As a country we are riddled with anxiety. 2 million Australians suffer from this mental health condition and Beyondblue reports that 20% of those with chronic anxiety wait as long as six years before seeking help (!). Part of the problem (of not seeking help) rests with the stigma of admitting you are not ok whilst the other part is driven by your own self-talk.
The coping mechanisms sought out to manage stress and ultimately anxiety end up being in the form of drugs, alcohol or self-defeating behaviours. Cue the self-talk which offers little comfort to the sufferer. On the contrary there is an inclination to berate yourself for the lack of willpower, self-regulation and competence. This can lead to a vicious cycle which often results in more 'coping', more negative self-talk and consequently more anxiety.
Let's face it, we all experience anxiety from time to time and like stress, in certain doses it can be a motivator. However for those with chronic anxiety, the rumination (overthinking) and negative self-talk does not stop. And when we do finally seek help, we are so far down the path that it ends up being in the form of a pharmaceutical (Xanax or Valium being the leading remedies). And that's ok! Sometimes we need a bridge to help us across to the other side of whatever it is that we're dealing with, the important part being that help has been actively sought.
Equipping Yourself for Stress
There are measures we can take ahead of time, even when we're feeling on top of our game, that can help us deal with anxiety and not only cope during those times of stress, but thrive.
The first thing is to become aware of how you're feeling early on and this can be accomplished through meditation. The evidence behind a regular meditation practice is growing exponentially and one of its' key contributions is increasing our self-awareness. When we're always "on" and rushing from place-to-place task-to- task, we often neglect ourselves and become oblivious to how we are truly feeling. It's the "I don't have time for myself" mentality when the reality is you must make time for yourself. By increasing your self-awareness, you start to listen to that negative chatter going on in your mind, you start to notice how your body is responding to stress and you start taking measures to recalibrate.
The next thing to employ is self-compassion. We so often put ourselves last on our priority list that when we realise we aren't coping and are feeling the physical consequences of our lifestyle, we've reached the point of burning out. We've hit a wall and recovering becomes a serious challenge so rather than recover we self-medicate. Being kind to yourself begins with addressing that little voice in your head that pushes you beyond your limits and changing what that voice is saying. Through practicing self-compassion, your inside voice becomes positive and you begin making time for yourself and filling your resource bucket.
Adopting a regular exercise routine is one of the best antidotes for stress and anxiety. Not only does it help you recover from stressful experiences faster physically, but it prepares you both physically and mentally for dealing with those situations so that you approach them from a balanced perspective. Physical training in the morning prepares your brain for the day and enables you to approach challenges less reactively and with a clear head.
What's in your pantry also influences how you manage stress. Despite being only 3% of our body weight our brain consumes 20% of the energy we intake, fuelling it appropriately is key to managing stress and anxiety. Transfats (in the form of pies, margarine, frozen pizzas, pastries etc) wreak havoc on our brains decision making and problem solving abilities. They also contribute to sluggish thinking and prevent the production of serotonin (happiness hormone) and Omega-3 (essential for brain function). Studies have linked this to poor brain performance and even depression. A mediterranean diet has been shown to improve brain performance and protects the brain from future ailments.
Psychologist Kelly McGonigals' groundbreaking work on reframing stress recommends you adjust the way you respond to stress. The four steps above can help you do this, along with employing curiosity ie: asking 'will this matter in five years?' or 'in the scheme of things is this so bad?' or through simply taking a deep breath. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (in as little as 6 seconds) which signals our relaxation response, slowing our heart rate, reducing the release of stress hormones (cortisol) and instigating the release of calming hormones (oxytocin) throughout our brain and body.
"Stress is not the problem, its the lack of recovery". Tal Ben-Shahar
Instilling the above practices into your life are a sure-fire way to increase the resources you have available to you so that you can not only function through periods of stress but flourish.
Kirsten works with individuals and organisations to raise their well-being, performance and engagement. Contact her today to tap into your potential.