“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” - Charles Darwin
Over the last few years I have written many articles, blogs and posts about stress, fear and anxiety. I have treated clients, advised friends and family and even managed to treat myself. If we are all working so hard on it, as are many therapists, apps, books etc, why are we so stressed? 🧐😀
The main reason? Life.
Life is a bit like visiting your local park. See-saws go up and down, swings can go forward and back (as well as higher and lower), roundabouts go round and round without going anywhere.
The one constant here is change. Good or bad changes, lots or a few changes, huge or tiny changes. Just when we think the stress has gone and things are settled, something changes. When we become more resilient to change, accepting it is inevitable, we begin to notice significant reductions in our stress, fear and anxiety, more productivity, improved sleep and of course, a happier outlook on life.
Real life stories
“I wake up and get dressed while trying to wake up kids who don't want to get up for school. They finally come downstairs where you have prepared breakfast that nobody wants to eat.
Time to get the kids dressed who are running around the house without a care in the world and you are now playing beat the clock. Your brain goes into overdrive trying to remember the forms you've filled in, water bottles, snacks, spelling books, homework etc. You finally think you're ready to leave when someone remembers it's show and tell today!
After you drop them off there is a very brief sigh of relief till it dawns on you.... Now starts the rest of the day. Washing, tidying, cleaning, cooking, sorting, again playing beat the clock and you suddenly find yourself staring at a supermarket shelf not knowing why you are there or what you came in for”.
“Alarm goes off a full half hour early, just so you can splash water on your face, down a coffee and pry the kids out of their beds. Fly round the house, living a Michael McIntyre routine for leaving the house, traffic galore, a missed PE kit and the school run is over! Awesome. Now the M25!
Two gruelling hours for a one hour journey, late for the meeting, a tonne of work, cold coffee, a wilted sandwich, heart pounding, head hurting, anxiety up and is that 4pm?! M25 again. Too late, home 6:30pm! The partner is not happy. Feed kids, bath them. Laptop open…..finish 5 emails one report and…..breathe! TV….zzzzzzz”. Groundhog one has been done…..only four more to survive till the weekend.
So we can be forgiven for finding ourselves stressed, annoyed, anxious, shaky, with a headache, tired and about to snap with the last straw…"did you remember the milk love?" BOOM!
So what can we do about it? Won’t it just go away? Maybe after this project things will be easier? When the kids are in secondary school I can have a break!
So, what can I do about it?
Quit the job, put the kids in a playpen out back, TV on with a pint? No!
We have to roll with it. Control what we can and let go of what we can’t. If we can’t change all of the above, we have to change our response to it.
3 Practical steps
1 - Move….and the mind will move too.
During recent times with the pandemic, restrictions and working from home, it can seem impossible to do exercise to reduce stress. In fact trying to fit in a prolonged routine can sometimes add to our stress. Let’s keep it simple, short and effective …..
Walk down the stairs from the office, out to the bottom of the garden, do a couple of laps and back. If Sir Tom can, we can. Maybe try to see if you can touch the ceiling? A big full stretch up…..then down towards our toes.
Make it fun. I dare you to do the tweet tweet song actions or the hokey cokey and then feel the change in your mind and body.
2 - Nutrition - not eating the rainbow again?!
I will not go on and on about a healthy balanced diet. If you don’t know by now what is good and bad for you, you probably never will. The most important point to make, is moderation and making a difference. Quick, easy, pleasurable and repeat.
Try to include Brazil nuts, Eggs, Dark Chocolate, Green or Chamomile Tea. Start to reduce Sugar, Salt, Alcohol and Caffeine.
3 - Laughter is the best medicine.
2-3 mins on your phone (ideally in the garden or outside) on the web for your favourite laugh out loud comedian or sit-com.
Maybe it is one full throttle song you love and cannot listen too with singing out loud. (This is best done in the car or indoors….unless you have understanding neighbours!). You could always do a couple more of the jigs above. No anxiety when you are laughing hard! 😁
Remember. This is only a 5 minute refresher before returning to your desk. It is only to make you feel better, lower the adrenaline and cortisol levels, ready for the next set of tasks.
Look at it this way…..what do you do when the saucepan is about to boil over? Reduce the heat!
3 Mindful steps
1 - To help with laser focus and prioritising:
Ask yourself two questions about each task to be done. Is it mine? No, delegate or discard. Is it now? No, schedule and drop. It is amazing how much we take on that isn’t ours or isn’t required yet.
2 - Elephants?
If you think about elephants, elephants, elephants….what’s in your head now? Elephants?
If you look out at a rainy day, traffic, running late, money worries…. Do you feel good?
What about sunny day, pick of the parking spots, coffee waiting at the desk and a new customer? How do you feel now?
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) part of our brain takes what we focus on and filters it, so we see more of the same. It we think we are going to have a bad day, we will. What if we think we are having a fantastic day?
3 - Better in 16 seconds.
When racing across the laptop keys, reading report 12 of the day or on a zoom call that will not end, have you noticed your breathing. Faster? Shallow? Mind racing? Headache?
Take literally 16 seconds on this….yes 16!
Take a deep breath in through your nose while counting four seconds, hold it for four seconds (still counting), breathe out through your mouth (counting four more), then hold your breath (counting once more to four).
Actively counting the seconds for each stage (eyes closed too if possible), really calms and engages the mind. It also allows you to slow down your breathing, remove anxiety and reduce your heart rate.
A bit better? Try one more 16 seconds?
This fits in everywhere and is so effective.
Life can be hard enough and we can't control everying. Let's learn to control what we can (our response), change (what we want) and learn to laugh in the rain..... The sun will be back soon. Let's be ready.
"Is it still raining? I hadn't noticed"