February 14, 2021 – do you remember it for being Valentine’s Day or the announcement of yet another lockdown. Covid-19 certainly has made itself known and felt. I have noted that the consequences of this worldwide pandemic have had an impact on people and their stress levels.
Stress and anxiety can impact us differently. Some people have different thresholds. At appropriate levels stress can stimulate us to take action or hold us back for safety; in high doses it can be very debilitating and affect both our physiological and mental states. So, I thought for my first article, I would offer two simple techniques, you can do anywhere, that allows you to interrupt any level of stress or an anxiety event.
Stress is a focus on what is current, occurring now. Anxiety is a future focussed worry. Often the head takes over and creates stories which are not necessarily true.
Letting our thoughts wander down the “Doomsday” path can activate negative feelings. Because our body and mind are interlinked our thoughts and/or our memories can activate stress and anxiety stimulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis of the midbrain to begin firing. By doing so a signal from your hypothalamus sends a hormonal message to your pituitary gland that stimulates your adrenal glands. This will release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline from your adrenal glands and activate fight, flight, freeze or please response. At the same time, your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) will stimulate primarily your sympathetic nervous system, symptoms of which are often faster, shorter breath from your chest area, increase in sweating, maybe a desire to empty your bowel and/or your stomach churning. You are now on “high alert”.
But did you realise that you can only think one thought at any one time? It is true! You cannot think more than one thought – thoughts will follow on from each other quickly – they are still separate thoughts. When we interrupt the thought, we can and often do change how we feel.
So, Hack number 1 when you realise you are feeling stressed or anxious:
|Acknowledge what is going on (opposed to ignoring/denying it). Acknowledge what you feel (without judgement or diminishment).
|Focus your attention on how the thought/emotion makes you feel. Where do you feel it? How does it feel? Do you do anything physically? (e.g. rub your fingers, clench your fists or jaw)
|Close your eyes. Plant your feet into the ground. Have a stretch. Keep your feet planted and …
|Open your eyes and notice specifically:
– Five things around you and state them to yourself.
– Four things you can hear and state them to yourself.
– Three things you can feel and state them to yourself.
– Two things you can smell and state them to yourself.
|Now refocus your attention on how you are feeling and notice that you are feeling calmer.
Hack number 2 is equally simple.
|Stop and acknowledge what is going on. Acknowledge how you feel.
|Focus on your breathing. Notice how you are breathing and where you are breathing from. Chances are it is fast, light and breathing into your chest only.
|Place your hands on your lower stomach. (close your eyes if you focus better without visual distraction)
|Focus (kindly) on your breathing. Make your best attempt to breathe all the way down to your diaphragm. You will know this because your stomach will naturally rise as you breathe in and lower again as you breathe out.
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
|Breathe in through your nose, down to your diaphragm for 5-6 seconds. Imagine it going all the way down to your diaphragm, gently pushing your hands upward.
Without pausing, breathe out through your mouth for 5-6 seconds. Continue without pause between breaths. Do this for several minutes.
Breathe “calm” rather than “relaxed” – there is a difference.
|You will notice your breathing is under control and you are feeling better. By doing this you have balanced your sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous system.
Take a few moments to gather yourself, create a new plan and re-enter your day.
Christine Walter is a Hypnotherapist, Life Coach, mBit Coach and NLP Master Practitioner and a trainer of these modalities. She has her own practise moving between Auckland and Waihi area. She is a founding director of ANZCAL, NZ’s coaching accreditation organisation.