How many times have you asked or wondered, “what are the best ways to manage my stress?”.
Stress is all too common in our day to day lives. Most people look for the obvious solutions like exercise, yoga, meditation, getting organised, healthy eating or even medication. This in itself is stressful! Constantly on the hunt, searching for things to ‘get rid’ of how you are feeling and putting more and more pressure on yourself to find the ‘magic trick’ which gives you the relief you are looking for. However, how many times have you found that thing which gives you some relief, only to slip straight back into that old stress pattern just shortly afterwards when you come up against the next challenge, responsibility or trigger?
What I want you to consider is that stress is the outcome, the symptom of something going on behind the scenes. So, your efforts of trying to directly target the symptom i.e. your stress by looking for things in your environment e.g. yoga, meditation etc. is not targeting the cause of these feelings. It is not getting to the root of WHY you are feeling this way and what is driving this. When you spend the majority of your time trying to control your behaviour or the environment, without looking under the hood of the care first, you will find that most of your solutions are only effective short term. This results in you having to control more and more things in your environment to bring you some release only to fall right back into that state of stress the next hour, morning or day. Then the criticising starts as you blame yourself for not being able to ‘get on top’ of your stress and your life.
Why are you stuck in this stressed state?
Dr Paul Gilbert proposed that we have three main types of emotion regulation systems and we switch between these systems to manage our emotions. Stress is cause by imbalance between the systems and in particular over-activation of the threat system.
The Threat System
This system evolved millions of years ago with the primary job to keep us safe by scanning for threats. It is extremely powerful and can activate powerful bursts of feelings such as stress to motivate us to take-action. As a result, we engage in the fight or flight response; attacking or avoiding or submission which leads to self-criticism. It also produces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
The problem comes when our mind gets involved, because our minds can trigger a threat in absence of an actual threat. This includes thoughts, memories, predication, judgements, self-talk, self-criticism and the stories we tell ourselves e.g. I’m not good enough.
Perhaps you hate your job but you don’t believe you are able to do anything else and are terrified of the uncertainty of change. So, you tell yourself this is fine and sacrifice your happiness for the feeling of safety.
Perhaps you are a high-achiever, only feel like you are worthy and deserving by constantly having to ‘do something’, adding more and more responsibility to a never ending to do list. Your brain never has time to switch off and is constantly worrying about what you have to do next and the things you haven’t done.
Perhaps you are a perfectionists and constantly criticising yourself for everything you have done wrong, everything that hasn’t gone your way and constantly striving to do better and be better. Nothing you do ever feels good enough and you are always on ‘high alert’ being driven by fear of failure. Perhaps you are a worrier and over-analyse everything you do, always asking yourself “what if….” Your answers are fuelled with self-doubt, anxiety and fear of the what is to come. You lose the ability to trust your own judgement and decision making becomes harder and harder because you are so scared to make the wrong decision.
Perhaps you are suffering with the I’ll be happy when syndrome, always striving to hit a certain goal, telling yourself that will be enough, only to get there and find that there is just one more thing you have to do…..and then you will be happy.
The thing is, these thoughts, self-talk and stories we tell ourselves are not real. All of our mental experiences are simply constructions of reality. If we imagine something going wrong in our day or tell ourselves we are useless for not passing that exam or landing that sale at work, we still trigger our threat system which makes us feel stressed.
Until now you may have just been putting band-aids over your symptoms, focusing on ways to get rid of your stress or blaming your environment and the people in it for making you feel stressed. Or you may have been using distraction and avoidance strategies to try and stop unhealthy behaviours such as emotional eating, alcohol, shopping or social media.
However, to resolve your stress and all those unwanted emotions for good, this requires a different strategy altogether.
Learning how to regulate your emotions from the inside-out, not the outside-in. The first step is to take ownership for how you are feeling and stop playing the blame game. You are essentially giving away your power and control to outside influences. If you are spending all your time and energy focusing on what you can control environment, unfortunately, all this will do is increase your anxiety and stress levels and keep your threat system activation.
Your job isn’t making you stress, you are doing the stress
Your to do list isn’t making you overwhelmed, you are doing the overwhelm
Your partner isn’t making you feel like a nobody, you are doing low self-esteem.
You already have all the resources you need to reach that level of health, happiness and success you desire. It is up to you to take complete ownership for how you think, feel and behave. The only thing you can control in life is YOU. Your thoughts, feelings, actions, reactions, mistakes and learnings. This is where true peace, calm and self-control comes from. When you do that you essentially take back your power, your control and you now have a choice over the direction your life is headed.
NEED SOME HELP?
If you know you are falling victim to stress, your emotions or engaging in self-depreciating behaviour ( emotional eating, food restriction, binge eating, alcohol) and feel stuck and out of control book in a private 1:1 call with me and start to take back some control over your life.
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