Meet our newest writer for Wikizine, Dan Roberts. Passionate about health and personal growth, Dan shares with us his expertise as personal coach and writer.
If you are going through a divorce or have separated and are negotiating the fraught territory of finding a new home, financial settlements and – if children are involved – working out custody, the stress can be immense. At times, it may feel overwhelming. But the good news is that there is a great deal you can do to manage your stress, including a simple but powerful exercise I will explain shortly.
First, there are two key things to understand about stress. One is the misconception that stress is something that ‘happens to’ us. Take public speaking, another experience that comes high on the list of stressors. Giving a presentation at work or making a best man’s speech is acutely stressful for many people.
But it’s not the event itself that causes you stress, it’s your beliefs and expectations about it. Typically, these are negative, anxiety-provoking thoughts such as: ‘I’m rubbish at public speaking! I’ll be a total failure,’ or ‘No-one will laugh at my jokes and I’ll be humiliated.’ Who wouldn’t feel stressed and anxious, expecting such a horrible experience? It’s these thoughts that create the anxiety, which is why someone who expects the speech to be a success will feel relaxed and excited about the exact same event. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you challenge and modify this unhelpful mode of thinking. Read Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think, by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky, to find out more.
The second key point is that your ‘stress response’ is a physiological reaction to perceived threat. When we worry about, say, an impending divorce or redundancy, an ancient part of our brain perceives it as a threat and – in microseconds – triggers the stress response. This sends hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline coursing through your bloodstream, makes your heart race and breathing become fast and shallow, along with a host of other physical reactions, as you prepare for ‘fight or flight’.
Our brains can’t distinguish between a real threat to our lives, like a hungry lion, and ‘psychosocial’ threats such as redundancy which, though traumatic, probably won’t kill us. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you can’t cope, your stress response is being triggered day after day and causing a host of unpleasant physical (heart palpitations, headaches, chest pains) and psychological (irritability, poor decision-making, anxious thoughts) symptoms. When a client comes to me with stress or anxiety, the first thing I teach them is this simple but highly effective breathing exercise. When you are stressed, you engage in fast, shallow ‘chest’ breathing. To counteract this, you need to use ‘abdominal’ breathing. Start by finding a quiet spot, closing your eyes and placing one hand on your belly.
Gradually slow your breathing right down and breathe from your abdomen, so your hand rises on the in-breath and falls on the out-breath (this may take practice, so don’t worry if it’s tricky at first). Imagine trying to suck in all the air in the room on your in-breath, and completely emptying your lungs on the out-breath. Take slow, deep, abdominal breaths for at least three minutes. Try it now, it really works.
Contact Dan on 07766 704210 or visit www.danroberts.com