How to alleviate stress & anxiety

Penny is a stress & anxiety therapist and hypnotherapist at the Thornbury Clinic. She has a passion for helping people develop their mental flexibility in order to overcome the challenges life throws their way and increase their ability to live a life that is rich and rewarding.  

Imagine you’re going to embark on a journey across some rugged terrain. Along with the easier, flatter landscape, you notice on your map that there are some unavoidable mountains and rivers to cross. How would you make sure you can safely cross these obstacles in order to complete the challenge? Perhaps you’ll engage with an experienced trekker and enlist their support and guidance, or maybe you’ll join a group of trusted companions to help you along the way. You might pack the right equipment and resources for each phase of the journey. Either way, with the right tools and support in place, not only will you be more likely to successfully complete the journey, but you’ll be a more confident trekker as a result.

Most people would agree that life can be challenging and whilst it might not come with a map, we all experience life’s ups and downs, from everyday challenges, to more significant, negative life events such as illness, divorce, bereavement, or loss of a job. Life can be tough! While nearly everyone struggles from difficult life events at some stage, people react to them differently, each responding with their own flood of thoughts, emotions and ultimately, actions. While some people may develop mental health issues following a negative life event, such as anxiety or depression, others seem able to shake off the blow life has dealt them, carry on and grow stronger as a result – in part, due to resilience.

‘Resilience’ can be defined as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, or significant sources of stress. A recent study conducted by the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research showed two important factors associated with resilience in the face of adversity: social support and mastery. Mastery refers to the extent to which individuals believe that they have personal control and influence over life circumstances, rather than being consumed by powerlessness. We don’t always have control over the quality of our social networks and there are situations that occur which are beyond our control, but how we choose to respond to a situation (our behaviour), is very much within our control. This is encouraging when it comes to building our resilience and increasing our psychological flexibility so that we can feel empowered in our lives, despite its challenges.

How being mindful and watching our language can help.

Did you know that according to research, for 47% of the day, our thoughts are NOT about the here and the now (Killingworth & Gilbert, 2010). Behaviour occurs in the ‘here and now’, so as far as engaging in life with our own valued actions, the present moment is the only time where behaviour happens.  Anxiety and worrisome thoughts about what might happen is our own internal narrative, or language. This language can take us away from experiencing the ‘here and now’, focusing instead on the ’there and then’ or the ‘what-ifs and maybes’ with the result often being that we act in ways that aren’t helpful or meaningful. Mindfulness centres us in the present moment and helps us practice the skill of noticing thoughts that have nothing to do with our intention to attend to something (or someone) in the present moment. We are then better able to identify if our thoughts and feelings pull us away from the valued actions we are committed to, and choose a different, more valued response instead.

Exercises you can practice

  1. Watching your language: Start to pay attention to your internal dialogue and notice the thoughts or feelings that are showing up, with openness and curiosity. E.G. “I notice I’m having the thought that….”, or “I notice I’m having a feeling of…” It can help to write them down on paper.
  2. Practice being more mindful: If you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings, practice this mindfulness exercise throughout the day. The aim here is to refocus your attention on the present moment, rather than on anxious or worrisome thoughts, which are generally future oriented and based on a perceived threat or danger:
    • Pause and take a moment to connect with your environment
    • Look around and notice five things that you can see.
    • Listen carefully and notice five things that you can hear.
    • Notice five things that you can feel in contact with your body (for example, your watch against your wrist, your clothes against your skin, the air on your face, your feet upon the floor, your back against the chair).
  3. Engage in valued action: When you feel less caught up in the difficult thoughts or feelings and more connected with the present moment, ask yourself “what is something important to me, or helpful that I could think, or do right now?”

Penny is a qualified cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist and stress and anxiety therapist and uses these and other evidence based techniques successfully with her clients. If you’d like to develop skills to help manage stress, or anxiety, then get in contact today and book an appointment with Penny.