obsession that undermines the automatic nature of these functions. Concentrating on breathing leads to concerns as to whether your breathing enough or too little. This can lead to asthma ,hyper-ventilation, dizziness, panic attacks and so on all of which generate more anxiety which in turn causes an even greater awareness of ones breathing. The body knows how much air it need to meet any given workload and will automatically deal with your intake. When this automatic response is interfered with by an awareness of the proceedure brathing exercises can help. Many people can display early signs of stress related breathing issues through being constantly light headed by taking rapid shallow breaths instead of regular intakes stemming from their lower abdomen. Repeated involuntary yawnong is also a warning sign. To begin breathing properly you must practise by letting yoyr lower abdomen expand to pull the diaphragm down thus pulling in air through the nose and into the lungs. Breathing awareness is one of the worst afflictions for the stressed mind as it prevents any relaxation what so ever. To have to think about such a basic function is a really frightening and exausting experience. If you practise breathing correctly the next step of not thinking about it at all becomes slightly easier. To combine correct breathing proceedures along with a distraction such as watching a film or reading a book is a good combination. You will find that sometimes you've read a whole chapter without thinking about how to breath and as time wears on you will slowly regain the ability to never think about it. In addition to correct breathing techniques, breathing can also be used as a calming aid. If you are feeling beside yourself with anxiety you might try taking in a very large breath and holding it for a while. Then as you breath out try to imagine your whole body is deflating as the tension melts away. Try this a couple of times but when you finish you must avaoid over breathing by resuming shallow breaths beginning in your lower abdomen. Another under estimated trick is always to ensure that you breath through your nose. The greater resistance to oxygen intake afforded by breathing through your nose as opposed to through your mouth, combats any tendency to hyper-ventilate.
Mindful meditation is exactly what is sounds like - i.e to fill the mind with thoughts. It is useful in that it blocks out breathing awareness or racing fearful thoughts etc. One technique I've found particularly effective is this. Select in your mind one of your favorite holiday spots and picture your self to be there. Then deapen the moment by trying to physically sense your surroundings. A favourite location for me was sitting in the beer garden by the beach in Cornwall on a cloudless day. I would try to hear the seagulls overhead and the surf crashing in the Bay. Then I'd imagine the sun burning down on my back and the cool glass of lager in front of me. I'd enhance things further by recalling every detail that could be seen from this vantage point from the caravans in the higher field above ar the brightly coloured wind beaks on the beach below. I would also watch a dog playing with a ball in the car park and see a distant yacht rise and fall with the swell of the ocean. After visualising this location I'd move on to another favourite spot of mine and try to recapture it also. I've found that if I embark on a top 10 of favourite places to visualise and work my way through them one at a time, that the exercise as a whole is highly beneficial. Of course you'll need a lot of time for this type of aid and may find that being in bed at night is the best time for it. For many the "going to sleep period" can be the worst time for stress to take hold and I've found that this "Top 10 places" exercise, often permits me to sleep and frequently I rarely get past location 3 on my list. It's worth noting that any quite place will do though -maybe your study on a Sunday afternnon for example. As with all stress aids you will find that on one day the above works perfectly yet on another day it has no effect at all. The trick is to have an armery of weapons at your disposal so that you can apply one and then another and then another and back to the first one again. If you keep your mind full of good stuff you have stress and anxiety on the run.
Having your mind full of racing thoughts and worries is tha cause of stress/anxiety. Replacing those thoughts with pleasant ones (Mindfull meditation) is a tool used en-route to your recovery. Another method that can be effective is to learn how to have no thoughts at all - (Mindless Meditation). To achieve this vacant minded state some people use a blocking thought or simple sound upon which they can focus to keep out all other thoughts. I think we have all seen monks chanting on TV to the sound "Ouuhm, ...........Ouuhm...........Ouuhm". This sound can be in your head or softly spoken. Also any simple word can be used if you feel a little silly chanting like a medieval monk. Try using "One........One........One" instead for example. The period between repetitions is a personal choice but must fit your attention span so as to be spaced just right to block the space where your mind starts to fall elsewhere. With a little practise you'll soon find your tempo and this "Chanting " technique is a very good way of keeping out fears and disruptive thoughts. Sometimes when you get it spot on you'll feel that its posible to go the whole day without thinking about anything. Beware though as its possible for the chanting to becomes so well practised that it morphs into an automatic proceedure freeing your mind up to once again focus on stressful issues. If this does happen you must re-assert your awareness of the sound of the chanted word. Try to discover a depth and duration of the sound so that it alone has all your attention.
One of the most common causes of stress is working too hard at a job that is not remotely interesting. Work is an odd activity to say the least. Most of us really can't stand it and will never actually cope with the way it takes up all of our time and energy. Other people however thrive on the workplace and can't do without it. For those who can't live with working flat out all day and every day we have a problem. The world's bosses favour those who work willingly. It's easier for those who need work to shine and to rise up the employment ladder. Because all of us need to eat, those who abhore work are forced to emmulate enthusiasm just to keep their job. This constant living of the lie plays havoc with the mind and can often lead to anxiety and stress, If a life style change is possible then it should be considered. Perhaps sell the house, buy a trailer and live on the beach with a just low pressure job to pay for the basics. A regular piece of advice administered by those who need work to those of us who don't is "If you don't like your job then change it". The issue here is that those who don't like work are so inclined because their heads are full of self sustaining stimuli. They have full lives with multiple interests where any job will always interfere with their natural balance. If like me your situation will not allow "dropping out" then don't despair as this scenario is always available as a last resort. I remember once spilling my soul out to a physciatrist saying, " I didn't think I'd ever recover from my stress attacks even if I moved to a beach somewhere". To which she replied (TWICE),
"Oh yes you would, - oh yes you would". Her confidence in my having a future, if I couldn't shake off my condition, was a turning point on my road to recovery and enabled me to battle through it.
I had never suffered any mental health issues in my life what so ever until I was 40 years old. I'd always been dripping with confidence and whilst a little shy - my self-esteem had always been bullet-proof. Two events happened around this time in my life both of which contributed to my imminent downfall. First of all it was my age that bothered me. Forty years old is a major landmark and I'd always been petrified of death and ageing. Secondly I'd begun a new job that was a close as one could ever get to hell without actually dying. The nature of this new job required everyone in the office to work at breakneck speeds on a multitude of tasks all day long. Lunch breaks if taken, presented workers with an un-revoverable backlog to cope with when they returned and so most of us took only a fews seconds out for half a sandwich at best. Each task required of us demanded the utmost concentration to resolve but continuous interuptions made any such concentration impossible. Continuous concentration breaking is the key point here. To constantly embark on a complicated new task without having completed previous jobs is a recipe for destruction. As each day wore on, the pile of incompleted tasks grew higher and higher. At no point would there be any slowing of incoming tasks to allow us to catch up - yet somehow we were expected to satisfy each and every customer fully. Many of my colleages and I found ourselves attending stress coucelling sessions. Some of us were referred to full blown one to one physciatrist appointments. How the company could fund such treatment for their workers without solving the obvious under manning issues remains a mystery closely resembling manslaughter. My troubles began where for an 8 week period I'd been feeling under the weather. From there I began to be unable to relax at home in the evenings and weekends. I could not cope with just sitting in a room with a book to read. My whole body was ready for world war 3 and just reading a book was impossible. I then could,nt face driving in traffic or with anyone else in the car. My throat would close up and me head would dart about uncontrollable to create physical activity as a distraction to the non activity of sitting in a traffic jam. Similarly I could.nt cope with supermarket queues. Attending meetings at work began to require all off my strength simply to sit there. Walking became difficult as dizziness had joined the vast list of weapons available for "Stress" to use against me. Eventually with the list of aids and advice (as documented within this site) - I began to win the war. Documenting how I felt on an hour to hour basis and following a cocktail of relief tools (that worked for me ) led to a gradual lowering of both the intensity and frequency of symptoms. There were many relapses en-route to recovery but the trend did lead upwards to feeling normal again. The stress response file of the subconscious mind is held inside. It is like a bucket that slowly fills. This bucket is virtually impossible to empty so the older you become the fuller your bucket is. Young people can ride trauma more readily as their bucket is nearly empty. The stress awareness and management tools that sufferers have found to combat the condition are simply an effective way of preventing the stress bucket from over-flowing .
Stress is an odd beast to understand. Often those who suffer attacks take a holiday and imagine a hastle free environment will ease their discomfort. Things at first might be going well and then suddenly in the middle of a sun-drenched idyllic day they could find themselves under the hammer. It might be that they become super-anxious and think everyone is looking at them. Maybe they start focussing on their breathing and can no longer do it without thinking about it. Whatever the symptom is - going away for a few days or weeks will not solve it.
The reasons why cause and effect are not connected in real-time is because our sub-conscious mind does not store its data (memories) in chronological order. In fact our subconscious mind doesn't know what time is - all it is concerned about is remembering an event and respondinding to it accordingly.
This recall/response loop kicks in perfectly well regardless of whether its to deal with a childhood event or something that happened just yesterday. The ability of our subconscious mind to learn and react is, for the most part beneficial of course. But in times where we are exposed to intense and prolonged pressure - the recorded data can misinterpret the threat.
Take a warzone type office (typical of today). Every 2.5 seconds the phone rings. Every 22 seconds an e-mail arrives. Every four minutes 2 or 3 people arrive at your desk requiring information............after several hours of this any normal person is exhuasted. If your home and family are dependent on your keeping the job -then exhaustion is not an option so you soldier on.
When you get home you may have a 3 second window to swallow your dinner and acknowledge your spouse before your hide yourself in your study to prepare for the trauma that will be tomorrow.
Eventually you will slide into stress where your subconsious mind may force your body into battle mode at the drop of a hat. Later you will find that this state of alert kicks-in at times when it should'nt. Later still you may find that your whole being is permanently cowering under the assualt even during a two week cease-fire (ie annual holiday).
Owing of the diversity of symptoms stress can generate and because those symptoms appear seemingly at random - the condition itself becomes a source of stress.
To the subconscious mind, waiting at the check-out in a crowded super-market can seem identical to waiting for your desk-top pc to respond in a busy office. Similarly faces on the beach may be seen as potential information seekers approaching your desk. If we add this (event misinterpretation) to the sub-conscious minds (chronological disinterest) - then we have a very elusive enemy to identify and attack.
Once identified, stress relief is most definately both available and effective. Offered solutions may at first seem ineffective. There is a tendency for new sufferers to disregard the lessons learned by others especially if no immediate cure results. The biggest aid to stress recovery is to understand and believe that you have become a sufferer. Once this is accepted, most people's recovery starts right there. Add this (acceptance) to a cocktail of aids/advise and progress will follow.
Try listening to a relaxation tape. It's structured to reconfigure your "out of sync" - subconcoius mind. Listen to it alone regularly (every night) for 10 minutes.
Try those self hypnosis techniques (anyone can do it).
Try those passive relaxation exercises. Get out into the garden and do the weeding. It is not taxing but does sometimes convert a tortured mind and body into a vision of serenity.
Try those active relaxtion routines where you mindfully engage in a passion of your very own. It might be aircraft modelling or even sex.
Try every concieivable stress remedy until you find a cocktail that's effective for you. Do not become dissappointed if sometimes something helps and another time it doesn't because slowly but surely your life will most definately return.
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