Stress is a symptom, not a cause
Humans are well adapted for survival; it is why we sit at the top of the food chain. We may not be the biggest or scariest creatures roaming around on the planet, however our physical structure, and the higher functions of our brains, helped early humans survive in the harshest of environments. Our ancestors thrived because they evolved to cope with the challenges of their times. From hunting, dealing with imposters, and fending off hungry predators. Interestingly, the same stuff that allowed early humans to thrive, is proving to be detrimental to modern humans.
Stress can cause all kind of problems. It can, if left unchecked, lead to mental health disorders as well as serious illness. When we are stressed the brain responds by flooding our bodies with chemicals. These same chemicals proved useful long ago. It temporarily increased stamina and strength, and it allowed humans to either flee or stand and fight a hungry predator.
Studies have shown that chronic stress shrinks the sophisticated part of our brains (the prefrontal cortex). The part of our brain that allows us to rationalise, form strategies, and eventually move on from challenges is seriously impaired during long periods of stress. Further studies have indicated that the effects of stress can be felt up to ten years later!
Modern living brings its own unique challenges. We encounter rush hour traffic, financial troubles, relationship issues, work-related problems. Even before we’ve left the sanctuary of our homes, our senses are flooded with information from social media updates, emails, and news feeds. Before we’ve stepped out of our front door we’re already worked up! Nevertheless, stress is not the cause of the misery in our lives, it’s the symptom.
During stressful periods a person may feel that they are losing all sense of control. Feeling on top of things is important to all of us. When we feel like that our very existence is in a downward spiral it becomes difficult to see a way out. Problems mount up bit by bit until they feel like a mountain. Nothing seems to work out. We keep trudging on hoping things will get better. Perhaps that warning light on our car dashboard will disappear? Maybe your boss at work will forget about that important presentation you need to deliver? Maybe your partner will just get over that silly argument you had? Maybe those debts that seem to be piling up will hopefully vanish? We’re not just facing one lion, we’re confronting a number of metaphorical lions, stalking our every decision!
If we let forces outside of our immediate control determine the momentum of our lives, then we are left to the mercy of events and circumstances. We’ve given up a good chunk of our well-being to life situations and other people, however, once we snatch it back we quickly realise that we can choose to respond in positive ways.
There is a concept in psychology referred to as 'locus of control'. It is the idea that our beliefs influence the way we respond to our experiences. If we firmly believe that our lives are shaped by fate or fixed by destiny, then we are less likely to try to try to overcome adversity. Conversely, if a person believes that their life is moulded by their own choices, they are more likely to press on through challenges and setbacks.
It is a matter of perspective. The way we view things can help us overcome setbacks; you can take back control of your life. Yes, bad things will still happen, however, if you view them as a challenge it becomes easier to get through.
Be kind to yourself
People who view hardship as a problem to be solved are more likely to feel more confident and positive, and less stressed and anxious. The good news is we can shape our perceptions. That is what hypnosis does. It is simply a process of reframing viewpoints. During hypnosis, an individual can also be reminded of how they faced similar challenges before, and the methods they used to battle through them.
You can choose to feel and think about a problem in a way that helps you feel empowered. Self-empowerment is the key to success. You can take a step back and ask yourself “How can I view this problem differently”, “What steps do I need to take to overcome this?”, “Do I need outside help, or can I do this alone?”.
Asking yourself constrictive questions engages the higher functions of your brain. Instead of being a hostage to your problems, you become a problem solver.
During time of stress, it is also important to practice self-compassion. Manage your self-talk by reassuring yourself that you’ve been through bad times before and you’ll find a way through. Don’t beat yourself up - form a plan in your mind and then write it down. Could you take up a new hobby, or start a new exercise regime? Would a simple walk or connecting with nature help? What resources do you need to help you get you through this?
Taking back control is the first step to beating stress and living a more fulfilled life.
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