Dealing with Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can manifest themselves in many ways, our head of counselling, Gillian Marchant explores different options and strategies that may help you cope.

According to a BUPA survey, more than a third of the population find work their biggest stress. Another recent poll of UK workers found that 84% have trouble sleeping on Sundays because they are worrying about the working week ahead. An internet search revealed that there are 1227 books on worry, 24 DVDs and 3,700,000 CDs!

Almost everybody worries and it can be a useful response to life, preventing us from being reckless and stimulating us to take control of a difficult situation. However some people worry a lot more than others, and sometimes to the point where worry becomes a problem in itself. Worrying does not change things and can build up anxiety, leading to stress.

According to the National Stress Awareness Day (NSAD) website: “Worrying undermines our natural ability to cope and most people admit it is completely ineffective. This both reduces energy and undermines self confidence. The NSAD ‘Don’t Worry…..Take Action!’ campaign is designed to focus on this ineffective behaviour and change it to a positive outcome.”

Worry is a learned behaviour and many people spend a lot of time thinking about negative possibilities, mulling them over and developing exaggerated situations and options. Starting thoughts and sentences with “what if”, “maybe” are all part and parcel of the worrier.There are different types of worry;

  • FUTURE – frequently focusing on fears for the future…… things that very probably won’t happen,
  • PRESENT – concerns and worries about situations you feel powerless to change
  • PAST – concern about something that has already happened when there is often little you can do to alter it.

Stress can stimulate the Fight or Flight response which is the body’s response to real or imagined danger and whilst effective in the short term, ‘Fight or Flight’ becomes damaging in the medium to long term. The result can be:

  • disturbed sleep and eating patterns
  • feeling of inability to cope
  • loss of confidence
  • difficulty in concentrating and making decisions
  • headaches
  • stomach upsets, feeling sick, butterflies
  • emotional distress
  • depleted immune system
  • irritability
  • feeling de-energised

Actions you can take to combat these responses could include:

  • Positive thinking – ban the “worry” word and use “concern”, “issue”, “problem”, “dilemma”, or “challenge” instead.
  • Talk to friends – they may be able to suggest a possible course of action or solution. Worry is often a habit, doing a ‘reality check’ with others can help you to change your thinking from negative to positive.
  • Write it down! – Worrying often happens when you are trying to go to sleep. Keep a notepad by the bed, write it down and tell yourself you will deal with it in the morning. You can use this technique in the day too, deferring all your worries, for example for 30 minutes, to a designated later time is really helpful rather than being unproductive all day.
  • Relaxation – this is another excellent way to cultivate the habit of postponing stress. You can experiment with different techniques to discover which one helps you relax most, for example t’ai chi or meditation.
  • Physical activity – exercise is excellent as it changes the focus from the mind to the body, relieves tension and uses up the excess adrenalin. You don’t have to go for a long run or the gym, a good steady walk can be just as effective. Regular exercise is known to improve mood and will increase your sense of well-being. It’s good for the heart too as well as the head!
  • Improve your diet – it’s a good idea to cut down on caffeine in coffee, tea and cola drinks as it is a stimulant that heightens the effects of tension and stress. This is especially relevant in the evening for those who are prone to worrying at night.
  • Complementary therapies – consult a qualified practitioner who can look at you as a whole person. There are many options that can help including yoga, massage, acupuncture, reflexology and aromatherapy.
  • Psychotherapy/Counselling – talking things through with a counsellor in confidence about your issues can help to relieve the levels of anxiety and stress.

Counselling can give you the opportunity to talk through issues with someone who is detached from the situation and will be able to hear you without prejudice or judgement. The counsellor will not advise you on what you should do but will help you to find your own solutions, empowering you to make changes that suit you best. You may find that your levels of self awareness are increased and you become aware of triggers to stress and anxiety, possibly connecting these triggers to past experiences. By exploring these triggers, it is possible to ‘de-power’ them so that they do not have such an impact on your wellbeing, reducing your levels of stress and anxiety and allowing you to begin to enjoy life again.