Other Useful Tools
There are many ways to deal with stress, and each individual will have varying ideas as to which are more effective. Below are some tools that I feel may help you deal with stress in your day-to-day life.
This is perhaps the most important self-help tool that most of us have to learn to use. Once this skill has been mastered, our lives become tremendously easier. So what does it mean to be assertive? The best way to define assertiveness is to first of all say what assertiveness is NOT. It is not about hurting people. Assertiveness does not mean that you become:
- A bully
- 'hard', hard-nosed or hard-hearted
- Insensitive of others
In fact, these are often the sorts of terms other people will use to try to keep you in a state where they can manipulate you! If they do, it shows that you are already changing!
Assertiveness implies, amongst other things, learning how to stand up for yourself (and others); learning how to say no; learning how to change your mind and mean it, but doing so in a reasonable, caring, sensitive and respectful way to other people. In short, treating people how you yourself would like to be treated. Anne Dickson has written a very good book called "A Woman in Your Own Right" (around £6)
You will find that you are able to become very calm and maintain this calmness and control, if you apply the following four techniques at the same time. I recommend you Learn them one by one and then gradually ensure that you are doing them simultaneously. If you start to 'lose control', check out what it is that you have stopped doing - and do it again!
1. Emotional Stress Release (ESR)
The first exercise involves the points on the forehead and the back of the head, also known as the "Oh!-my-God" points.
- Put your right index finger and thumb of one hand in the middle of each eyebrow;
- Slowly move your hand upwards until you find the 'bumps' on the forehead;
- Gently move back down 1/2 way to the eyebrows and you will find two little hollows or holes;
- Push in very gently while lifting the skin up lightly towards the hairline;
- Put your other hand across the back of the head, placing the thumb just below the 'bump' where the skull meets the neck;
- Hold for as long as it takes to really calm down (can be quite quick or take a few minutes) while you think about the problem that is worrying you
2. "Centre-ing" or "Con-centrating"
This is when you focus your attention on the 'centre' of your body, 2-3 inches below the belly-button; you literally con-centrate or 'get centred'. To help to achieve this, breathe in gently into just below your bellybutton as you imagine that your feet are really rooted into the floor.
You have probably heard tales of someone lifting a huge weight off a trapped child and then not understanding how on earth they managed to do it. The answer is that they literally concentrated ALL their attention and energy into the task; they did not allow their minds to even play with the idea that they could not do it; they became single-minded (as opposed to being in two minds!). There are lots of expressions in the language which describe how we feel when we are not 'in control': people will say that they are 'out of their heads' or 'freaked out' or 'scared out of their wits' or 'jumping out of their skins' or 'not being with it'. All these temporary states will pass if you literally choose to focus or concentrate. You cannot be in both states at the same time; apply these techniques and you have a way of choosing how you feel as opposed to feeling out of control and blown like a leaf in the wind.
3. Deep Breathing
This exercise is also known as abdominal breathing or "belly-breathing" and is necessary for us to get enough oxygen into our systems; the more oxygen, the more energy we have; (see the next page to find out why oxygen is involved in panic-attack/stress management). Essentially, as you breathe in, the belly should expand; as you breathe out, the belly goes back in. Breathe deeply and gently; the faster you breathe, the more likely you are to become hyperventilated.
4. Chat-to-your-Rat(-ional mind!)
This is a playful way of explaining a way that you can learn to control what happens when you literally 'let your imagination run away with you' or let your mind 'run riot'. Just as you would pick up and comfort a frightened child or animal, if you chat to that bit of yourself (the 'rational mind') whose job it is, amongst other jobs, to tell you if you are about to step out in front of a lorry - it shouts "Watch out!" which momentarily frightens you and makes you step back - you can literally tell it to "calm down, relax, i'm in control, I understand what is going on; I've got the message ... you don't have to frighten me any more or to feel frightened. I AM IN CONTROL, NOW ... Thank you." In other words, you would tell 'yourself' what you would love to hear from somebody else.
A good example of success as a result of using these techniques comes from one of my patients who suffered from a chronic fear of rats; every time she went out for a walk with her dog (twice daily!) she went in terror of meeting a rat. I told her to do exercises 1-4 the moment she saw a rat - which of course she did soon after. Instead of standing there, petrified, unable to run away, she quickly held her ESR points on her forehead and the back of her head, began breathing deeply and slowly, concentrated on her 'centre' and told herself "I don't need to panic any more ... I'M IN CHARGE AND I UNDERSTAND WHAT IS HAPPENING". Within 30 seconds to one minute, she had calmed right down, the fear that she had felt since she was a kid just evaporated and now, if she sees a rat anywhere, she is quite likely to chuck something at it and go on happily on her way!
Next page: Panic Attacks