None of us are perfect. Maybe it feels like no one is listening to us. Or your mate is being more of a tool than usual. A colleague is being difficult, or your manager is 'on one' today. Whatever the situation, it's normal to feel stress and to worry that you are going to lose it with someone. You know that if you do, it will only cause you more problems. If you have a few tactics in the bag, you will have the option of walking back from that edge safely.
If you know what's going on in your thinking as well as your body, you can do it differently. When this is happening to you, you are likely experiencing the Flight, Fight or Freeze response. This is an inbuilt response to threat from the times when we could be eaten by tigers. It is practically an instant survival response and is rarely concerned with consequences. This is a physical response that can even precede emotional or thought awareness! They are there, but likely drowned out.
What are your options?
When you are about to lose it or leg it, if you soothe the body, you can calm the mind.
Here are 6 simple tools you can use to regain control, de-stress in the moment and be the person you would choose to be in difficult moments.
1. Deep Breathing
This is probably the most well-known but least used way to signal your body to deescalate from the natural Fight, Flight, Freeze (FFF). When done at the right time, this tells your mind that you are safe. Here is one method, though there are others, they all follow the same theme.
Start with breathing out. Then take a full breath in and hold for a count of three. Breathe out for a count of five. Then breathe normally for 3 breath cycles and repeat if necessary. The longer, slower out breath is a physical instruction to your mind that the alert is over. It also instructs the body to slow down too. Another benefit of counting, it acts as a distraction and an alternative focus, in the present moment.
2. Bring your attention to the present moment and to your current location.
When we enter FFF, our thinking can become strategic and entirely focussed on current and future threat, whether this is real or imagined. We assess past threats to find what worked previously, and if we can use it now. This thought hyperactivity can feel like you have detached from your present (similar to lost in your thoughts). Using more of your senses can counteract this very effectively. Engaging with your other senses ensures that you are in the here and now. This can give you a more objective perspective to make more balanced (and better) choices.
Think of something that you can Hear, See, Taste, Smell and Touch. If you cannot think of a single item for this, think of one that would use the most senses. As you remember or imagine that item, experience it with each sense, one at a time. Slow your breathing as you do this, and your body will relax, and your alertness will reduce.
3. Challenge your thoughts
There are many situations that are tough in our lives. These are often more difficult because of the dialogue that often goes unchecked in our heads. There are several common thought distortions that can accelerate our anger / frustrations. We don't often challenge them, because they flash through our minds so quickly. Generalisations are the usual culprits. We say things such as 'This always happens...' or 'Everyone has it in for me...' and 'Every time I...'. There are other distortions we all do, but rarely challenge. You could be catastrophising or interpreting it as Black or White, Right or Wrong. Things are rarely like this so it’s worth checking. Just check your automatic thought, try asking yourself, 'What are all the options here?'
So, if your child's behaviour is more difficult for you than usual, what are you assuming? Do you think you are a rubbish parent (or rubbish in comparison to your partner), are they a 'spoiled brat', are they doing it to wind you up? If you are struggling at work, are you predicting that you are being set up to be sacked?
Even if they feel right, the likelihood is that you are way ahead of the situation. Ask yourself, 'What else could this be?'. Come up with up to three alternatives, it is often more effective if you can write them down for yourself. Finish with a more realistic statement such as 'I've been through stuff like this before and it was not as bad as I predicted, this is probably the same'.
4. Add Movement
In FFF, your body is charged and ready for some sort of action. Muscles are tense, heart is beating faster, blood is being diverted from digestion (churning stomach or that ‘butterflies’ feeling), as well as other physiological and chemical changes. Movement is what your body wants and needs, so do that. If you are able, climb some stairs, take a short brisk walk, move something around. Your aim is to expend that energy but in a way that is far less harmful to yourself and others. You may also get a bit of a post workout high from this as the body will release endorphins that will lift your mood too.
If you can find a way to laugh at the situation (without antagonising or putting others down), this can force your mind to a different track. Whatever the situation, there will be a bit of it that is funny, or that you can find a lighter side to it. This can lighten the mood for you and others (depending on the situation). If you can't share it with others, you can still play it to yourself in your mind.
6. Get Help
Enlisting help is a sign of strength. Preparing for difficult times, by having support available if needed is smart. When you have worked through this moment, how can you do it better in the future? Quality Sleep, good diet and exercise are all great at reducing baseline stress and help enormously when dealing with stressful situations.
If stress, anxiety or depression are too big a part of your life, Get Help! Engage a therapist to help you. There are lots of tools they can give you. Invest in your health and wellbeing. You really are worth it. Everyday life can be stressful, you do not have to cope alone.
If you are looking for support you can book counselling or coaching with me at www.chorleytherapy.com/book-online.
There are free taster sessions available, so there's nothing to lose.