5 November 2020

Lower your stress: limitless control


It seems appropriate that the day after a new England-wide 4-week lockdown, November 6th is Stress Awareness day.

Having restrictions imposed on our daily lives and freedoms can be stressful. It can have an impact on both our physical and mental health. It is important not to deny this impact. Talk to someone about it if you can or write about it or record it in some way if you can’t. Practising self-compassion and kindness is vital. Listen closely to your feelings and acknowledge them.

As coaches it has been a particularly unusual time. It no longer feels appropriate to encourage people to set definite goals when so many of the goal posts could move at a few days’ notice. I discussed this with an experienced coach recently: how to encourage positive thinking, when so many options feel shut down?

The answer we came up with may be useful for you if you are experiencing stress.

First – the reality is that the level of control that we have over our physical world has reduced pretty drastically. It is in the outer circle of the ‘circles of influence’ diagram above. And we need to find ways, tough though it is, to accept and let go – at least for the time being.

Second – the good news is that there is a sphere where our control is actually limitless. This is our psychological and emotional sphere – our personal internal world. And the even better news is that if we can cultivate positive changes there, we will be more likely to be better at handling the restrictions in our physical world and daily life.

So, if you are feeling disempowered, observe your feelings and thoughts for a while, then consider how you would like to change them so that you feel more powerful and more in control. Of course, this takes practice, but creating new mental habits is possible – and could even stand you in better stead once the world becomes closer to ‘normal’.

Try the following:

  • When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, recognise the feeling. Check where you are feeling it – in your ‘gut’, tension in your head or neck? Back?
  • If you can, note what triggered the feeling. This could help you recognise it earlier in future.
  • Now do something to relieve the tension – breathe in and out slowly (we often shallow-breathe when stressed without realising it and breathe too quickly); roll your shoulders and/or stretch; deliberately shut down your mind and ‘busy’ thoughts. ‘Allow’ your mind to be quiet. If you are a visual thinker- choose a calm (real or remembered) image to focus on. Just think about the physical/sensory sensation of breathing, stretching or picturing/looking at your image.
  • Now ask yourself how you want to feel and how you would like to think about the trigger or issue/s which caused the stress or tension. Try to think of one positive and regular action you can take to encourage this. Write it down or record it.
  • Mark your achievement each time you encourage yourself to make this mental shift. Reward yourself in a way which is healthy.

Finally, being heard fully by another person can be powerful. Coaching offers active listening and can help you clarify what is going on inside you and how you can motivate yourself best. Talk to us if you are interested in this type of support and remember that we hold an Inclusion Fund to support people who would benefit from coaching but may not be able to fund it for themselves.

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