Unfortunately the term stress has entered everyday language and has taken on a range of very broad and often unhelpful meanings. People say things like “I’m really stressed out” when they mean that were annoyed by someone or just had a bad day at the office. This is a world away from the person who says “I’m really stressed out” and means that he or she feels close to a complete nervous breakdown.
There is also the notion that stress is an inherently bad thing when in fact it is a natural reaction to change, and essential for our well-being since it stimulates and supports us to meet the challenges we face.
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The Stress Response
Most people will know that stress is important for our ability to survive as it acts as a mechanism to protect the body against danger by triggering the release of hormones, such as adrenalin. Adrenalin causes your heart to beat faster to carry blood where it’s most needed. You breathe faster to provide the extra oxygen required for energy. You sweat to prevent overheating. Your mouth may feel dry; as your digestive system slows down to allow more blood to be deflected to your muscles. Your senses become heightened and your brain becomes more alert and your vision becomes tunnel like.
These changes enable the body to take action and protect itself in a dangerous situation, either by running away or fighting a foe. It is known as the ‘fight or flight’ reflex or physical emergency response. Once the danger has passed, other hormones are released which may cause you to shake as your muscles start to relax. This response is useful for protecting you against physical dangers. If your house was on fire it is a totally necessary and appropriate response. But for example if this is a regular reaction to attending meetings at work, then it is clearly inappropriate and harmful.
Whether it is a real or imaginary threat, your body reacts in the very same way to situations that you find threatening, but which you can’t deal with appropriately – by fighting it or by running away. Situations like this may include public speaking, a driving test or having an injection.
And while we may be able to face and deal with one off situations, it is when the physical, emotional and mental demands take their toll over time, and exceed our ability to cope, that the unhealthy stress condition occurs. More accurately this can be described as “distress.” There comes a point when there is only so much change someone can cope with or when they are too exhausted to keep battling on and feel overwhelmed.
This is not the same as having a heavy workload or great responsibilities and multiple demands on our time in and out of work. There are plenty of people who handle these over a lifetime who exhibit little or no stress. Equally, there is also the theory that that certain personality types** are more prone to stress than others, such as perfectionists, so called ‘control freaks’ and unassertive, anxious by nature folk. But even the strongest among us can succumb to stress. In my 40 years work experience it was always the dedicated, hard working, highly capable and seemingly strong individuals who experienced ‘burn out’.
** see McLeod, S. A. (2014). Type A Personality. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/personality-a.html
Whatever the cause, once caught in the stress trap, I find that people need help in two ways – firstly to get out of the trap, and secondly to prevent falling into it ever again. Personally I hate the term stress management as it implies that it is somehow inevitable and you just need tools and techniques to minimise and deal with it when it arises. I think prevention is a much better strategy and that includes pursuing your goals, looking after yourself well and enjoying life to the full.
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My approach to helping people with stress is similar to that which I use when treating anxiety and depression – I first seek to listen and understand each individual’s needs and how their current ways of being could change for the better. I then develop a tailor made approach for them to learn new, more effective ways of thinking. In doing so, they get to look at their life differently, make better choices and overcome their issues*.
I typically use combination of:
- Hypnotherapy- as hypnosis is very powerful way to let go of self limiting beliefs and habits and to better control thoughts and feelings*;
- Life Coaching – to challenge limits, set life goals and develop plans for realising the life they want;
- Teaching – how to use some tools and techniques that can help someone to relax, to prepare for and think differently about different situations; if desired, I also teach people self hypnosis so that they can continue to help themselves long after our work together is done.
I can also provide self – hypnosis recordings and other resources for people to use between sessions as necessary.
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*Results may vary from person to person