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Feeling stressed out? Here's 5 practical tips to help...

We can all cope with a bit of stress, it can help us get stuff done - but too much, for too long, has a negative impact on our wellbeing.

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 caveperson 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 – stress.

Stress is not necessarily bad. We need a little bit 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. 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 the stress for months and months. 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, from entrepreneurs running their own business to employees 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 stressed 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 (cuddling my dog works for me) 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 feeling 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 mentor 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 coping with these feelings and regain control of your equilibrium.

Some stress is unavoidable. But you don’t have to let it get you down. Give me a call. Call +44 (0) 7966 517708.



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