April is International Stress Awareness Month with the focus on what the World Health Organisation calls the “health epidemic of the 21st century”.
Most of us see stress as an evil enemy we need to overcome, but Cape Town-based transformational therapist Shaldon Fitzgerald believes we don’t need to stress less – we need to stress better!
“Stress is a survival instinct designed to keep us alive, so it can be a useful tool,” she says. “It’s not something we’re ever going to be able to overcome fully, so stop trying! The only way to look after our wellbeing is to forge a better relationship with stress.”
The one thing that most consistently creates stress for us is change. Whether it’s changing jobs, relationships or moving to a new home, just knowing that we need to make a change – as well as the actual process of change – can create the most stress.
If there’s change happening in an area of your life, try to keep things in other areas as consistent as possible – in other words, stick with your routine. So if you’re experiencing disruptive change at work for instance, make your home a safe space to relax and unwind.
Stress can mean opportunity. If there’s change in your life, there’s growth and you’re moving forward, which always causes some level of stress. “The only people who don’t have stress are those living lives that are just going sideways, and those people are few and far between because most of us are going either up or down – and either way, it’s stressful.”
Don’t spend all your emotional energy in one go. For example, if you’re a salesperson who makes sales calls and you allow yourself to be negatively affected by a call that didn’t go well, you’re expending large amounts of energy – which doesn’t leave you with much left to accomplish anything productive.
If you can manage your stress better, a phone call can cost you one unit of emotional energy instead of two, because you know how to detach in a way that’s useful. If you learn the following skills you’ll have more energy to go into new territory, and new territory leads to growth.
Body-pointing technique: When you feel stressed due to a thought your mind has presented, you feel a sensation somewhere in your body. Thoughts connect to a set of emotions that connect to physical sensations.
Find the most intense part of the physical sensation. Place your fingers on the spot so you can separate from the mental force driving it. Your body will respond, and the mental aspect of your stress will start to shift.
Don’t fear your stress: Think about what’s causing your stress and remind yourself of the ways in which your stress may be due to your efforts to improve your life and situation. Don’t ignore your stress – understand that it’s something that can be dealt with in a constructive way.
Download a breathing app on your smartphone: Take 5-10 minutes out of your day, perhaps during your lunch break at work, to practise breathing.