Six simple steps to support you through stress
It is often said that two of the most stressful events in anyone’s life are the death of a loved one and moving house. So having lost my partner Tom last year- and now moving house this weekend- I can very much resonate with the theme of this month’s newsletter: stress.
November opened with International Stress Awareness Day, the focus of which was wellbeing in the workplace. Set by the ISMA (International Stress Management Association) the aim was to encourage both employers and employees to start having conversations about the impact of stress on ourselves and those around us. And also to look at ways we might reduce stress in our lives so that we can live in a more present, productive and creative state.
It seems vital that we understand our own reactions to stress so that we can best support ourselves and manage our reactions when these situations arise.
Whether we are facing redundancy, divorce, organisational change, or simply the day-to-day irritations of unexpected events, it seems vital that we understand our own reactions to stress so that we can best support ourselves and manage our reactions when these situations arise. As the pace of life increases, so do our expectations and our demands on ourselves. So in stark contrast to the ‘bigger, better, faster’ mantra of the modern world, I am going to suggest we pause for a moment to consider how we can best deal with stress in our everyday lives, in order to live healthier, happier lives and maximise our well-being…in all 4 dimensions!
Part of the work Tom and I created together at 4D Human Being was the 4D2C model: 4 Dimensions and 2 Contexts. The 4D2C model is an integral holistic model that looks at all dimensions of us as human beings in the context in which we live. We use this model across all of our work in order to help people with communication skills, organisational change and personal development. So how can the 4D2C model help you manage, navigate and reduce your stress?
The 4D2C model looks at all aspects of us as human beings – physical emotional intellectual and intentional – as well as the two contexts in which we operate- cultural and environmental. The context is key. Many self-development models miss this out. But we are very much shaped by the context – the people and places- around us. Think of it as a map and a tool that will guide and support you through times of difficulty, uncertainty or change.
The 4D2C model looks at all aspects of us as human beings – physical emotional intellectual and intentional – as well as the two contexts in which we operate- cultural and environmental.
When I look back over the past 16 months and my own journey through grief and loss, I can very clearly see how I have consciously used the 4D2C model to give myself the best chance at happiness. Here we will take a look at each aspect of the model, how I used it to help me through the most difficult and stressful periods of my life and how you might do the same…
The Physical Dimension
For me the physical factor started with pounding up and down hills to release some pent up energy, often crying into the mountains. I also took up ballroom dancing, which acted as wonderful distraction. This novel sideline took me right out of my comfort zone and into a space where I was able to fully absorb my creative energy, often laughing out loud as I stumbled over mine (and my partners) steps. Eventually, I returned to the yoga mat and to a softer, subtler practice. In this space I began to sit with the silence and sense calm amidst the storm.
At 4DHB our mantra- whether in a 1-2-1 coaching session, communications workshop or therapy session- is: bring it back to the body. The physical sits at the core of well-being, which is why it is vital that we work with our bodies when faced with struggle and stress. Whether it is walking around the park, going to the gym or dancing around in your living room, the physical is your building block to bring you back to yourself. Therapy studies show that when working with depressed patients one of the first things we need to do is to get them out of bed and get them moving. Because when we move we create a chain of chemical events that release different sets of hormones into the body. Feel-good endorphins, confidence boosting testosterone and mood-boosting serotonin that can completely alter the way you react and respond in a stressful situation.
The physical sits at the core of well-being, which is why it is vital that we work with our bodies when faced with struggle and stress.
So in times of stress how do you support yourself physically? And what more can you do? You might simply stretch your body for 5-minutes in the morning. Or take an Amy Cuddy ‘power pose’ before delivering a nerve-wracking presentation. It could be kickboxing, power walking, weightlifting or playing with your children in the garden. What you do doesn’t matter. It’s that you do it that counts. Because when you start using your body as a support system you will be amazed at the happiness hormones and cheery neurochemicals it offers you in return. Your body really has got your back.
The Emotional Dimension
When it comes to stress the emotional dimension can often be the hardest to manage. Whether it’s anger, shame, sadness or frustration our emotions can sometimes hijack our entire system, blinding us to good decision making and binding us to a series of self-sabotaging beliefs. Uncontrolled emotions can be incredibly damaging, amplifying the challenging situation and intensifying the symptoms of stress. So it’s incredibly important to seek out an emotional support system that will offer you strength when you’re struggling the most. For me this was finding a wonderful therapist. Therapy offered me a safe space that acted as a sort of ‘emotional scaffolding’: supporting, strengthening and eventually building up my capacity to cope.
Whether it’s anger, shame, sadness or frustration our emotions can sometimes hijack our entire system, blinding us to good decision making and binding us to a series of self-sabotaging beliefs.
Of course there are plenty of other ways you can support yourself emotionally. It might involve writing in a journal, listening to meditations or joining a group. How do you support yourself emotionally in times of stress? Or how can you start to do so?
The Intellectual Dimension
Learning and developing new skills can offer distraction, direction and a different perspective during times of stress. Particularly if we have been emotionally hijacked by our stress. Engaging our intellectual dimension activates the ‘rational brain’ or the ‘left brain.’ In broad terms the left hemisphere deals with facts, figures and concrete information. When this part of the brain is engaged we start to reduce the activity in our right hemisphere, which-amongst other things- is responsible for the release of some of the stress hormones like cortisol.
Learning and developing new skills can offer distraction, direction and a different perspective during times of stress.
One of the ways I managed my grief was through study. I read numerous psychology books and articles that focused on bereavement because they helped me to understand what was happening and process what I was going through. I also continued with my masters in integrative psychotherapy at the Metanoia Institute. The course was a huge support because it offered me a structure and framework within which I could immerse myself.
Books, podcasts, documentaries and workshops can offer nourishment and sustainment during times of stress. Intellectual stimulation also signals to our system that we are no longer in ‘fight or flight’ mode because we are in a good state, open, curious and ready to learn new things. When we are stressed we shut down our ability to take in new information. So by consciously counteracting this- through study- we message to our bodies and our brains that we are okay. That we are coping.
So what new skills could you learn to help you navigate your way through a challenging situation? What resources or books might offer you support and stimulate curiosity? They say ‘Knowledge is Power.’ So what knowledge do you need to give you the power to overcome a stressful situation?
The Intentional dimension
Our sense of purpose or higher intention can easily get lost during times of stress and struggle. Heightened emotions have a habit of drowning out our more conscious intentions, disconnecting us from purpose and perverting perspective. This is why it is incredibly important to prioritise reconnecting with your core purpose because it can help power you through even the most difficult days.
I was not going to be telling a story of sadness and loneliness in 10 years time. That was not the story I wanted to tell.
A few months after Tom died I went on a rejuvenating health retreat. Amongst the many people I met, there was a woman who spoke of losing her husband many years ago. At the end of the holiday she handed me her contact details and suggested we stay in touch “because it’s very hard being single and it’s lonely on your own.”
In this moment I had a strong realisation: I was not going to be telling a story of sadness and loneliness in 10 years time. That was not the story I wanted to tell. And with that I reconnected with my intention. My intention to develop, grow and share the ideas and tools that Tom and I had co-created together.
So rather than adopting the lonely narrative, I have consciously crafted another narrative. One that honours the legacy of Tom – that is characterised by curiosity, creativity and conscious living. So what is your higher purpose? What is your conscious intention? Amidst all the stress and all the busy and all the ‘doing’- how and who do you want to BE as you navigate your way through this difficult time?
The Cultural Context
In times of change, stress, uncertainty and grief it can often be tempting to hide away and cover up what is really going on. But this is usually unsustainable, unhelpful and unhealthy. Sharing stress and connecting with others can be one of the most important supports we can give ourselves in times of difficulty.
Certainly from my experience, family and close friends have been the biggest counter to my grief and I have been so moved and touched by the generosity and love of others. In the worst moments, when it has been hardest to pick up the phone and reach out to others, I have always been glad that I did.
I am reminded of Brené Brown and her work around the power of vulnerability. Stress actually gets worse the more it is bottled up. Which of course is only logical if you think of the analogy of a pressure cooker. That pressure needs a release (which is why a good moan has been proved to be good for us!) So who can you turn to in times of stress? It’s also important that you recognise who might make you feel worse and limit your time with them for now. Instead, try to lean in to the people who make you feel good about yourself. Who can make you laugh? Who can share some of the burden? I am tempted to make a particular call out to the male readers. The consequences of men not sharing stress and seeking support can be devastating. As we know too well from the suicide statistics, men are suffering most from silent stress. So please, seek support and share your stress and let’s stamp out ‘stress shaming’ once and for all.
The Environmental Context
Our environment can have a huge impact on how we feel. We can spend a lot of time in and around environments that create more stress. Traffic jams, train stations and the incessant pinging of our mobile phones can all add to our stress levels. Luckily we can change our environments very quickly once we are conscious of the impact they have.
What environments are you spending your time in? And how are they impacting your stress?
The big thing I have changed in my environment is my home. Just this weekend I moved out of London to a cottage in the countryside. A place that is not filled with difficult memories, a place that is chosen purely by me and for me, quiet and nestled in woodlands where I can walk and breathe in the autumn air. And I love it. An environment can make us very happy if we consciously choose it. It can’t change the facts of loss but it can change the day-to-day experience.
So what environments are you spending your time in? And how are they impacting your stress? It might be as simple as thinking about the car that you drive. If you, like me, spend a lot of time in your car then ask yourself are you driving a car that you love? That is comfortable? That allows you to play the Podcasts you love? It sounds like a small thing but where we spend most of our time can have a huge impact on how we feel. So which environments stress you out? And what might you change? The desk you sit at? The bars you go to? The streets you walk down? Where you have lunch? Can you put your phone on silent? Or buy flowers for your kitchen? It’s about finding simple ways to build a sense of support and safety into your daily environments, so that they can help reduce stress and increase happiness.
4D2C in the Everyday…
So there you have it! Managing your stress with the 4D2C model, a holistic and integrated support system to help you through any amount of stress. There is something poetic about the fact that Tom and I created this model together and how well it has helped me to cope with his loss.
None of us want stress in our lives and none of us want terrible things to happen. The question is… how do we meet it. We often can’t stop or change stressful situations but we can change how we meet and manage them. This November make a choice to consciously manage yourself through the stress, to happen to the world rather than the world simply happening to you.
We often can’t stop or change stressful situations but we can change how we meet and manage them.
Wishing you less stress and all the very best for this month.
International Stress Awareness day took place on 1st November 2017. For more information about the ISMA then please click here.