Manage your stress

Fight stress

Stress (i.e. negative stress) is considered nowadays as the century illness, but there are many ways to fight this scourge! You only need to find out about stress relievers and try them. Then choose one or more anti-stress techniques and practice them. In order to help you make a selection, you will find below a short description of the most frequently used techniques. Then it is up to you to choose the solutions that work best for you.

Natural breathing is abdominal: breathe in slowly by letting your abdomen expand outward and exhale by letting your stomach go in. Like a wave that calms and relaxes, breathing should be deep in order to let the air circulate instead of blocking it. However, when stressed, breathing tends to speed up and become more superficial. Managing your breathing improves oxygenation and reduces tension. Breathing exercises can also be performed anywhere and at virtually any time.

Relaxation is a voluntary search for a relaxed state. It brings you to a state between sleep and awake: breathing starts being regular, slows down and becomes abdominal. Your mind stops working overtime and you start feeling well, calm and secured. Relaxation helps to release tensions due to daily life stress by allowing each part of your body to relax, one after another. With regular practise, relaxation becomes faster and deeper every time. After a relaxation session, you generally feel rested and rejuvenated and daily worries won’t seem as disturbing as they used to.

There are several relaxation techniques, most of which are inspired by Schultz autogenic training or Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Autogenic training is based on the calm-heaviness- warmth triad and its practitioners aim to control their physiological reactions by using autosuggestion. Progressive Muscle Relaxation on the other hand is a technique that focuses on perceiving and controlling muscle tension by tensing a muscle group and then letting it go. This can be achieved or even facilitated by using a thermal, electromyographic or vasomotor “biofeedback”: electronic devices are attached to the skin and measure skin temperature, muscle tension, blood pressure or the pulse. This allows visualizing all the tensions in the body as waves, light signals or sounds. These technical devices will also help to immediately see how one can act on these automatic functions that normally happen involuntarily.

These techniques are generally taught by psychologists or psychotherapists. When mastered, they should be repeated regularly and put into practice as soon as the first stress or tension symptoms appear.

Many people experience frustration or stress only because they don’t dare express their wishes or limits or because they find it difficult to do. As a result, they expect others to meet their queries without actually having expressed their expectations. Or, they complain about having been asked to do something when they were unavailable but didn’t admit it to it. Self-assertion techniques aim to help them better communicate in order to express their wishes and their limits with mutual respect instead of accepting things passively (and at their own expense) or reacting aggressively (at someone else’s expense). They will learn, among others, to say no to requests which they consider as unmanageable.

When one has to take care of an important task within a seemingly short period of time, one can easily feel under pressure. Such a stress can be positive (some people are more efficient when under pressure) or negative (others panic at the thought of potentially not being able to finish on time). At work as well as in everyday life, one often has to deal with multiple requests simultaneously. It is therefore important to put tasks in order of importance (from the most important to the least important ones) as well as to set priorities (from the most urgent tasks to the least urgent ones). When there are too many tasks to deal with, it is best to focus one’s energy on the most urgent and important ones, even if this means delegating the least important ones or postponing the least urgent ones. For instance, a student will give priority to his studies during the exam preparation period and, if he can, will delegate or postpone other activities like cleaning for example, unless he considers them as leisure. Managing one’s time also means anticipating unforeseen events while keeping some leverage and time for oneself.

Cognitive restructuring is based on the cognitive information processing model according to which each individual interprets a given situation in a very personal way and reacts according to one’s interpretation of it. Identify what happens to someone in particular between a precise event and the emotion triggered by it helps that person to become aware of the cognitive control that he or she can use over his or her emotional and behavioral processes. He or she will then modify that control in order to react in a more adaptive way. Cognitive restructuring involves the following steps:

1st step

Identify one’s negative automatic thoughts (for example: I am a loser, I won’t make it, things will go bad, etc.). Very often these thoughts have become so ingrained that one is no longer aware of them.

2nd step

Identify one’s “cognitive distortions”, such as dichotomous thinking (i.e. black or white thinking), magnification and minimization (placing a stronger emphasis on negative events and downplaying the positive ones), arbitrary inference (drawing hasty conclusions without the requisite evidence), generalization (drawing a global conclusion), personalization (attribution of personal responsibility for events over which a person has no control) and selective abstraction (focusing on one detail only while everything else in the context is ignored).

3rd step

With a therapist’s assistance, identify one’s cognitive schemas which induce one’s automatic thoughts and which, in a way, control one’s own reactions. These schemas represent one’s own beliefs and inner convictions which are often inherited from family’s rules, traumas, etc. They set strict and systematic rules of life causing sometimes unsuitable reactions.

4th step

Develop adaptation capacities by learning how to challenge one’s own beliefs and to modify ones’ convictions that are not real.

In life, people’s attention is constantly being drawn outward: by their senses, by others, by work, etc. Meditation will bring them back focusing on themselves, allowing them to take some distance from their emotions, feelings and thoughts in order to reach what could be called a “state of silence” or simply a “state of being”. Meditation is in fact an awareness of the essence of being human. As one can imagine, reaching this state of serenity and harmony is not easy and requires significant training.

Because the term sophrology is used in various contexts, one may think that it refers to different approaches. However, most people who practice sophrology consider it as a relaxation technique close to hypnosis, as they reach a state of consciousness that might be described as “decluttered”. They are then able to concentrate intensely on a specific need. Sophrology can for instance be used to relieve pains caused by a medical treatment, to prepare for an exam or a competition, to quit an addiction or to reduce stress effects. Largely inspired by yoga and meditation techniques, sophrology is primarily based on mental and breathing exercises, visualisations and some physical exercices. Some exercises focus on physical sensations, since physical representation seems to have a major impact on the conscience. This is why sophrology could be considered as part of the so-called mind-body therapies.

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