What is stress and how can you manage it?
Coaching you to reduce and eliminate your stress problems
What is stress?
When we were growing up, most of us had no understanding whatsoever of how our bodies were affected by stress. We did not know that stress meant we were subject to too much pressure, relative to our coping capabilities.
People are very lucky if they learn about their body’s reaction to stress in school. Most schools do not deal with such matters as how to cope with the pressures and strains of life.
And our parents may not have given us any useful guidance on how to deal with stressful situations, given that most of them had no real insight into the nature, origin or management of physical and psychological stress and strain.
So what is stress? Here is a brief definition that I like, which is from Dr Joseph Mercola:
“As we evolved (as a species, over millennia – R.T-B), the stress response saved our lives by enabling us to run from predators or take down prey. But today, we are turning on (or switching on) the same ‘life-saving’ reaction to cope with (the price of petrol – R.T-B), fear of public speaking, difficult bosses, and traffic jams—and have a hard time turning it off……..Constantly being in a stress response may have you marinating in corrosive hormones around the clock.”
Stress in the body-mind
Stress is not ‘all in the mind’. It is a whole body-brain-mind-environment phenomenon. And it can therefore be tackled through adjustments to your body, your brain-mind, and/or your environment.
How does stress affect the human body-brain-mind? Here’s an infographic image that lists some of the key effects of stress:
What this illustration omits is the effect of stress and strain on our emotions. When the pressures bearing down upon us are too great for our coping capacity or resources at that time, we tend to go into the fight or flight response, which causes us to feel a strong sense of anxiety/fear, or anger/aggression. But if neither of those responses fits with our habitual pattern of response-possibility, we may go down into depression/defeat.
Real antidotes and unhelpful ‘escape hatches’
The main antidote to stress is the relaxation response. We cannot be relaxed and stressed at the same time, so anything you can do to promote the relaxation response will counter feelings and sensations of stress.
Mostly, we learn to cope with our stress responses through social learning – we copy the techniques and remedies that our parents – (our first role models) – used, and most significantly, our peer group.
If our role models cope with their problems by getting blasted every Friday night at the local pub or wine bar, then we are very likely to do the same thing. (Of course, getting drunk only appears to dissipate stress. In fact, it worsens it!)
Groups are very powerful sources of modelling for us, and pressures to copy them are normally strong; and it can take us a long time to realise that there are price tags for escapist ways of solving our problems (and I don’t just mean the cost of a pint of beer).
There are no really useful ‘escape hatches’ to help us get away from stress. We have to understand what it is, and what the real antidotes are. We then have to commit ourselves to take appropriate actions to reduce our stress level.
The challenges we all face
Here are some of the challenges that we all face as we grow up: leaving home; finding a suitable career or job for ourselves; passing interviews and/or exams; delivering presentations; handling the public if we work in customer service; learning to get on with our bosses and varied types of work colleagues; developing and maintaining love relationships with partners and/or children; handling any conflict that affects us; and learning to look after ourselves so that we can stay healthy and capable in our work and personal lives.
Some people cope better than others with each of these challenges. How can that be the case? What are the main differences between those people who cope well, and those who cope poorly with stress and strain? In my view, one of the main differences is how well people manage their lifestyle options.
How can a lifestyle management coach help you cope with stress?
Many wise individuals turn to a good coach/ counsellor/ therapist when their stress level begins to get them down. (They might notice that they feel uncomfortably anxious, and that this anxiety gets in the way to doing their job, or living life to the full. Or they could find themselves over-reacting to frustrations and difficulties by exploding in the face of other people, angrily and aggressively, and causing problems for themselves at home and/or at work. Or they might drift into a state of miserable depression and despondency, and engage in passive withdrawal from the people around them, at home and/or at work)
Because feelings of being stressed out are so unpleasant, they can stop us from striving for, or achieving, our goals. But there are very logical reasons why we can feel stressed.
And the more we learn about our own unique response to stressful events, the more self-confidence we can develop. So one of the chief functions of a lifestyle coach is to teach you how to recognize when you are stressed; how to take steps to prepare for stressful situations; how to counteract stress and strain; etc.
In this way you can develop an antidote to anger, anxiety and depression resulting from stress and strain, instead of engaging in self-defeating forms of escapism, like becoming alcohol-dependent, or using recreational drugs.
A lifestyle management coach can teach you a whole range of ways of understanding stress and strain, and some really effective antidotes. They might teach you some of the following points:
Point 1: There are a limited number of categories of causes of stress, including:
(a) Environmental causes – like pressure of work;
(b) Physical causes – like physical tension; and:
(c) Mental causes – such as the way you interpret those pressures which bear down upon you, at home and at work.
Point 2: Once you have learned to define stress, to develop awareness of the sources of stress in your life, and to know your own personal stress level, you then need to take action. And I recommend that you take action on three fronts:
(a) Managing your mind;
(b) Managing your body; and:
(c) Managing your environment (including your relationships, at home and at work).
Point 3: The four techniques for eliminating stress from your body, and optimising your relaxation response, which switches off the stress response.
Any one of these four techniques might be enough to break up the sense of unbearable pressure in your life. Any two together is most likely to make a huge difference to the quality of your life.
Point 4: The seven techniques for increasing your mental resilience in the face of stress from any source. Some of these can be started immediately, and involve little or no cost. Again, if you begin with one or two of these techniques, that might be enough to calm your mind, and restore your sense of relaxation and ease.
Point 5: The five ways to control your environment better, and thus to reduce your environmental stressors.
Some of your environmental stressors may be difficult, or nearly impossible to change; but many others can be managed, if you just learn how. The five techniques that I teach are all perfectly possible for you to learn and to apply in your life. If you begin with one or two, and build up slowly, you can master much of your external environment.
Let’s take a look at one example of stress, and how I can help:
Performing in public and the role of a Lifestyle coach
If you have a career which involves performing in public, whether as a musician, dancer, athlete, public speaker, actor, teacher, trainer, news presenter etc., then you will know that these kinds of roles are very stressful. They exert a lot of pressure on your body-brain-mind. It can therefore be very helpful to know how the body-brain-mind deals with such stressful situations.
The main challenge of the task is in facing groups of unfamiliar people, and attempting to hold their attention. If you are new to the job, it can, and often will, activate the stress response: which may cause panicky feelings in your chest and guts; clammy hands; weakness of the knees; and a general desire to run away. This is because we are human animals – we are designed to instantaneously weigh up situations that we are in to suss out whether we are safe or not: and then to either fight or flee, or to freeze.
And if we are lacking in practice in dealing with audiences, strong, uncomfortable feelings of apprehension, unease and nervousness can arise within us. This can throw us off balance, and affect us when we are wanting to do our best, and make us fearful of public performance. As a result, we often perform worse than we would if we were not so nervous or apprehensive.
But it is only our inbuilt survival mechanism that has switched on because of the unfamiliar situation. Your body wants to keep you safe and if you see something as threatening (even if it’s not physically threatening) then your body’s nervous system leaps into action to protect you, giving you the energy to get out, or stay and battle on, trying to win over your audience.
If we are very self-critical and perfectionistic, it can increase our stress levels, and make things worse, as this diagram shows:
To really help you in this situation, I would use different strategies, including examining your self-inflicted perfectionism, your self-consciousness, and your tendency to denigrate yourself because you have a public performance problem.
I would teach you teach you a range of techniques to reduce the impact of the stress response on your body when you are performing in public.
Specific stress-reduction strategies that work
As a lifestyle coach, I would teach you different techniques that would calm down your nervous system. I would ask you what I consider to be a very important question:
“What do you do each day to get rid of the stress hormones in your body?”
For many people, when they have had a tough day at work, in the evening they might want to slump down in front of the telly and ‘relax’. But this is not the most relaxing thing for our body, especially if we watch a bloodthirsty drama, or a news programme.
If we see other people in distress in the news, our bodies respond to this with feelings of distress ourselves – even if we are not aware of this at a conscious level. This isn’t the best way to feel good and recover from a tough day with the children, or a demanding day at work.
Also, what you eat and drink can activate the stress response within you so we would need to review your diet to see what the culprits might be!
Do you get all the aggravation that has happened to you during the day ‘off your chest’ or do you keep the problems inside you, and toss and turn in bed, with the conflicts unresolved, ready to be added to by tomorrow’s events? I can show you how to stop that dead!
If you are in a situation where you are being bullied or discriminated against, or placed under excessive pressure, this can cause a lot of unhappiness and misery. Knowing that there are specific techniques, to defend yourself, and to get people off your back, will transform your confidence and happiness, and your sense of being in control of your own life.
Assertion training – or self-assertive communication – has been described as one of the best ways to improve your stress management ability.
Learning from experience
When I first started my teacher training, in the 1970’s, I was terrified of public speaking. I remember doing a talk to the students union at the college that I was attending, on a topic that I believed in very strongly. My hands were shaking so much that I could hardly keep them still, but somehow I managed to keep going, and finish the talk. And no-one laughed at me because I was nervous! They really helped me to build my confidence, slowly and surely.
Also I had the advantage of a grandmother who was a teacher all her working life; a father who taught singing and English as a Foreign Language, and who played in a band; and a mother who taught beauty culture at an Adult Education centre.
And also one of my grandfathers was a ‘Master of ceremonies’ (MC) at the White City ballroom in Salford, Manchester. So I grew up with role models of people who did public speaking regularly.
I was very lucky and had the strength of knowing that my family had people in it who had managed to learn the techniques that I was now trying to acquire – and I was still as nervous as hell!
But I had support, and that’s what I give my clients. You need the strength and support to keep going, when you are trying to achieve goals that take you out of your comfort zone. You also need the information to understand how to develop your skills, and a safe environment where you can practice them. This will help you in other areas of your life as well, because it can be applied to other skills that you want to develop or refine.
Having a coach, who helps you to plan and practice the skills with which you are struggling, is an invaluable asset, as most successful sports people testify.
My training in stress management and experience of teaching it to others
As a teaching professional (who went on to spend 35 years in Further Education), I soon realised that I needed to learn to manage my responses to stress and I started researching the topic. It was fascinating and very relevant not just for me, but I realised that everyone, especially those who work with other people for their employment, could benefit from understanding their body-brain-mind, and the stress response, and how to keep fit, and strong, resilient and well. And happy!
So, after I had completed a Diploma in Stress Management, I used what I had learned to teach these techniques to students on counselling residentials. Counselling students knew that they needed to be able to handle the stress of the job and they enjoyed practising them.
Then I created a course called ‘Understanding stress and stress management techniques’ and I taught that for many years. In addition, I taught a course on ‘Assertiveness and confidence –building’, as I had realised that these two topics were closely linked. I had also researched assertiveness and attended courses in Coventry and Leeds, and had the pleasure of being taught by Gael Lindenfield, who has written many books on assertiveness and confidence-building.
Further research led me to do a degree in psychology, and several more diplomas, in order to understand and be able to show people how the body and mind interact when people experience stress, and how different strategies are needed to regain control of our responses to stress.
Most recently I have realised the crucial importance of nutrition and how it can impact our mood and emotions, our willpower and our physical strength and resilience. I therefore studied and completed a diploma on the topic, and have also contributed two appendices, one on nutrition, and one on exercise, to a recently-published book by Dr Jim Byrne, (2016), called “Holistic Counselling in Practice.”
My availability as a Lifestyle coach
I am strongly committed to helping people to have the happiest and healthiest life that they can, and I consider helping people cope with stress to be very important. If you want to get stronger and more resilient in this area, please contact me, and we can work together to improve the quality of your life!
My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
My phone number is: (01422) 843629