If you are in real danger, facing a real threat, then stress is probably good for you. It focusses your mind. It prepares your body to run or fight. It raises your blood pressure, blood nutrients, reaction time, immune response, and blood clotting. It keeps you awake so you can stay vigilant. It helps you stay alive.
Unfortunately, this exact same ‘threat’ system can get switched on when no real danger or threat is present, and once switched on some people have difficulty switching it off.
When people stay in this threat state long enough they may develop generalised anxiety, panicky feelings or even panic attacks. These unpleasant or unwanted feelings can lead to further problems as people attempt to cope by drinking, eating, withdrawing or constantly seeking reassurance. If not addressed, prolonged threat states can lead to depression.
So, what helps?
There’s a range of things you can do to reduce your chances of developing stress-related problems.
1. Talk with someone about it. A friend, colleague or health professional. Perhaps someone with counselling or psychological skills training. A reminder all RPA members can access 24/7 confidential support through Cognacity on 01373 858 080.
2. Problem solve. Create a list of your problems. Write them down. Prioritise them. Work out a plan for each. Make some changes. Keep going.
3. Bring on a state of physical relaxation more often. Learn some techniques like progressive muscular relaxation or meditation. Spend more time reading quietly, chilling out, listening to music, have a massage, etc.
4. Develop skills to help you notice your thoughts – learn to see thoughts as things which come and go, like clouds passing across the sky, or leaves on a stream.
Here are some resources to help you develop and practice this skill:
5. Stop doing things which might make things worse – like drinking too much, eating when not hungry, getting angry with others, or yourself, taking drugs, etc. Learn new coping strategies. Learn to tolerate the unpleasant feelings and move forward towards things that matter to you.
6. Increase your contact with nature. Spend time walking in the woods, or by a river or stream, or the beach, or in a meadow, or urban farm, or gardening. Or with dogs or someone else’s pets.
7. Learn to think differently about things. Many of us get more disturbed than we ‘need’ to be about our situation or events, with our mind over-reacting, predicting the future, catastrophising, maximising the negative, and jumping to conclusions. There’s a wide range of exercises and activities to help us become more realistic and think in a more rational way.
Here are some good self-help books:
8. Get into flow. Lose yourself in a hobby or an activity or pastime or game – where you lose track of time and become less self conscious. Different people enter the state of flow doing different things – gardening, cooking, painting, etc.
9. Treat yourself with kindness. Many of us have a pretty strong inner critic, and make ourselves worse by what we say to ourselves and how we say it. Learning the skills of ‘self-compassion’ can both reduce our suffering and help us take effective action.
Click the links below to find out more:
This article was put together by the RPA’s independent medical advisor, Dr Tim Anstiss. Visit Dr Tim’s website by clicking here.
A reminder this off-season, all RPA members can access support via the RPA Confidential Counselling Service helpline (run by Cognacity), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
To access the confidential counselling service please call 01373 858 080 or talk to your Personal Development Manager.