Four steps to changing your perception of stress so you can let it go
Did you know it is claimed that “75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year.*
If you were honest with yourself – are you someone who experiences stress? You may be reluctant to admit it, especially at work, or you may not want to admit it to yourself. But the statistics show that it is more normal to feel stress these days than not feel stressed. What is fascinating is the new thinking around stress – backed up by research – that in fact stress is not the real problem. It is our perception of stress which really has a negative impact on us.
So let’s explore that:
Close your eyes, think of whatever it is you are calling stress / stressful. As you bring that to mind do you have a word, story, picture or feeling that helps you to know that you are stressed? Just spend five minutes getting as much detail as you can around that.
- What words come to mind? Write them down – all of them
- What story are you telling yourself? Is it about unfairness, injustice, lack of control, overwhelm – write the story down as if you were explaining it to someone else starting with “it is like…”
- What picture or metaphor or analogy describes ‘stress’ to you most effectively? Write it down – or draw it (do it in such a way that someone else can get it – feel it too)
- What do you feel in your body and where do you feel it? Write it down.
Now take a moment to decide whether or not that “stress” is resourceful to you in any way. Or are you ready to let it go, recognising the dis-stress it is causing for you in your mind, heart and body.
If you are ready to let it go – and only if you are ready (it is a choice) – go through your list and change each one.
- What words would be more resourceful? Keep it true, so you can believe it. This is not about trivialising your experience, but is about reframing it, so it can be beneficial for you. For every word you have written down – offer an alternative way of looking at it and describing it. Anger may become determination to do something about it; Stuck may become taking time to make a very clear decision; Pressure may become the driver I needed to take action. Stay with it until you have an alternative for every word and imagine erasing the old words in your mind, and writing the new words or phrases where they used to be.
- Now look at the story. You may find with changing the words the story has already changed.
Have you ever, even fleetingly thought:
- Loving myself is selfish?
- It’s not right to give myself time and energy?
- I should focus on caring for others?
If you have – you are far from alone. It’s a sad fact that the art of self compassion appears to have dwindled in recent years and there is a need for us to reconnect and rediscover it for our health, wellbeing and ability to thrive and serve others. Instead f putting so much pressure on ourselves to reach unrealistic expectations – what would life be like if we started loving ourselves into a more desirable future?
Dr Kristen Neff is probably one of the most well known names in the field of self compassion research. She says:
“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”**
In very simple terms, self compassion then is about treating yourself the same as you would treat someone you deeply loved and cared for. It is not about changing your focus purely onto yourself – but about achieving a reasonable balance between caring for self and caring for others. Indeed it could be argued if we don’t start doing this very soon, our capacity to continue to care and serve others will diminish over time, making us powerless to do what we love most – which includes caring for others.
There is a wealth of literature available on self compassion that you can explore (and we do recommend you take some time to do so), but for simplicity we have outlined some of the common themes here:
- Includes an intention to be kind to yourself, making a conscious decision to stop that harsh inner critic which can judge so harshly and unfairly
- Recognises your own humanity, accepting that you are good enough and you do not need to strive for perfection
- Is about raising your awareness to your connection to others, accepting that you are not alone and that you do not exist in isolation
- Is about deliberately using tools (such as mBraining, Meditation or Mindfulness) to come into the present moment, to fully experience yourself in that moment
So , if this is not something that currently is part of your way of living life – what can you do to introduce such a practice in simple easy steps?
Here are our Top Ten tips of where you can bring even more self compassion into your life in a way that is exactly right for you:
- Taking a Step back and imagining you are your own best friend – what advice or support and encouragement would you give to them?
- Stopping and taking a moment to breathe a feeling of love and kindness into your heart – don’t just think it – feel it, recognising the colour, feeling, texture and movement associated with that feeling in your chest area
- Write yourself some great advice: maybe through a letter, or even a short facebook or Instagram post (you can choose whether or not to publish it)
- Be grateful: put a cheap diary by your bedside and every night before you go to sleep write three amazing facts about yourself and/or what you have achieved that day
- Nurture and sooth yourself: what would give deep bodily, visceral nurturing for your body – do that at least once a week. This may be a massage, going for a run, spending quality time with a friend, asking for a hug – whatever works best for you (and of course you can do it more often as it gets even easier)
- Quieten the old critical internal voice – notice it has a volume switch and turn it down, maybe even turn it so low you cannot even hear it any longer when it is not being resourceful for you
- Imagine your desired future – what do you REALLY want? Quieten your inner voice and focus on your heart. Now ask your heart what it truly desires – then provide it.
- Connect with nature – take time out to connect with nature: a beach, the bush, walking on grass – whatever refreshes your soul
- Take time out to truly focus on your breathing. To settle your nervous system gently bring your breathing into a beautiful balanced pattern where the time of the in breath exactly matches the time of your out breath. Stay in this breathing pattern for 3 minutes and feel your body settle.
- Give yourself a self hug – place the flat of the palm of your right hand over your heart area, so you can feel your heart beat and hold it there for at least 20 seconds, while saying kind, gentle, loving statements to yourself.
Taking time out to deliberately and consciously introduce techniques of self compassioning into your life can make a tremendous difference to how you feel. Give it a go for two weeks and let us know how you get on.
- * American Psychological Association http://www.gostress.com/stress-facts/
- ** http://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/