The mental health foundation study of 2018 shows that in the past year 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. In this article, we’re going to answer the question…how do you reduce stress?
The World Health Organization has dubbed stress the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century”, costing American businesses an estimated $300 billion a year.
The numbers say it all and yet stress continues to spiral upwards and my feeling is that it is not going to stop any time soon… We know that stress directly affects our physical health and mental health as well as our levels of happiness. If you are waiting for things to calm down by themselves to feel less stressed, for example, the situation with your business, your partner, your children or your finances, let me tell you that this probably won’t happen overnight. Unfortunately, in this day and age, there are always good reasons to feel under pressure. If you feel overwhelmed, you can’t sleep, you feel depressed or you lack motivation, it is time to act because you are the only one who can change this and it’s not as complicated as you may think…
Stress is a condition that makes people feel under increased pressure, whether this is real or imagined. Stress is linked to the way we perceive events and process them. For example, you have a similar workload every day but one morning you wake up and you feel overwhelmed. This could be happening for many reasons, for example, because you hadn’t slept well the previous night and you feel exhausted or because feelings of inadequacy have taken over and you think you can’t cope any more. How is stress manifesting for you?
The first step is to understand how stress manifests in your mind, body and life.
Stress can manifest itself differently in each individual: some people experience more physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweaty palms, headaches, backaches, difficulty sleeping or digestive issues; others experience mental health imbalances such as lack of motivation, anxiety and depression. At times, both physical and mental issues occur and it’s important to speak to your doctor to work out if these symptoms are related to stress or another condition.
The power of a break
Once you have recognised that you are under stress, there is a simple way to start changing it’s impact on your body and mind. Stress is often linked to the feeling that we don’t have enough time in the day to do everything we should. We expect our mind and body to behave like good soldiers, supporting us no matter what we make them go through: worries, rushing around, performing to perfection in our jobs, going through emotional difficulties, lacking sleep, eating junk food etc. On top of it all, we may need to remind ourselves that an active and busy life needs to be balanced with some downtime. The natural rhythm of the body is about having time to integrate our experiences, to switch off from work and to nurture ourselves both physically and emotionally. Even our phones need recharging and resetting regularly!
You don’t even need to take a three week holiday if that’s not possible. Instead, aim to carve out 10 minutes a day to look after your mental and physical health – your me time! This will allow you to slowly but surely break the stress cycle you are in and regain perspective and positive energy in your life. This can be first thing in the morning, in the evening, during the lunch break or whilst you commute. It is not about complicated techniques or committing to an hour-long class, but a short daily practice to restore lost energy and enjoy a moment of pause in any busy day.
What is the best technique to reduce stress?
Sophrology means ‘the science of consciousness in harmony’ and was devised in 1960 by Neuropsychaitrist Professor Alfonso Caycedo in Spain to provide a kinder therapeutic process for mental health. He notably studied with yogis in India to understand Eastern philosophies and practices for consciousness as well as Zen and Buddhist meditation. Sophrology uniquely blends Eastern practices with Western science so that through a simple practice, everyone has the opportunity to discover new inner resources and live up to their full potential. Since the 1960’s the practice of Sophrology has been widely used in Continental Europe notably as a stress-management technique in offices, schools, hospitals and sleep centres.
Unlike meditation, Sophrology is an easily accessible technique even for people who can’t focus for a length of time. Sophrology uses standing and sitting exercises, breathing and body awareness techniques so that everyone can find an easy way to tune in. Sophrology is practised in a state of relaxation, which means that it supports recuperation as well as making us more present and empowered. It’s almost impossible to meditate and find your zen if you feel exhausted, so with Sophrology you can embrace rest first. It also uses specific exercises combining relaxation, breathing and visualisation to tackle issues you have identified, for example, sleep deprivation, anxiety, lack of motivation or confidence, low self-esteem, worries about your future or finding your life’s purpose. In just 10 minutes a day being guided through a simple set of techniques, you can benefit from an increased feeling of calm and overcome life’s challenges. After a few sessions, you can even practise the exercises on the go.
Learning Sophrology will equip you with a toolset of relaxation techniques that you can tap into any time you need them. Over time, you can spot early signs of stress and allocate the appropriate Sophrology exercise to help lessen the symptoms. The starting point is to learn the techniques with the help of a qualified Sophrologist: it is a good investment at the beginning of your wellness journey as you get the chance to ask questions and get feedback, as well as getting an in-depth consultation and personalised programme.
One of the most important advantages of Sophrology is that it is preventative as well as remedial: in other words, once you become familiar with the technique you can lower your stress levels and catch the early signs of stress, so you can nip anxiety in the bud. How do you identify stress and notice that your tension levels are rising?
Sophrology – Stress Relief Exercises:
The TRATAC is a powerful gesture that allows you to calm the mind within a few seconds. It helps you focus and make the practice more powerful. It is an easy way to connect mind and body and feel balanced, shutting down all the noise from negative thoughts.
Start with the TRATAC: in a sitting position inhale, stretch out your arm in front of you keeping your hand clenched and your thumb up. Fix your gaze on the thumb with your arm outstretched to focus the mind. Follow the thumb as it comes closer to the face by bending your arm, breathe out and close your eyes when the thumb reaches your forehead. Rest your arms on your legs.
The Bubble Exercise allows you to connect with a sense of calm and even recall it any time you need it, even on the go. For example, if you start feeling anxious or overwhelmed, take a few minutes to do the Bubble Exercise and find your peace again.
Sitting down, start with the TRATAC to close your eyes. Then, connect with the presence of your body inviting it to relax. Visualise a bubble enveloping your body – choose its colour and shape to your liking. Imagine that all your life’s stresses are outside of the bubble and they don’t affect you. The inside of the bubble is your oasis of peace and you can fully relax there. Enjoy the sensation of calm and, if you feel any tension rising, tense and release your muscles to let it go. After doing this exercise, notice how you feel: are you feeling calmer and more relaxed?
If you would like to benefit from Sophrology now, my latest book The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology, includes 13 short Sophrology audio practices. Enjoy!