Has the pandemic left you feeling more anxious than normal? Amanda Byram reveals her 60-second stress busters to help ease your mind
Stress is not a medicallydefined condition. Instead, it’s a side effect of the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, and it is how we interpret the experience of this response that matters most. Indeed, you might be surprised to read that stress can even be good for your mental health – in small doses, the physical reaction can help you to focus, perform well and, generally, get more stuff done. The long-term physical effects of unchecked stress, however, can be a problem – it can suppress the immune system, plus cause burnouts, breakdowns and hormonal imbalances (also known as adrenal fatigue). So, how do we avoid these whirlpools of woe? Here are just a few ways in which I’ve been able to ease my mind.
Pull the trigger
The quickest way to avoid stress is to avoid the trigger word ‘stress’ altogether. Just stating expressions such as “I’m stressed” or “You’re stressing me out” or “This is stressful” is enough to conjure up feelings of anxiety and a mild sense of panic. Employ NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) techniques by swapping out the word for something else – so “I feel stressed” might become something fun that makes you smile, such as “I feel funky”.
A useful technique to employ when your thoughts are feeling out of control is the ‘salty water’ visualisation: Imagine that your mind is a crystal-clear glass of water and life stresses are grains of salt. Add a few ‘stresses’ and the grains of salt will dissolve effortlessly. However, if you dump in a spoonful of ‘grains’ and stir them up, the result is a whirlpool of cloudy water, spinning uncontrollably. The solution is to stop, visualise yourself taking the metaphorical spoon out of the glass and, with each breath, picture the whirlpool getting slower until it eventually disappears. Eventually, the water returns to crystal clarity, allowing you to see clearly again.
Without breath there is no life. How long can you hold your breath? For me, it’s about 45 seconds. When you’re feeling ‘funky’, you’ll notice the first thing to suffer is your breathing pattern. Your breathing might get shorter and shallower, and perhaps you experience a pain in your chest. This physical reaction can lead to a psychological one, as your brain has less oxygen to think. The quickest way to get back on an even keel is to use deep, mindful breathing. This allows the heart rate to slow down, and can lower blood pressure, increasing your energy levels, improving your blood flow and stimulating the lymphatic system to improve digestion. So any time you feel funky, stop, close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
The future you
When your mind starts spinning and you are feeling anxious, imagine a ‘future you’. She is still you, just not the ‘you’ of the present. Instead, she is the ‘you’ of tomorrow. The ‘future you’ will deal with everything in the future. She is not to be confused with the ‘present you’, who is busy dealing with the things in front of her. I always let ‘Future Amanda’ deal with my future scenarios and this alleviates stress.
The fast-forward button
Sometimes a bad mood can stick around long after the initial grievance has passed. You can spend minutes, hours or days annoyed about a scenario, and it affects every fibre of your being. Of course, eventually, the grump goes away, yet how long it lasted was entirely within your control (even if it didn’t feel like it). A great technique to help you get from feeling grumpy to feeling great is the ‘fast-forward button’ technique. It works by imagining yourself sitting in a cinema and watching the current situation play out as though you are viewing a movie of your life. Although right now it might feel like you’re in a horror flick, keep watching long enough and you’ll soon be witnessing a comedy. You have two choices – either keep enduring the misery or simply grab the remote and press the fast-forward button!
These tips have been adapted from Amanda’s new book The Switch, available to pre-order now on amazon.co.uk