Does the following sound familiar? Inbox bursting with unread emails, many looming deadlines; mobile phone ringing; texts buzzing; longer hours at work; shorter hours at play; never-ending demands on your bank account. It’s an all too familiar description and it can leave us feeling stressed and anxious.
But if feeling stressed has become our normal state and, if most of the time, we manage to keep all the balls in the air – do we need to take action to lower our stress levels?
Well – yes we do and here’s why.
We have a nervous system which is designed to switch the body and mind backward and forward between a resting state (parasympathetic activity) – and a state primed for action (sympathetic activity). Let’s call them the red and green sectors.
The green sector is all about repairing ourselves and renewing reserves. In the green we mainly feel calm, in control, able to be kind to ourselves and others. The red sector is geared towards dodging danger and pursuing goals. The sympathetic system or “fight or flight” system sees us combative and striving. When you are feeling anxious, frightened, belligerent or irritated you’re in the red!
However, we are only meant to be in the red sector briefly – take action – and settle back into the green as the default state. But modern life sees us in the red sector (or various shades of orange and yellow most of the time). And research shows us that this is not a good place to be. Physically we become more prone to infection and disease – including heart disease and ulcers and emotionally we run the risk of developing phobias, panic attacks and depression.
But we can learn to turn down the heat – a few simple techniques can make all the difference in helping us prevent burnout.
Engage the body’s natural mechanism for moving to the green sector – sit quietly, notice your breath and allow the outbreath to become twice as long as the in-breath
Think of a time when you felt at peace and contented and really bring those feelings, sensations and thoughts you had back then into your body and mind – they act as a resource and a signal to the body to return to the green sector
Buy yourself some time before you react to the current irritation. You can do this by mentally saying STOP – taking a step back, doing some relaxation breathing and asking yourself what can I control in the here and now – do those things and mentally let the rest go.
Notice the inner voice that beats you with stick telling you should have achieved more and done better and take some time each day to notice what went well, when you were kind and helpful to someone else, and the small events in each day that gave you a moment of enjoyment.
These tips are not a cure-all – but with repeated practice over time they will help you spend more time in the green sector – where you are meant to be.
References: Griffin, J and Tyrrell, I. (2007) How to master anxiety: a practical handbook HG Publishing UK
Sapolsky, R (2004) Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Holt New York