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Stress Management - Mindfulness Approach

posted 17 Jun 2014, 06:33 by Debi Barr   [ updated 17 Jun 2014, 06:34 ]
Heard it all before? Breathe more, get more exercise and eat well. Good advice, but what else can be done? Why is stress even a problem?  

We all experience stress. A little stress is sometimes a good thing. It spurs us on to take action. If however you are constantly stressed it can be detrimental to your health.  

When we find ourselves in a stressful situation our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode. This is a natural response to danger which floods our bodies with adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol. Our heart rate increases pumping more blood to our muscles to enable us to fight or run. Our blood pressure rises and our breathing becomes shallow and fast. These are all natural responses to perceived danger.

Once the threat passes, the levels of adrenaline and stress hormone fall away and we return to normal. Problems arise when stress becomes a constant factor. Apart from the obvious things like increased blood pressure leading to heart problems or stroke, scientists know that cortisol encourages the body to store more fat. This is because the body thinks it needs to store resources to get it through the danger period. 

Health & Safety Executive Statistics show that stress affects one in five of the working population from the newest recruit in the post room to the board of directors. It is now the single biggest cause of sickness in the UK. Over 105 million days are lost to stress each year – costing UK employers £1.24 billion.  

It is therefore imperative that we find a way to manage our stress and lead happier, healthier lives. So what you can do? First of all you need to identify what makes you stressed. Are there certain situations, places or people that push your buttons?

The best way to identify your triggers is to make a list. Get a piece of paper and write down all the areas of your life. For example: - work, home, family, friends, leisure time, etc. You may wish to further sub-divide each category such as work: - your boss, your colleagues and your job role. Rate each item out of 10 with 10 being the most stressful.

This task requires you to become mindful. Mindfulness means that you stop to notice the world around you at a specific point in time. Try it out, simply stop and notice what you are doing right now. What can you hear? What can you see? How do you feel? Stop running on auto-pilot and become mindful.

By completing this task and writing down your triggers you have to stop, notice and take stock. This is the first step in managing your stress. Now you have something to work from. It is time now to apply the three A’s: - Avoid, Alter or Accept.

Pick one of the triggers from your list. Can you avoid this issue? For example, if a person pushes your buttons, can you find a way to remove them from your life? We cannot always avoid the things that stress us but if you can then do it. Take action and avoid the issue. If this is not possible then you should move on to the next A – Alter.

Can you do anything to change the situation? Take time to look at the issue from all angles. Is there anything that you can do differently? If the issue is about your work is there anything your boss or team can do to help? Perhaps a change of office may be possible, or a shift change? If you can’t make a physical change to the situation then can you make a mental change? Can you view the situation in a different way to make it appear less stressful?

This leads us on to the third A – Acceptance. Acceptance doesn't just mean rolling over and letting the stress take you. By learning to accept what we cannot avoid or alter you empower yourself to view the stressor in a new light.

Look at the bigger picture and see if you can find any positives. For example, if you are stressed at work you could say that a positive thing about work is that it allows you to pay your way in life. Another positive is that you only have to endure it for a certain number of hours each day. If you find yourself taking your work home with you then stop it. Put boundaries in place and respect your personal time and space.

Ask yourself, will this issue still cause anyone to worry in a day, a week, a month or a year? If not then why are you stressing about it? By learning to accept the situation you find that you naturally start to put it into perspective.

Becoming mindful each day allows you to start to notice more. An excellent way to encourage mindfulness and to reduce stress is to keep a journal. Writing about your day helps you to get it all out of your head. You can be yourself and say whatever you want. It is your journal. This exercise also helps you to sleep better as your brain knows you have written everything down and it doesn't have to remember it any more. This can help stop those sleepless nights where your mind goes into overdrive about your day.

What makes you happy? Write that down too. Focus on the things that you do like to do and start to do more of them. Set yourself a goal of doing a little bit more of what makes you happy every day – even if that is spending your coffee break simply noticing how good the coffee tastes rather than gulping it down while participating in mindless office gossip.

Stress is a fact of life but it doesn't have to take over. As philosopher Epictetus once said, "It is not the things of this world that hurt us but what we think about them."  In other words it is how you think about life’s curve-balls that determines how you handle them. Becoming mindful allows you to detach yourself and observe the situation and then you can act accordingly. Good luck and get mindful!