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Quick De-Stressing Techniques for Those Under Pressure

Published on
2 April 2020
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The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, and it’s important to ensure you are your own best ally especially when in the frontline. These are fast simple scientifically supported techniques to help you manage daily stress.

Watch out for your tell-tale signs that you are in Overload

When the Stress/Survival/FFF response is ‘on’ it causes a brain hijack, with our amygdala (the brain’s security guard) being highly active and reducing frontal lobe activity (needed for rational thought and effective decision making) This leads to a simplistic ‘black or white’ way of viewing ourselves in the world.

The effects of the FFF response can be hard to spot. We might miss the fact that we are responding in this rigid way and that is when we can find ourselves being snappy (Fight), feeling like running away (Flight) or feeling hopeless (Freeze). 

Watch out for changes in yourself- particularly irritability, feeling cut-off or a bit spaced out, extreme tiredness, loss of motivation, feeling overloaded, physical aches and tension.

Check in with yourself regularly – attend to signs quickly to avoid them building up and to avoid burn-out. Ask others to let you know if they see changes in you.  In general aim to only deal with the things that you can do something about and choose to set aside anything that is out of your control.

Practice daily self-care

Aim to have the basics in place whenever possible whilst recognising this will be less manageable at this time of crisis. These include:  regular healthy balanced meals, fruit nuts etc for snacking on the go, keeping hydrated, walking, getting sleep whenever you can, using quick relaxation techniques and taking short breaks during day when possible – even stepping outside and focusing on nature for 2 minutes helps reduce stress. Use any brief moments away from the frontline to help yourself de-stress.

Attend to how you feel by checking in with yourself on a regular basis and asking yourself if anything in particular is adding to this stressful situation, and if so if there’s anything simple you might be able to do to help yourself feel better.

Keeping in touch with people who love and accept you helps a great deal. Sharing how we feel helps both the receiver and the communicator. We all feel better when we can do something to help – so avoid being too stoic! Just voicing our thoughts, our fears, helps reduce them: research from University of California found it quietens down the activity in the amygdalae and reactivates our frontal lobes. This allows us to think clearly, rather than being stuck in the black/white FFF response.  

Even ‘self-empathy’ reduces cortisol and helps regain balanced thought, so attend to how you feel with compassion and the feelings will become more manageable.

Remind yourself that this too shall pass, and that your aim it to do the best you can at this time, in these circumstances, whilst keeping yourself and others as safe as possible. You cannot function exactly as you would in normal circumstances therefore accept this and remove anything that puts additional demands on you at this time.

You might not get to call someone back, and they will understand … if they don’t, depersonalise any unhelpful responses. They are reacting first from their emotional state, and only secondly to what you did (or didn’t) do! Tempers will be more frayed and sometimes we may lash out, let it pass as quickly as possible: As a wise Australian doctor once said:

No fighting in the lifeboat!

Talk to someone empathic, do some quick relaxation techniques (e.g. clench then release your fists, then do some rhythmic breathing – just 4 slower deeper more rhythmic breaths can reduce cortisol and lead to a more coherent heart – and brain), go for short a walk, listen to music, use short meditation/mindfulness apps (e.g. Headspace, Zen 12) or read just a few lines of something inspirational (especially just before sleep) such as something spiritual or anything that you find calming, uplifting or amusing.

Examples might be:    

Pooh began to feel a little more comfortable, because when you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

In summary: simple quick techniques break the FFF response and interrupt the harmful effects of chronic stress. Even trips to the bathroom are potential moments to de-stress rather than checking the phone!

These scientifically proven effective techniques are beneficial to include in daily life… and you don’t need to believe they will work for them to help!  In fact when stress levels are high you probably won’t believe it – do something anyway.

Clench then release your fists then:

  • Take a few slower deeper more rhythmic breaths. Focus on your breath going in, and out. Count slowly 1-2-3 on the in-breath, hold briefly, then count 1-2-3-4-5 on the out-breath, hold then repeat 4 + times.

  • Notice your thoughts – are they self-supportive or critical/blaming/ judgemental? Ask yourself:  what am I saying to myself, how helpful is it? Would I speak like this to someone else who was in a difficult situation? Once you’ve noticed any harsh unhelpful thoughts, ask yourself how else you could view the situation, choose to let the thoughts go, at least for the time being

  • Keep hydrated – mild dehydration impairs concentration

  • Eat regularly

  • Step outside and look at something in nature: choosing to look at a tree can reduce cortisol especially if combined with a couple of rhythmic breaths

  • Smiling releases serotonin and does you and those around you good

Using any one of these simple techniques for even a few seconds can reduce the Stress Response, and you are worth it.