People talk about living in the Now. In fact, we all live in the Now, but what they probably mean is living fully and happily one day at a time, without stress. Some people talk about ‘going with the flow’ and being more relaxed about challenges that come their way – that’s their way of undoing stress.
Every one of us can break down under stress. Every one of us has a breaking point. We all experience stressful events at some time in our lives and we sometimes have stressful thoughts. It’s impossible to rid ourselves totally of stress in our daily lives. It has been argued that, to some extent, some small level of stress can help us perform at our optimum. If we’re too relaxed we might not be able to make those edgy decisions, compete for scarce resources or turn in that brilliant report.
When our challenges and experiences result in having stressful thoughts about our performance at work and in relationships, then we can become anxious. Anxiety may seem to envelop us. We might feel we can’t get away from our anxious thoughts and feelings.
Anxiety warns us firstly, that something is wrong somewhere and secondly, it prepares us to run as fast as we can, and fight if necessary. Although we live in a modern world, our systems are wired up to expect a threat to our lives from something with fangs. When the threat to our existence is posed by rising property prices, increasing school fees and rising interest rates, it’s not really appropriate to have our bodies prepared for fight or flight. Running away will not reduce the threats to us in our modern world. In our high-tech world, anxiety which helped our stone-age predecessors survive threat just makes us feel physically uncomfortable and bad.
Anxiety can immobilise us. It can have the effect of undermining our confidence and ability to cope at our optimum level. By learning the technique of mental relaxation, you’ll be able to feel better by eliminating those anxious feelings.
Your anxiety is related to how you think about things in your life. The way to resolve your anxiety and make your feelings more reasonable is to make your thinking more reasonable.
Step one: Get in touch with your feelings
Getting in touch with your feelings is the first step towards mental relaxation. Develop the habit of becoming precise with describing your feelings to yourself and to others. Are you feeling worried? Are you feeling restless? Anxious? Nervous? Hassled? Annoyed? Irritated? Down? Sullen? Crabby? Frightened? Hopeless? Disappointed? Up-tight? Tense? Uncertain? You’ve got the picture now. Whenever you’re feeling stressed, take time out to get in touch with the exact nature of your feelings. By naming your feelings to yourself, you’re more in a position to gain control over them – and your thoughts about these feelings.
Step two: Accept that you can cope with stressful feelings
How often have you heard – and made the following complaint: “I just can’t cope’?
Sometimes we set ourselves the impossible goal of never having to deal with stressful feelings – we deny they are there until we encounter a crisis. It’s part of life to feel anxious about things at times and having to cope with stressful feelings should be something we can be realistic about. It’s unrealistic to imagine that we can live a full life without coping with stressful feelings from time to time.
Say to yourself: ‘I expect to feel anxious (in this situation), but I can cope with feeling this way.’
By not denying your feelings, you can think more rationally about what you can do to overcome them.
Ask yourself: ‘Is there something constructive I can do to help me feel less anxious?’
Mental relaxation can be learned but you need to side-step those often intrusive and negative self-talk messages. Those messages that tell you that you always get anxious in such-and-such situation and that you can’t cope.
When this happens, try thought-stopping. Remember, you have considerable control over your thoughts.
Go back to your mental relaxation technique: by getting in touch with your feelings and accepting that you can cope. When those negative thoughts creep in, try some thought-stopping. You can say to yourself: ‘I know what that self-talk is all about and I have the power to cope well with my situation’.
With the technique of mental relaxation and though-stopping, you can successfully undo stressful thoughts. It takes some practice, but it’s worth it.
You can read more about de-stressing techniques and strategies in Stress-less