Begin by identifying causes of stress
This might seem like an obvious statement, but many people have never taken the time to really think about what is underlying their feelings of anxiety, fear, or worry. Most of our thoughts and actions are habitual, and so we tend to run on autopilot for most of our lives. So begin by taking 15-30 minutes to sit quietly by yourself, and consider deeply what is contributing to your heightened levels of stress. Be completely honest with yourself. If your first thought is that you are unhappy with your partner, then don't try and rationalise or dismiss these feelings. Absolute honesty is essential if you are going to improve your situation. Yes, it can be difficult to identify specific contributors to stress or ill health because these underlying triggers have become such a normal part of life. But the more clarity you have about about your experience, then the greater is your level of control, and your ability to make positive changes.
Here are a few common causes of stress - make a written note of any which may be affecting you:
- External stressors - life situations such as divorce, bereavement, and major life changes
- Physical illness - pain, symptoms, disability
- Emotional challenges - anxiety, depression, fear, worry
- Feelings of low self- worth - comparison to others expectations of self
- Confidence -ability to interact with the world effectively
- Relationships- with partner, friends, family, work colleagues & others
- Perception & personal interpretation of life events
- Unresolved trauma - focus on mind, not acknowledging physical effects
- Financial burdens - worry, despair, fear
- Healthy boundaries - maintaining an environment of support, and respect for yourself
5 steps to reducing stress:
1. Bring the focus of control back to yourself
It is only possible to change yourself - not the thoughts, opinions and actions of other people in your life. Don't waste your time and energy trying to make other people into something that they are not, or try to make them behave in a way that makes you feel better. Self-empowerment is all about understanding yourself, and living in alignment with your own values.
2. Become aware of deeper issues that may be operating in your life
Are you re-playing old patterns that are familiar from your childhood? Often when we look at our current patterns, especially within relationships, there is a direct correlation with family patterns of dealing with emotions and relationships, and your current experience. This dynamic often exists despite our desire to become the polar opposite of our parents or family members! Writing out a plan for a new response, and then following it, can be helpful in this situation.
3. Stop taking your thoughts so seriously
If you focus solely on controlling your thoughts, you may be in for a challenging time. A strong belief in the thoughts that we experience as being 'real', a heightened vigilance, or judgement toward them, may result in an exacerbation of anxiety, fear, worry, and depression. It is much more productive to simply watch your thoughts without any judgement or emotional attachment, and to question the level of truth that they contain. Once you do this, it is possible to see that thoughts only have the power that you give them.
4. Understand the mind-body interaction
Mind, body, and emotions are not separate - they interact continuously - you are fundamentally one whole organism, not a bundle of individual parts. So when your mind or emotional health is compromised this will result in corresponding physical changes, and vice versa. It may be particularly problematic if you have had any traumatic or overwhelming experience in your life, because you will may well have corresponding physical changes in your body. This is a particularly important concept for releasing stress and anxiety - if you focus either on the mind, or the body, you are ignoring important aspects of your recovery.
5. Take action & create change
Once you become aware of underlying issues which may be sabotaging your success, it becomes possible to create change. However, this also requires consistent action; simply increasing your understanding of why you may be experiencing a particular situation or health symptom does not create change. Reading huge amounts of literature may help you to talk about a particular subject - this is intellectual understanding. On the other hand, experiential understanding of a situation is an entirely different thing - it is based upon body awareness, feeling, and emotion. To effectively create change it is essential to combine these 2 types of understanding together. Otherwise there remains a disconnect between mind and body which can feel overwhelming, and may result in reverting back to previous actions, in order to regain a level of comfort and familiarity.