stress management

Let nature In

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Monday 8 October marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week here in NZ. This year’s theme is: Let nature in, strengthen your wellbeing – Mā te taiao kia whakapakari tōu oranga!

The goal is to remind us how our natural environment can grow, support and nurture our wellbeing and to encourage us to get away from stimulating urban settings and surround ourselves with a natural environment.

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. The research suggests that by spending more time in a natural setting we can reduce our stress level, and rejuvenate our mind and body and increase our happiness. Intuitively we know this. In a study cited in the book Healing Gardens, researchers found that more than two-thirds of people choose a natural setting to retreat to when stressed because, it made them feel better emotionally.  

Connecting with nature doesn’t necessarily mean we have to lace up our tramping boots. Our time with nature could be something as simple as sitting in our garden, strolling through a nearby park, taking a walk beside the river, watching the waves roll in on the beach, wandering through a forest, all of these activities can deliver the same benefits as time spent in the ‘great outdoors.

Did you know the Japanese have a lovely name for time spent in a forest, taking in the atmosphere? They call it ‘forest bathing’ (Shinrin-yoku). The benefits of forest bathing in helping lift mood is supported by research. A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, found that participants who walked in a forest had lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) afterwards than those who strolled through a city environment.

When we interact with nature we, by default, combine the stress relieving benefits of being in a natural setting with the stress relieving benefits of movement/exercise. So we get double the benefit – how good is that!

If you can’t find time to get out of the office and into a park or sit under a tree, don’t worry all is not lost. Studies have found that:

  • just looking at pictures of nature can have a positive impact on our mood and stress level. In a 2012 study conducted in waiting rooms at a Dutch hospital, patients who were exposed to either real plants or posters of plants experienced less stress, compared to people who saw neither.

  • just placing a plant of some kind in a room can have a significant impact on people’s level of stress and anxiety. So perhaps pop a pot plant on or beside your desk.

How much time with nature is enough? "Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful," says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. He says, "The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle."

 

And don't feel you have to go it alone. A 2014 study found that group nature walks were just as effective as solo treks in terms of lowering stress and depression and improving overall mental outlook.

Remember, the key to managing your stress level is to introduce regular recovery periods into your life so that your mind and body can relax-and-unwind. Spending time in nature is a brilliant and simple, yet highly effective way of providing your mind and body with a restorative recovery period.

So let’s make it our goal to get out there and let nature into our lives.

What Next?

If worry, anxiety or stress are causing ongoing problems in your life, give me a call me on 021 056 8389 or email tony@tycoaching.nz and let's explore how I can help you reduce and control your stress or anxiety.

REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."

Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.

The Power of our Breath

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Imagine taking a leisurely walk in the park when a gun wielding man emerges from the bushes a few feet in front of you and demands you hand over your wallet/purse.

In one quick second, your body is mobilised for action. Your eyes register the person and the gun, and send this information to the thalamus in your brain. The thalamus on sends the information to your amygdala, which matches the information to its memory store of known ‘threats’. It identifies the man as mugger and screams to the hypothalamus: “THREAT!!!!” The hypothalamus quickly passes the message of alarm to your nervous system, which activates the stress response.

The stress response prepares your body either for a battle or to run like hell. Epinephrine (adrenaline) floods your bloodstream, triggering your pounding, quick heart rate. Extra blood fills your veins. Your blood pressure sharply increases, rapidly funnelling blood toward your vital organs and muscles. Your breath quickens and shallows, pressing extra oxygen into the brain for added alertness. You are now fully prepared to fight this mugger or take flight in the opposite direction.

Every single one of us responds to perceived threats with a “fight or flight” response.

This stress response is well designed to save us from danger, and it has been doing so for us and our ancestors for a long, long time. But here’s the tricky truth of modern day existence: it’s not just real and present threat such as a gun wielding mugger that triggers the stress response. Whatever we perceive as a threat (e.g. being stuck in a traffic jam, being assigned a new project at work, the severe look our boss gives us as s/he passes our desk, a bullying workmate) will activate our stress response. 

The stress response evolved to switch off after the threat had passed at which point the relaxation response (rest and digest) is activated. We then enter a recovery period. Today, because people are prone to perceiving so many things in their environment as threats, their stress response is pretty much permanently switched on.

And that’s not good.

We know from the research that continuous activation of the stress response (chronic stress) over a sustained period is bad for our health.

The good news is that the stress response and the relaxation response both cannot be switched on at the same time. When one’s on the other’s off and vice versa. So by activating the relaxation response we can switch off the stress response.

The quickest and easiest way of switching on the relaxation response is through the power of our breath. I’ve written before about the 7/11 Breathing technique which is the very first technique I share with new clients. Here are a couple more simple, quick, use anytime/anywhere techniques that studies have found are effective in helping switch off the stress response.

The 2:1 Breath

According to research 2:1 breathing when practiced on a daily basis results in significant reduction of blood pressure, heart rate, and other stress response indicators.

To practice this technique, find a position with your spine straight and long, whether sitting, standing, or lying down. Breathe out to a mental count of 6, and breathe in to a mental count of 3. You can use any ratio of 2:1 that feels relaxing to you. Do this as little as 5 rounds of breath, or if you want to reap the effects of the research study, up to 7 minutes twice per day.

The Sighing Breath

Studies have found that the sigh you emit that often comes after frustration or sadness significantly decreases the intensity of stress response in anxiety-prone individuals. It is a deceptively simple little technique that has many benefits. It instantly reduces your tension level through temporarily raising your blood CO2 level. A ‘sigh breath’ is a way of interrupting the build-up of physical stress and tension rather than a breathing technique to do over and over again. It gives you something to do when you feel anxious or panicky rather than simply remain a passive victim of your thoughts and moods. It also makes you aware of, and interrupts, the common quite un-useful tendency in anxiety states to simply hold or restrict your breath.

To practice this technique find a position with your spine straight and long, whether sitting, standing, or lying down. Take a slow and deep breath in and then let it all go with a big sigh. You can experiment with different exhalation sounds, quiet and loud, to find the breath that gives you the most relief. Do this sighing breath three to seven times.

 

I wonder which type of breath you discover helps to diminish your stress response?

Now, imagine how could you integrate one or more of these simple breathing techniques into your everyday life? Perhaps you might do 2-1 breaths when you get in the car, or before bed, or…?

What Next?

If worry, anxiety or stress are causing problems for you, and you need help, contact me today on 021 056 8389 or via email tony@tycoaching.nz and let's explore how I can help you.

 

REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."

Go well

Tony Yuile

 

Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.

Give yourself time to worry

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In last week’s blog I wrote about the difference between normal and problematic worrying and how categorising our worries can help us to deal with it. This week I’m sharing another practical, effective technique for controlling problematic worry – Worry Time.

Worrying is a normal thinking process and a useful part of our in-built survival system. For this reason we all worry to an extent at times. However, for some people worrying can become their constant, unwelcome companion and interfere with their ability to do the things they want to do. This unhelpful worrying involves frequently thinking a thought or related thoughts, about uncertain or unpleasant future events/situations, over and over again without finding an answer or some way forward. It tends to be intrusive, gate-crashing our thinking and distracting our focus away from the present moment onto future concerns preventing us from feeling fully able to enjoy what we are doing in the moment.

A technique many people have found effective in regaining control over excessive worry is to schedule one or two short periods of 'Worry Time' each day, during which you give yourself permission and time to worry. 

“Worry Time”

Engaging in Worry Time helps us to learn:

  • not to react to worrying thoughts as they arise during the day.
  • develop control over the urge to worry
  • that the majority of our worries are related to hypothetical or imagined situations

Worry Time - the four steps

Step 1: Plan your Worry Time

Each day schedule your Worry Time. Choose the start time, length of time, place you’ll engage in your dedicated Worry Time. For example, you may choose a worry period at 7pm and decide that you will worry for 20 minutes. At first you may feel you need to set aside a longer period of time as you worry so much currently. You can review this in step 4 and may find this time shortens the longer you practice the technique. Whatever time works for you is fine however, this should be a time you set aside just for yourself to worry and you should not do anything else during this time. Ensure that any potential distractions are reduced. For example, make sure that others are aware that they should not bother you during this time, and that your mobile is silenced.

Step 2: During the day capture your worries in writing

You may want to carry a note book and write down each worry as it pops into your mind, or make a note on your phone. Once you've made a note of the worrying thought, tell yourself “I don’t need to worry about this now, because I can worry about it later during my Worry Time”. Then return your focus of attention to what you were doing, or do something else in the knowledge you can worry about that situation as much as you like in your planned Worry Time.

 

Step 3: Refocus on the present moment

Once you have written down your worry or worries, the next step is to refocus on the present moment. This means paying attention to what is going on around you or on the task at hand. Engage all your senses. For example, scan the room and notice all the items that are a  certain colour (e.g. green), then tune into the sounds you can hear and identify as many as you can. Because you can only hold one thought at a time it’s not possible to worry when you are really focussed on what’s happening in the present moment.

With each worry you think during the day just repeat the process, writing down the worry and refocusing on the present moment paying attention to what is going on around you or on the task at hand. You may find the same worries keep popping into your mind, if so just write them down and focus on the present moment, knowing that you can worry as much as you want about them during your Worry Time later in the day.

If you worry a lot at night when you are trying to get off to sleep, you may find it useful to keep a new Worry List at the side of the bed with a pen so that you can write them down and then refocus on the task at hand - sleeping. Notice where you are what is going on around you, the feel of the duvet against your skin, get comfortable and try and sleep knowing that you can worry about it during your next Worry Time as much as you want.

Step 4: At Worry Time - Worry

At your scheduled Worry Time allow yourself to worry! Go through the list of worries you’ve prepared during the day and if some of the worries that you wrote down are no longer a problem for you, then put a line through them and let them go.

Last week I wrote about using The TOP Principle to categorise your worries. Using this principle, go through the remaining worries on your list and decide quickly for each situation you have a worry about whether it is something you can fully control, have ‘some control’ over or ‘no control’ over. Let the worries related to any situations that are outside of your control go, in effect deferring them, at least for now, so you can spend your Worry Time on the situations you have full and some control over.

 

From the list of situations you have control (Total or Partial) over, focus on your urgent and important worries and postpone less urgent and important worries to the next time. Now choose one situation that you would like to start to worry about. For each worry you have chosen consider:

  • How you felt when you wrote the worry and how you feel about it now.
  • Has the situation you were worrying about happened?
  • How did you deal with it if it has?
  • If it hasn't happened how likely is that it will happen?
  • What evidence do you have for that assessment?
  • Were there any worries that when you have come back to them during your Worry Time are no longer a problem? Spend some time reflecting on this.
  • Also reflect on what it feels like to worry as much as you want during Worry Time.

At the end of Worry Time reflect on whether you needed as much time as you planned in Step 1? Adjust the length of your next Worry Time accordingly.

At the end of your Worry Time STOP your worrying.

It is very important that at the end of your Worry Time you stop your worrying. To help them do this some people like to throw away their worry list at the end of their Worry Time, or tear it up, or screw it up and put it into the bin. It's good to always start each Worry Time with a new list and fresh paper each day so that you only focus on the worries that have happened since your last Worry Time.

Regular Practice of Worry Time

Like any new skill Worry Time requires practice. As you practice Worry Time each day you may find that you feel less worried outside of your Worry Time and that you feel more able to deal with your worries. You will also come to discover that the majority of what you used to worry about was a waste of mental energy and your time.

Here’s a 4 minute video from the BBC Radio 4 on the subject of Worry Time.

BBC Radio 4 - How to manage your worries: A quick and easy guide on how to cope with the things you worry about.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03rwr72

 

What Next?

If worry, anxiety or stress are causing problems for you, and you need help, contact me today on 021 056 8389 or via email tony@tycoaching.nz and let's explore how I can help you.

 

REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."

Go well

Tony Yuile

 

Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.

The 3 keys to regaining control of your stress

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To stop stress impacting adversely on our performance, health and enjoyment of life there are three key things we need to do. But, before I discuss those three things, let’s take a look at what stress is. 

Stress

"Stress, like Einstein's theory of relativity, is a scientific concept which has suffered from the mixed blessing of being too well known and too little understood.”

~ Dr Hans Selye (the ‘father’ of stress research)

 

In my work with clients I define stress as the name we give to a particular cocktail of sensations, feelings and thoughts we experience in response to a perceived threat.

 

Stress is something we experience not ‘something’ we have. It is not something that exists in our workplaces or homes. If it was a ‘thing’, we could simply collect up all our stress, put it in a rubbish bag and leave it out on the street for collection. Hey presto, instant stress relief!

Stress is vital to life

Stress has a bad name but it isn’t inherently bad. It is in fact natural, normal and helpful. We wouldn’t be able to live without it. Stress only becomes a problem when the experience starts to have a negative impact on our performance, enjoyment of life and well-being.

When we’re experiencing stress, it’s a sign that our body is prepared and energised, ready for action. Stress helps us perform the thousands of actions we undertake each day, which in simple terms, involves either moving towards something (pleasure) or moving away from something (pain).

As the Performance/Stress graph below shows, we need different amounts of stress to complete different actions. Simple everyday tasks may not require us to experience a lot of stress whereas to meet challenges and achieve our goals we may need to experience much more stress. However, too much stress impairs our ability to perform both physically and mentally. And when our stress level climbs too high and stays high for a period of time (chronic stress) it is no longer useful or healthy.

Source: stress-rx.com

Source: stress-rx.com

Effective Stress Management enables us to:

  1. Thrive and perform under pressure - the green zone on the graph.
  2. Avoid distress and chronic stress – the orange and red zones on the graph

The Three Keys to Effective Stress Management

To effectively manage our stress we need to do three things:

  1. Understand how we experience stress – become familiar with the STRESS Process
  2. Change our perception of events, situations and people
  3. Cope with the excessive and/or unhelpful stress

Let’s take a quick look at each of these three keys:

1.    The Stress Process

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power”. When we understand something much of the fear of it is removed. For an explanation of the Stress Process head over to this Blog post.

2.    Changing our Perception

“Changing distorted perceptions is an essential stress management tool."

~ Dr Valeri O'Hara PhD, Clinical Psychologist

We tend to think that stress is caused by external events, situations and people but this is incorrect. If it were, everybody who was exposed to a particular external event, situation or person(s) would experience stress, but this is not the case.

Take a traffic jam for example. One person in the traffic jam may sit and fume becoming very angry at the delay, but another person in the same traffic jam may quietly accept the situation, calmly sing along to songs on the radio and think that getting upset or irritable won’t move the car one millimetre forward. This is the same traffic jam for both drivers, yet two different responses due to the different perceptions of the event by both individuals.

Our perceptions are shaped by a range of factors including: our identity, beliefs, assumptions, values, attitudes, memories, expectations, conditioning, personality traits and thinking style, and life experiences.

Moment to moment, we receive sensory information from both the external environment and our internal environment (mind and body) and we interpret this sensory information and assign it a meaning. If we perceive there’s a threat to our physical and/or emotional well-being we activate the stress response and experience stress.

This process of perception is the one and only cause of stress.

Unfortunately, we often interpret events much worse, than they actually are or will be, thus greatly increasing the intensity of the stress we experience.

The good news is when we know how, and with a little practice, we can change our perception from an unrealistic, inaccurate one, to a more realistic and accurate assessment. And when we do this we can dramatically reduce the stress we experience in the moment (acute stress) and reduce our overall stress level (chronic stress).

3.    Coping with the symptoms of stress

It’s impossible to avoid experiencing stress, so it pays to have some effective tools and techniques in our stress management toolkit to help us cope with and reduce the level of stress we’re experiencing.

Here are three fundamental coping strategies that your toolkit should contain:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing:  The method I teach my clients is called 7/11 Breathing.

 

  • Get Moving: to burn off the excess stress hormones in our body we need to get moving.  I’m not necessarily talking about joining a gym and lifting weights, or running a marathon. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking a day can be very beneficial. So can a regular swim. Or going for a bike ride. Or yoga. Even gardening or housework, as long as you work up a sweat! As well as burning off stress hormones movement produces “good mood” chemicals in the brain like dopamine.

 

  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is essential for the body to function properly. The optimal sleep duration for an adult aged between 26 and 65 is 7.5 hours, reducing as we age. It is considered optimal to have fallen asleep by 10:30pm, and wake at 6am. If you’ve habitually skimped on sleep, you probably won’t even remember how it feels to wake up fully rested. Plan for a good sleep. Go to bed before 10:30pm. Do not check email before bed. Do not watch TV in bed. Give going to bed before 10:30 a go for a week, and see if there’s a difference in how you perform during the day.

What Next?

If anxiety or stress are causing ongoing problems in your life, give me a call me on 021 056 8389, email tony@tycoaching.nz  and let’s explore of you can use the three keys to unlock your stress.

 

REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."

Go well

Tony

 

Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.

 

 

5 instant ways to switch off the stress response

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Have you heard about the Vagus Nerve?

It’s the most important nerve you perhaps didn’t know you had.

Why is it so important?

Because, the Vagus Nerve (VN) is intimately tied in with multiple organs and systems of the body, and is extremely critical to our overall health.

The word vagus means “wanderer”. The VN got its name because it’s a long meandering bundle of motor and sensory fibres that ‘wanders’ all over the body linking the brain, gut (intestines, stomach), heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter, spleen, lungs, reproductive organs (female), neck (pharynx, larynx, and oesophagus), ears, and tongue.

The management and processing of emotions happens via the VN between the heart, brain and gut, which is why we have a strong gut reaction to intense mental and emotional states.

The Vagus Nerve’s role in activating the relaxation response

Of particular interest to me, a stress management coach, is the VN’s key role in activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), to initiate the body’s relaxation response.

The PNS works in partnership with your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which activates the stress response. After experiencing a stress inducing event, it's your PNS that moves into action, to calm you down and restore your body to business as usual. The longer the stress response is switched off, the more time our body has to rest and recover. The longer we are in relaxation mode the more our stress level will reduce.

An important thing to know from a stress management perspective is that the PNS and SNS can’t both be on at the same time.

Stimulating the Vagus Nerve

We can choose to stimulate the VN whenever we want to, in order to temporarily switch off the stress response and activate the relaxation response. This ability can be particularly useful when we are faced with high pressure moments where we need to perform at our best such as an interview, public speaking, an exam, a match winning put on the 18th green etc.

5 Simple Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

There are many simple ways to stimulate the VN, and here are five of my favourites. They can be performed easily, effortlessly and whenever you need to quell panic or lower your stress level.

Breathe Deeply and Slowly

The easiest way to stimulate the VN is slow, diaphragmatic (belly) breathing where you make the out breath slightly longer than the in breath. This is the first stress management technique (7/11 breathing) I teach all my stress and anxiety clients. Check out my post on 7/11 breathing here.

Cold water exposure

  • Dip your face into a basin of very cold water for 30 seconds
  • Splash your face with icy water
  • Take a cold shower

Any kind of acute cold water exposure instigates what's known as the 'dive reflex'. Triggering the dive reflex activates the PNS immediately, so you feel calmer and less stressed in a matter of seconds.

Splashing your face with icy water, or pressing your face on to an ice pack, can have the same effect for some people, and it works better if you also lean forward and hold your breath for 30 seconds.

A word of caution is that this procedure should not be attempted by anyone with a slow heart rate or low blood pressure, as it decreases your heart rate.

Sing, hum, chant and gargle

The VN is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. You contract these muscles when you sing, hum, chant or gargle, activating the VN.

  • Gargling-gargle with water several times a day. The VN activates the muscles in the back of the throat that allow you to gargle. Gargling contracts these muscles, which activates the VN and stimulates the gastrointestinal tract. Drink several large glasses of water per day and gargle each sip until you finish the glass of water. You should gargle long enough to make it a bit challenging.
  • Sing loudly. Singing at the top of your lungs (like you mean it) makes you work the muscles at the back of your throat.

Laughter

Laughter stimulates diaphragmatic breathing and in turn stimulates the VN. Check out my post on the health benefits of laughing here.

Chew gum

The PNS is often referred to as the “rest and digest” state, the body likes to be in a relaxed state when it’s time to eat. The simple act of chewing activates: the stomach to release acid, the liver to produce bile; the pancreas to release digestive enzyme; gut motility; all of which are mediated by the VN. So when we chew gum the body is tricked into thinking we’re eating and the VN is stimulated.

Give one or more of these methods a go. They will not only make you feel better, they will allow you to experience the world in a more relaxed, calm and enjoyable state.

Happy vagus nerve stimulating!

WHAT NEXT?

If anxiety or stress are causing ongoing problems in your life, give me a call me on 021 056 8389 or email tony@tycoaching.nz to schedule your first session.

REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."


Here's to a stimulating weekend.

Go well

Tony Yuile

Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.