What is Stress?
Stress is an adverse reaction caused by a perceived lack of resources. When we think the demands being placed on us in a particular circumstance exceed our ability to cope, we then perceive stress, which can make us feel anxious or overwhelmed. It is not the actual event or circumstance that causes our stress, but instead it is our personal perception of how we will be able to cope with these events.
When we are regularly living and working in a stressed state, our ability to cope with day to day life becomes compromised. We end up reacting badly in our interactions with other people, rather than choosing the best course of action, which in turn intensifies the stress in us, leading to further stress and even physical illness. We react this way because, in that moment, we appear not to have any choice in our behaviour; our resources of calm and consideration appear to have deserted us and left us with negative emotions such as anger, fear or overwhelm as our only way of being.
Fight or Flight?
When we worry or feel fear or anxiety, we cause our bodies to release stress hormones which create the “fight or flight” response – the survival mechanism of our ancestors. Most of the stresses we experience in today’s world, however, are not threats to our survival, but a multitude of worries about our jobs, personal lives and so on. Nevertheless, these worries can still activate our body’s survival response, resulting in our bodies being in a perpetual state of alertness; continuously poised in “fight or flight” mode.
Physiologically, these day to day or chronic stressors (such as dealing with traffic or working to deadlines) have a greater negative impact on our health than do more acute, traumatic stressors that generally have a start and an end point (such as divorce or a death in the family). Because these “micro-stressors” occur frequently, thus requiring the body's physiological “fight or flight” stress response to occur frequently, this depletes the body's energy more quickly.
Stress and Health
When the body's energy is used to respond to minor (or major) stressors, the immune system's ability to function properly is compromised, which makes us more susceptible to physical illnesses like colds or flu. Conditions such as heart attacks, gastric ulcers, headaches, bruxism (tooth grinding), hypertension, IBS and reduced immune response are all accepted as common reactions to long-term stress; but many fail to realise that there are easy and effective ways to help ourselves avoid these symptoms.
We are all individuals with our own values, beliefs and memories which shape the way we perceive our world, and we all cope with different situations in different ways. One thing, though, we have in common: how frequently do you end up feeling extremely stressed through imagining “What If?” scenarios which, in reality, will never happen? This may sound simplistic, but if you are spending the day creating what amounts to a horror movie in your head, rehearsing over and over again how you might fracture a file in that awkwardly shaped root, how badly the anxious patient due in after lunch is going to cope with her rubber dam or how quickly your new associate is going to break your operating microscope, how relaxed is that going to make you feel? Our stress response is still triggered whether the event is real or imagined.
As human beings, we have a tendency to believe what we see, and see what we believe; consider – how many times in the past have you “known” something would go wrong with something, and proved yourself right? What if, instead, you “know” you will have a good day, or that a challenging job will work well? When you start your day by believing that it will be good, then your unconscious mind will collect evidence for you to support that belief throughout the day. This isn’t a magic wand to ensure nothing bad ever happens again, but if we are changing the focus from why our day was so bad into what made the day good, despite the bad thing that might have happened, then we are creating for ourselves a different way of perceiving our world; what, in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, is called a “reframe”.
Stress Relief with Self-Hypnosis
Another excellent way of reducing stress, changing our focus from negative to positive and giving us access to our unconscious resources, is through self-hypnosis. Self-hypnosis is a naturally occurring state that virtually everyone, with practise, can learn to use for achieving goals that might otherwise be too difficult or even impossible to achieve; it is a way to connect with our own potentiality, our own infinite possibilities and our own creativity. Through self-hypnosis you can learn to pay attention to your body signals and become aware of what you are doing to yourself through stress, negativity and tension, and do something about it. It can provide immeasurable benefits, both emotionally and physically; what the mind believes, the body will follow.
There is nothing very mysterious about trance – we are all going in and out of trance as we go through our day, without realising it. When we use self-hypnosis, what we are doing is to deliberately induce a state of relaxed and focused awareness, in which we can make changes at the unconscious level. Regular use of self-hypnosis or meditation is an effective means of lowering overall stress levels at the same time as increasing our stress threshold – so that previous stressors no longer affect us in the same way. Self-hypnosis is a very easy skill to learn.
One of the easiest ways to induce self-hypnosis is with a simple method of progressive relaxation; as the name suggests, progressively relaxing all the muscle groups from the top of your head down to your toes. If you are new to self-hypnosis, using a guided relaxation CD can be helpful, or just try counting down slowly as you progress down your body. The key is to find a peaceful, quiet setting where you will not be disturbed and to give yourself enough time to relax (15 or 20 minutes in your dental chair during a convenient break, for example, is perfect).
What Else Helps?
There are many other methods which people use very successfully for stress management – such as deep, diaphragmatic breathing techniques to calm and focus the mind, Emotional Freedom Technique; a tapping method related to acupuncture and acupressure, or Sedona Method, which is a way of accepting and releasing negative emotions. Even something as simple as laughter has been found in recent research to have a profound effect on reducing the physiological symptoms of stress. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” is another useful way of changing the focus of our attention (are you grateful for your clients, or are they a nuisance?). The important thing is to find a method that suits you and with which you are comfortable, and which can be incorporated easily into your lifestyle. As with any new skill, mastery can only be achieved through practise.
Change is part of life, and we are always in a state of change, both externally and internally; physically and mentally. Taking action now to reduce your stress levels will mean beneficial changes for your health, wellbeing and the future of your career - and the more beneficial changes we can make, the more effectively we will live our lives. As Margaret Bonanno said, “It is only possible to live happily ever after on a daily basis.”
If you would like to learn more about how to keep calm and reduce the stress in your life (and those around you!) then why not come along to one of our courses?
Copyright Joanna Taylor 2013