Five Quick Go-To Skills to Help with Stress and Anxiety
Those of you who know me have followed my journey developing my business to be the best it can be (and for me to be the best I can be).
This first blog is the next step of that journey – so I thought ‘short and sweet’. I hope to give some useful information and a taste of some of the subjects I’ll develop in later blogs. Please leave any comments and suggestions for further topics.
Butterflies and Knots
This journey of mine has been testing my skills and knowledge and caused me to ask questions of myself. It strikes me as similar to any other new situation and making changes – what I am calling ‘butterflies and knots’.
Doing new things and making changes can be exciting and motivating. Butterflies flutter in our bellies. So why doesn’t it always feel like that? Instead, we feel anxiety and fear – worried if we’re doing the right thing, afraid to change, worrying what might happen. We can hold onto past events, thoughts, feelings and behaviour, even though they no longer serve us well. Knots start turning in our bellies.
Sometimes we can clearly feel and know our butterflies and knots, and we deal with things and move on. Sometimes we get stuck in the feelings, thoughts and behaviours. Afterwards we might give ourselves a hard time for not dealing with it differently, the sort of negative self-talk that can lead us right back to where we started. Sometimes we can’t even tell which is which, or we don’t notice until much later.
Generally this is what I call ‘getting stuck’. Really it is our ‘lizard brain’ (the amygdala), the oldest part of our brain development, the one that taught us ‘fight or flight’. Our brain spends all its energy on the number one priority: ‘is that a bear in the hedge or a shadow? do I need to fight or run?’.
Sounds the opposite of ‘getting stuck’? When the nature of the ‘threat’ is not obvious, we can get ‘stuck’ in it. Do you ever find the more you think about something, the harder it gets to solve? Do you ever find yourself going over and over the same thoughts or repeating behaviours – even those you thought you’d ‘got rid of’ ages ago? Were you stressed at the time?
Young People too
Of course it’s not just adults who experience this. Many young people and families at this time of year will be looking to exams, and it is the time of school admissions and decisions.
Those who know my work or follow my posts will know that I follow closely the developing discussion about the state of children’s mental health. The debate includes children and young people and their worried families struggling to get the support they need – often at a point (or continual point) of acute crisis.
Official figures identify one in three young people in an average classroom having a mental health difficulty, aside from those struggling with issues such as anxiety. You may well be aware of the growing attention to ADHD and Asperger’s.
So I have been asked do young people really have any more stresses than any of us ‘grown-ups’ did? In some ways they do, for example there is more information than ever available (from fame and ideal bodies to the economy and their future), and coping with social media which can often lead to regrets. There seems to be very little ‘down time’ these days. All the while young people are of course learning about their developing bodies and minds.
Does that sound like you too sometimes (including our ageing bodies and minds)?
I know, I know, to say ‘Just Relax’ can seem naïve at best – these are uncertain times and people are facing real and sometimes extremely difficult challenges. ‘How can I possibly relax? I’ve got this and that to deal with, and I don’t have time!’ Yet sometimes the harder we try, the less we somehow achieve.
The mind is an incredible thing, and has a fabulous way of working out solutions when it is not focussed on ‘fight or flight’. Remember worrying about something for ages and getting nowhere near a solution? Do you ever try and remember a name or a message and only recall it when you’re doing something unrelated like brushing your teeth?
Mindfulness shows us that by paying attention to the moment, without judging, we can let go of the ‘fight or flight’, the ‘stuck’, the ‘butterflies and knots’ and our racing brains.
The point is to be fully ‘in the moment’ (not worrying about the past or future). We begin to reconnect our minds, our breathing and our bodies. We let our thoughts come and go and return to whatever exercise we are doing. We don’t judge ourselves or anything around us. We have moments of calm. There’s a huge variety of exercises and children and young people enjoy it as much as adults.
The great thing is, there are some simple things you can practice starting right now and it doesn’t cost a ton of money – but you do need to practice, the more we do the better it gets and it becomes part of everyday life. I know it works, as I use it and people I work with say it works for them – they’re usually delighted. Give them a go and let me know how you get on. Please do post any comments or questions. Find me on Facebook and Twitter et al. Good Luck!
The Power Stand
|Standing like this for two minutes is clinically proven to decrease the stress hormone Cortisol and increase the power hormone Testosterone (not just needed by boys!).
You can do it anytime, anywhere – try it when you’re in a queue or about to get cross or are stressed. You can do it subtly when people are around, or step away from them for a moment – if you’re in a car I suggest imagining it!
|Great for kids and grown-ups – make a glitter bottle (bottle, clean water, glitter, seal the top). At times of stress shake the bottle, and watch while the glitter settles. Use it as a ‘daily calmer’ – when home from work or school for example, or before bedtime. Snow globes also work great.|
|Just stopping and noticing how we feel can really help bring us back to this moment. Emotions can be tricky things to define, especially for children or ‘in the moment’. The ‘weather report’ can be a more fun and simpler way: I feel stormy, rainy, cloudy, sunny, hot, cold, freezing – whatever language works with you. It helps us connect with where we are And remind us that feelings are just feelings, they come and go just like clouds and weather – and if they’re not helping we can help them pass, just by noticing and letting go.|
|You know when you go upstairs and completely forgot what you went for? We get so pre-occupied with our thoughts. Practice paying attention – to anything – a toy, your food, washing up, cleaning your teeth, what’s around you in the shopping queue, sounds, walking, what you can see at the park. Notice the sights, sounds, feel, smells (and taste if eating). Really pay attention. When your thoughts wander bring them back, and see the difference.|
|A foundation practice in Mindfulness – focusing on your breath and bringing your attention back when it wanders. Breathe naturally, noticing how the breathe feels as you inhale, how your ribs and belly move, how it feels as you exhale. Really notice. Try it for 1 minute at first. Use a clock or phone to time yourself. Extend the time when you’ve got the hang of it. With longer times you can practice bringing your awareness into yourself from your surroundings to your body and your breath. Then hold focus on your breath. Then expand your awareness again (the Hourglass or 3-minute breathing space)|
I’ll be looking at more of this in future blogs, for now here’s a few suggestions for looking at some of the issues I’ve mentioned in this blog:
Anxiety: ‘Hell is other People: a self-help guide to social anxiety’. Played on Radio 4. 1.30pm on 10 Apr 16 and available on iPlayer [http://bbc.in/1MrkFIW]
Exam Stress: Tougher Minds: ‘Improve Exam Success’. Their website has a great little set of podcasts on the subject and they’re offering a discount to schools for their event on 21 April. www.tougherminds.co.uk [http://bit.ly/1qiMdpx] @tougherminds
Mental Health, Young People: ‘I’m Broken Inside’. A look at young people’s mental health and services. This is a tough documentary from the Panorama team, not suitable for everyone. Shown on BBC1, 7.30pm on 11 April and available on BBC iPlayer [http://bbc.in/20xGZ5W]