With stress I find that everything seems to fly out the window in quick succession; sleep, rational thought, the ability to stay calm, the capacity to focus, good diet choices….the list goes on. All you want and need to do is to concentrate and get the job done but all you can see is deadlines and all you can feel is mounting pressure on your shoulders.
Once you hit a state of stress paralysis it can feel like a no way out situation. A place where you are not in control. That can feel very, very scary. Action often feels simply impossible.
There are many ways to combat stress and build resilience to it. Prevention is always better than cure but here I just want to share 3 simple first steps to help you move forward if you are currently finding yourself in the midst of stress paralysis.
Try Using the STOPP! Technique – it’s a self-help tool often aligned to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) that can help you when in the grips of worry and obsessive over thinking. All you need to remember is the acronym STOPP.
S: Stop. Say the word out loud if you need to. But just take a pause.
T: Take a breath. Do not skip this step! The breath is going to act as a much needed anchor here and is going to bring you in to the present moment.
O: Observe. What do you notice happening? Tune in to what’s going on inside you (is your body tense, achy, sweaty etc) as well as outside you, what sensations are you feeling? Where has your mind gone? What is it you are thinking or reacting to?
P: Pull back. Jump in the virtual helicopter and take a look down, can you look at this another way. What your best friend would say to you right now? Ask yourself is your reaction based on fact or opinion and how important is it anyway? Remind yourself this moment will pass.
P: Proceed. Here’s the thing, if you’ve followed the steps above – you are now in a place to react mindfully – you have the control back that you didn’t feel you had at the start and you now have a choice on what to do next. You decide, what’s the best thing to do here?
Stress may be coming at you from multiple sources and it may feel overwhelming. Stress is like noise that stops you doing things, it acts as a distraction that zaps your ability to concentrate and focus. What you can do next is simply to turn down the volume control. Sometimes you just can’t ameliorate the source of the stress (noise) overnight but what you can do is turn down the volume of it. You have the power to do that – even if it is just for now.
How can you turn down the volume? It could be by taking an action i.e get out for a walk or it could be a simple re-frame of your current thoughts. In other words, if you can’t change the stressor, look at what you can do to change its effect on you at that moment in time.
Prioritise sleep. The chances are that your sleep is suffering as your head is totally full by the time you go to bed. With better sleep, your mind has chance to empty and recharge and then your coping mechanisms will once again be available to you.
Look at your sleep hygiene and routines, have a review of your diet, exercise and junk food and caffeine intake and see if there are changes you could make that will help. Have a wind down routine, dim lights, put down screens and make sure you go to sleep and wake as the same time every day if possible.
Remember, that whilst we have a tendency to focus on what we can physically “do” to fix stress inducing issues in our life, sometimes we need to flip our thinking around. Prioritising the “not doing” and getting much needed rest is where we need to put our focus.
Sleep IS recharge – it can create head space and give us back clarity of thought and an ability to move from a state of paralysis in to action.
Helen runs a number of workplace sessions that can help with managing stress, building resilience and how to rest and recharge. See Toolkit Talks