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Stress
A man in a yellow top with his hands on his head experiencing the signs of stress

Stressed out?

Related subject: Stress

Are you feeling stressed out?

We can all cope with a bit of stress – but too much, for too long, has a negative impact on our wellbeing. So understanding and noticing the signs of stress is hugely important to helping us deal wand cope with it.

At the back of our brain is a small area called the amygdala. Human beings developed this many millions of years ago, when life was not as civilized as it is today – when survival was a matter of eating other creatures before they ate you! The amygdala kicked into action whenever we felt threatened, flooding our bodies with adrenalin and hormones so that we could put up a good fight or run away very fast.  

Although life has now changed out of all recognition the human brain and body is pretty similar to that of our cave person ancestors. Once we’d learnt to talk and write, we came up with the word amygdala and described the reaction it triggered as the “fight or flight response”. We even gave a name to the way it felt when our heart began to race, our skin started to sweat and we suddenly needed a toilet – all signs of stress.

Stress is not necessarily bad. We need a little bit to nudge us into action, to get things done and to perform at our best. However, the kind of stress we now experience in modern society can have a negative effect. Particularly if we are forced to ignore the signs of stress.

 

In prehistoric times stress tended to be extreme – like bumping into a hungry bear or being attacked by a neighbouring tribe. This kind of stress, however, was short lived. You either escaped, or you won, and could relax again (or you were dead and no longer felt anything). Nowadays the threats tend to be things like a rapidly approaching exam, a mortgage rate that keeps climbing, a demanding boss or an awkward teenager. It’s hard to run away from them or fight them – we just have to put up with it for months and months and ignore the signs of stress. What’s more, we’ll probably have half a dozen of these things stressing us out at any one time.  

 

This kind of persistent stress takes a toll on us both mentally and physically. Over time it will inevitably have a serious negative impact on our wellbeing, our happiness, our relationships and our work. I therefore work with a wide range of clients to help them understand the signs of stress and what to do about them, from entrepreneurs running their own business to students preparing for important exams, and employee's coping with changes at work to carers looking after elderly parents, who are finding the pressure too much.  

Here are some points to consider if you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress:
 

1) When we are feelings the signs of stress our body becomes flooded with cortisol (our stress hormone) and adrenalin. Back in prehistoric times these chemicals would’ve served a purpose (to fight that imposter or run away!). But when we’re sat at our desk these physiological and emotional responses generally serve no useful purpose. Try to fit in some exercise, even if it’s just a power walk around the block.

 

2) When we’re highly stressed the primitive brain hijacks the rational thinking part of the brain. That’s why, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t think straight, we literally become stupid. So understand that you won’t be operating at your best. Take a break and return to the task when you feel calmer.

 

3) Try to consider how you’re really feeling. Comments like “I’m so stressed out” are often inaccurate and the word ‘stressed’ is masking the real problem. It may be that you’re feeling unsupported, let down, disappointed, frustrated or worried. When we are able to nail down how we’re really feeling it can be empowering as we’re more able to identify what we do need.

 

4) Try not to label feelings as ‘good’ (happy and excited) and ‘bad’ (sad and frustrated). This will actually undermine how effective you are with your emotions. All feelings serve a purpose, those which are having a negative impact on your wellbeing are mostly prompts to take action.

 

5) Lastly, breathe out! It sounds simple but by taking long breaths out (like a deep sigh), we are doing the opposite to the stress response. This is called 7/11 breathing. Breathe in for 7 and out for 11.

 

Using my skills as a coach and therapist I help my clients see why the brain is behaving in this way – because once you understand something it’s much less scary and easier to deal with. Then we work together on different approaches to help you get better at understanding the signs of stress, coping with these feelings and regaining control of your equilibrium.

 
Some stress is unavoidable. But you don’t have to let it get you down. Give me a call.

A woman in a striped top wither her hands covering her nose and mouth and an axious expression in her eyes
Anxiety

Anxiety never sleeps...

Related Subject: Anxiety 

Anxiety never sleeps. That’s why you can’t either.

Anxiety is different from stress, and in some ways even more scary. But, thankfully, it’s curable.

 

It’s easy to confuse stress with anxiety. They are closely-related and the signs of stress and anxiety are the same – your heart banging in your chest, shortness of breath, a churning in your stomach. But there is a difference. Stress is what we feel when confronted by some kind of external threat or pressure. Anxiety, however, comes from inside of us.

Given that they produce the same symptoms does it matter that stress and anxiety differ in this respect? Yes! If you are to treat something effectively then you really need to separate it from other issues and then deal with the root cause.

Confusingly, prolonged stress can develop into anxiety. Our subconscious mind becomes imprinted with memories of all the things we experience – including all those times we got stressed. If we have a lot of those stressful periods then the imprint becomes profound.  These then tend to resurface and can develop into an ever-present mental health issue. Whereas stress tends to subside once the cause has passed (a deadline, a meeting) anxiety continues even though there is actually nothing to worry about – it’s a persistent state of mind that we’re stuck with.

Identifying the cause of stress is relatively straightforward – work pressures, relationship problems and financial challenges are kind of obvious. With anxiety, however, it’s our internal thought pattern that’s the issue. There is no obvious trigger, which makes anxiety more upsetting and tricky to treat. One minute you’re fine and the next, you start to experience feelings similar to the signs of stress, for no apparent reason - a nagging worried feeling, your heart begins to race, you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t drop off for hours or you have a full-on panic attack.

 

Anxiety is less scary when you understand what’s going on (you’re not going crazy!). I can sit down with you and explain all this in more detail – this will help you manage those feelings. You don’t have to live with anxiety – I can help you get your thoughts under control and remove that constant worry of always being worried!

 

Let's talk about how we can banish it for good.

A woman in a striped top with her hands over her face and an eye peeking out
Fear of public speaking

Fear of Presentations

Related Subject: Fear

 

Public speaking and giving presentations.... I’D RATHER DIE!

The No1 fear for almost all of us.

At some point in your life you’ll probably be called upon to make a speech or presentation – to clients, work colleagues, fellow professionals or just to family and friends at a social gathering. 

 

Very few people approach the prospect without a degree of fear – even the most successful individuals and those who regularly stand up in front of audiences experience this most powerful of emotions.

What is it that we fear - the embarrassment of messing up? Yes, but this is illogical. If we’re well-prepared then this is unlikely to happen. The real fear is the fear we experience when people stare at us. One pair of eyes trained on us is unsettling. Ten, twenty or even hundreds is terrifying. Watch the video:

https://youtu.be/dyLNmDGnKoc?si=cGLm6ublP5C9sUXH

 

Humans evolved at a time when staying alive meant eating others before they ate you. To help us survive our brains developed an area that we now call the amygdala. When we sensed someone, or something, watching us, this triggered a fight or flight response – it released adrenalin into our system to make us able to defend ourselves better or to run away faster, making us feel the signs of stress we experience today.

 

Nowadays the idea that the conference audience or assembled wedding guests are getting ready to eat us alive is absurd.  But that’s how our amygdala still responds! That’s why public speaking fills us with such dread – it’s a hangover from our distant past, it's entirely illogical, but the reaction is very intense and real.

How not to handle it

 

A tiny part of our primitive brain is telling us that we’re about to be attacked. We could fight back, but there are more of them than us, so that won’t work. We could run, but that would be super-embarrassing – social pressure roots us to the spot. So the next best thing we can do is try and shut the eyes out and build a mental barrier around ourselves to limit the potential harm. We avoid all eye contact with the audience, focusing on our notes or our slides and mentally distancing ourselves from the situation.

 

This reaction is instinctive but not helpful. The fear does not go away and, by preventing us from engaging with the audience, it causes us to give a flat and dull presentation (the other thing that we were super worried about!).


How to make them love you

 

The fear is not being caused by any real threat – it’s all in our mind. So the way to calm your twitchy amygdala and disarm our instinctive panic button is to change the way we think about the situation. Instead of focusing on ourselves, on whether we’ll mess up or whether people will become hostile, the trick is to focus on the audience and to think about how you can help them. If you generously share your knowledge they’ll love you, right?

 

Studies have proven that when we give to others this decreases our amygdala activity and reduces the signs of stress. Showing kindness and generosity to others activates the vagus nerve, which has the power to calm the fight-or-flight response. This means that when we approach public speaking in a spirit of generosity we experience fewer signs of stress and feel more relaxed.


Three practical ways to make this work
 

1. When you’re preparing your talk or presentation don’t start by thinking about your topic – this will get you bogged down in the detail and focusing on yourself. Start by asking yourself “Who will be in the room? Why are they there? What do they need?” Craft your message with these questions at the forefront of your mind.

 

2. Refocus your thoughts just before you start. This is the moment when your brain is telling you, “They’re judging me. What if I blow it?”. Counter this by reminding yourself that you are here to help them. Boss your brain by telling it “This is not about me. It is about helping all these people”. Initially you’ll find this a struggle but after half a dozen presentations your brain will get the message.
 

3. Make eye contact. Don’t scan the room – if you cast your eyes over everyone you’ll connect with nobody. Fix your eyes on one person as you make a particular point. Then do the same with a different person when you move onto your next point. By focusing on one person at a time you make each person in the room feel like you are talking just to them.


How I can help you reduce your fear

 

The technique I’ve just shared with you will reduce your fear of public speaking. But there’s an additional way I can help you approach the situation in a better frame of mind. In a face-to-face session I’ll help you visualise the presentation going well. To reinforce this I’ll use hypnosis to embed this imagined successful presentation into your subconscious. Your primitive brain instinctively gets you to think negatively but I’ll help you use your imagination to override this – by mentally rehearsing success we’ll build your confidence and quell your doubts.


Got a presentation or speech coming up that’s making you anxious? Let me help you with that.

A man in a striped top looking dubiously to the right
Fear of conflict

Fear of Conflict

Related Subject: Fear

SPEAK OUT! It will only lead to frustration if you don’t overcome it.

 

Everyone is different – different personalities, opinions, values, beliefs, tastes, backgrounds. This variety makes life interesting. But it inevitably leads to conflicts. One of the ways we are different from each other is that some of us are comfortable with conflict while others are not! Many people will do anything they can to avoid any kind of disagreement, confrontation or difference of opinion. If you are one of those people then life can get tricky – avoiding conflict with others is sure to cause conflict within yourself!

What makes us like this?

It could just be the type of person we are.  Some personality types, those of us who are more task focused, are quite happy to push their point of view or agenda even when they know it will upset others – getting their own way is more important than being liked!  Other personality types, those who are more people focused, put a lot of value on relationships and will refrain from speaking their mind if they believe it will make them unpopular or cause bad feeling. Some people have agreeability in their DNA – and others don’t.

 

Then again, our background and upbringing may explain our aversion to conflict and our desire to please people. If we grew up in an authoritarian environment that was dismissive or hypercritical, where we were expected to be obedient and not challenge the views or actions of others, then we’ll probably become someone who is fearful of negative reactions from others – asserting, or even daring to express, a different view will be something we find scary and experience signs of stress at even the thought of it.

An awful lot of people fall into one or other of these two categories – fear of conflict is very common. If we are of a compliant personality type, and also also grew up in the kind of situation just described, then we’ll be especially keen to be seen as the “nice person” in the room.


How does this fear manifest itself?

 

At work you’ll be the one that tends to agree with the majority opinion, that goes with the flow and doesn’t rock the boat. If you think something is unfair, like a less capable colleague being promoted above you or paid more, someone taking credit for your ideas and efforts, or the boss piling extra on you or making unrealistic demands, you don’t complain or push back.

 

In relationships, when there’s an awkward subject that needs discussing, you put off that conversation as long as you can. When something upsets you, instead of verbalising your feelings, you go silent. When an uncomfortable topic comes up you change the subject rather than engaging with it. You let your partner take the lead and go along with whatever they want to do.


What’s wrong with this?

 

In the short term you’ll feel better – because the last thing you want is to have an argument or become unpopular. In the long term, however, you’ll feel worse – a lot worse! That’s because it involves bottling up your true emotions and denying who you really are.  Outwardly you’ll appear fine but inside there will be festering resentment, frustration and anger – not just with the other person but at yourself for letting it happen. You are diminishing your own sense of self-worth and actually inviting more of the same behaviour from others that started your negative feelings in the first place. Failure to clear the air can make you withdrawn, leading to a sense of loneliness, inadequacy and depression.

 

Eventually your emotions will boil over and instead of handling the discussion in a calm and sensible way you’ll over react – which is a big shock to those who thought you were so nice! All of this is very upsetting for someone for whom building good relationships, and getting along with people, is so important.


How I can help 

 

Helping you overcome these issues (while continuing to be the nice person you really are!) is something I specialise in. We begin with a discussion of those areas in your work and home life where conflict avoidance is most bothering you. Then we reframe it. Because you have a fear of conflict you’ll see the negative possibilities – instead of positive ones.

 

I’ll ask you how you’d like the conversation to go and what kind of response you’d welcome from the other person. We’ll then work together on imagining and visualising that positive outcome. This will banish the negative picture that your primitive brain, replying previous conflicts from your past, keeps scaring you with.


Tired of being nice to everyone…except yourself? Let’s book a session and get you sorted.

Fear of driving and flying
A woman in a pink top with her hands up and a dismissive expression on her face

Fear of Driving and Flying

Related Subject: Fear

Fear of flying and driving… don’t let it stop you living life to the full.

You are not alone

Fear of flying and of driving has been relatively common ever since these two types of travel became a normal part of daily travel. And since the Covid pandemic I think the number has increased - more people are coming to me for help with these problems than ever before.

Nothing to fear but the fear itself

These fears are a form of phobia, an irrational emotion that causes extreme anxiety or even panic. We know that this reaction is illogical, that travelling in a car or plane is statistically a lot safer than many other things we do, but that doesn’t stop us feeling tight in the chest, sweating heavily, gasping for breath and having palpitations! 

Why am I reacting in this way?

People develop phobias for a variety of reasons. If we’ve been in a car accident, or just witnessed one, this is likely to make us feel less relaxed about driving yourself or being a passenger.  With flying the fear may be triggered by a particularly turbulent flight, pain in our ears or stories about an airline disaster.

 

Another factor is the general level of stress we are experiencing in life as a whole. Imagine we have a “stress bucket” that gradually collects all our stressful experiences (pressure at work, relationship issues, money worries).  When our bucket is filled to the brim we’re less able to cope with additional situations that may cause our bucket to brim over.  If you are already at the limit of how much stress you can take then this may then spill over in unexpected ways – all of a sudden you find driving or flying slightly scary, or more scary than before.


Excuses, excuses…


The natural way to cope with these feelings is to avoid the situations that trigger these very unpleasant and scary reactions. Rather than get in a car we make an excuse when friends invite us to stay or attend social functions, we avoid going into the office and try to ensure that meetings are virtual. With flying we tell ourselves that that there’s no point in travelling abroad when there’s so many parts of the UK we haven’t seen yet, that flights are too expensive or that exploring Europe by car and ferry is more your thing.

 
Why this is a problem


We might kid ourselves that this isn’t limiting us in any way.  But the truth is we’re missing out on so much. We’re not developing fresh relationships and are letting current ones dwindle. We’re missing out on great experiences and opportunities. We’re probably having a negative impact on our career too – avoiding the office, in-person meetings, conferences and socialising with colleagues is sure to marginalise us and limit our prospects.


Avoidance only makes it worse


There’s an even bigger issue, however. The more we do something the more familiar it tends to become and the less we think about it.  The less we do something and the effect tends to be the opposite. When we actively avoid something, because we’re scared of it, the stronger our fear becomes – by backing away from situations than cause us this anxiety you give it more room to grow!   
 

That’s why I’m now seeing more people with fear of driving or flying.  By grounding people, and confining them to home, Covid increased the fear in those who already had this issue.  It has also caused others to develop the condition for the first time – because they were driving and flying less regularly they found the experience less familiar and this helped previously surpressed anxieties rise to the surface.


Now the good news


There are a number of ways that a therapist and mentor like myself can help you eliminate these fears and enable you to live life to the full once again.


Fear of driving or flying holding you back?  Give me a call and let’s sort it.

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