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When confronting a tiger, a surge of adrenalin, cortisone and other stress hormones sets us up to get away and survive. But when confronting a traffic jam, an angry customer or an overdue bill, the same inherent stress response becomes counterproductive, even damaging.
We need ways to manage our stress which reduce these automatic reactions and enable us to think calmly and clearly about the best way to resolve the problem. Fortunately, such simple stress management techniques do exist.
A Simple Technique for Managing Your Physical Stress Reaction
Often at the lowest level of our awareness is our physical reaction to stress. Our heartbeat speeds up, our breathing becomes fast and shallow, our blood pressure rises and our muscles tense. Our bloodstream is flooded with a mixture of chemicals to help us survive a physically dangerous encounter intact. None of which helps with that dreaded phone call or late essay.
To calm yourself physically and move back into a state of calm readiness, simply become conscious of your breathing, take control of it, deepen it and slow it down.
The parts of the brain that control breathing usually function by themselves. By taking conscious control, we reestablish our command over our physical reactions and shift our mental and physical state.
A Simple Technique for Managing Your Emotional Stress Reaction
Emotional reactions to stress can be the most distressing. Often, too, our stress is interpersonal (to do with other people), and becoming emotionally upset can make the situation worse.
Emotional stress reactions include anger or irritability, anxiety or dread, and depression or helplessness.
Building on the simple stress management technique for the physical reaction, slow and deepen your breathing as you become aware of how your emotion feels in your body. As you notice your body’s reaction, name your emotion and acknowledge it. Then remind yourself that in this situation, it’s more useful to have a wider range of resources available to you, and that a calm body and mind will help to bring that about. As you do so, your emotional reaction starts to recede.
A Simple Technique for Managing Your Mental Stress Reaction
Physical stress reactions arise from emotions, and emotions arise from thoughts. Having calmed your body and emotions down, you can take a moment to notice the thoughts that led up to it. Keep a record and discover what thoughts typically send you into a stress response. These are what is called “automatic thoughts” because they turn up by themselves, probably having been put in your head during your childhood by someone well-meaning or otherwise.
When you have a good idea of what your automatic thoughts are, you can start to modify them.
Write down logical, adult, non-blaming counter-thoughts for each of your automatic thoughts.
Set aside a few minutes and calm yourself down by slow, easy breathing, thinking of a pleasant, relaxing place.
In a calm and reflective state, first say the automatic thought as if quoting it to someone, then follow it with the new thought. Repeat this a few times, allowing the conviction to leak out of the automatic thought and flow into the replacement thought.
Repeat this exercise until the automatic thought is dealt with.
These simple stress management techniques can help to shift your thoughts, feelings and physical reactions in the direction of the calm competence which is your best state for handling life’s challenges.