In an earlier article, Personal Stress Management Part 1, we began to consider the effects stress can have on our bodies and to look at some simple exercises to alleviate those effects. And stress can also play havoc with our minds . . .
Sometimes people get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services because they feel overwhelmed with thoughts of what might go wrong: What if it rains on our wedding day? What if I fail my driving test? What if my mother doesn’t get better? What if I fail my exam? If these questions are going round and round in your head, try asking yourself another question: What is the worst thing that can happen? Then answer that question as honestly as you can. If it rains on our wedding day, then . . . . What we know is less scary and more manageable than what our out-of-control imagination can create
It is possible to learn to control our galloping imagination to give ourselves more peace of mind. For a start, try thinking of a place, a scene, where you know you could relax and feel happy – perhaps a sunny beach where there are no other people, where the gentle sound of the sea is the only thing you can hear; perhaps at home, warm and cosy while the weather is cold and wet outside; perhaps walking through beautiful countryside with a happy dog as companion; perhaps in a crowded stadium when you are surrounded by other supporters and your team has just won; perhaps a park where children are playing happily together – you know what does it for you. Hold this scene in your mind’s eye and concentrate on breathing steadily and quite deeply while you are in that place. Really appreciate the experience, the sight, the sounds, the smells – everything that contributes to your enjoyment. You might well notice that you have relaxed, that some of your panic has passed, that your pulse is no longer racing. Most of us can learn to do this and to benefit from it. We just need to remember to do it! It can be particularly effective (much better than counting sheep) if you are having difficulty getting to sleep because of the tumult of thoughts and ideas racing around in your head, all pushing at each other to get your attention. Not one of these importunate thoughts deserves your attention at this point – you need sleep – and you will be in a much better place to deal with them after a good rest. So concentrate on your personal relaxed and happy scene and let it gently take over from the built-up of anxiety.
This skill, sometimes called “Guided Imagery”, is often taught as one of the relaxation techniques available for pregnant mothers to use as their labour progresses. And it might not be right for you – you might find that you really want to concentrate on what is happening in your body, not to leave that behind, especially during a physical process like giving birth. That’s good too – whatever you are most comfortable with is the best way for you to manage your stress.
Cancer patients can be encouraged to imagine their tumour gradually shrinking, losing its shape and size and power, until it is nothing more than a shrivelled husk, the space it had forced its way into now filling up with healthy cells. This is a longer vision, progressing over the days and weeks and months of treatment until the image and the reality match. And for some people it really works.
If you feel that you need something more special, more of an escape from the real world, than the possibilities already mentioned, you could try imagining yourself as a beautiful soft white feather or a piece of thistledown, gently floating on the breeze with no target to achieve, no destination to reach, no children to collect, no weight to pull you down, just drifting softly without care or concern or responsibilities. If you choose to you can imagine the place where you are, and hear the sounds, or you can opt to experience simply the gentle motion of being the feather, letting itself drift.
You might even choose to become a snowflake floating to earth or a raindrop running down a window pane or a drop of water in the ocean, ebbing and flowing with the tide, a very small part of a much bigger whole, again without any responsibilities, simply following the movement of all the other flakes or drops without having anything to worry about.
By now you might be thinking “This will never work for me, I’m down to earth, I’ve got my feet on the ground, I’m sensible . . .” Or, “Well I gave it a try yesterday and it didn’t work.” The answer might well be that once wasn’t enough, that you need to practise regularly, as we do if we want to acquire any new skill. And remember to breathe with slow steady breathing to accompany your imagining. After a week of practice you might surprise yourself by going to your relaxing place very easily. It doesn’t matter where you engage with this activity, although a place and time where you can make yourself comfortable and know that you won’t be interrupted for five minutes will make it much easier. So turn off your phone, or leave it where you can’t hear it ring. As well as a good way of ending the day, it can be an excellent way of starting the day, giving yourself a level of stability that might elude you if you plunge straight into the busy-ness ahead and all the “What if’s . . .?” And you can use the skills in surprising places – if you are in a frustrating traffic jam which is making you late for work, for an appointment, for collecting the children from school, it might not be safe to conjure up the scene, but some slow steady breathing will help you to relax your fierce grip on the steering wheel and stop grinding your teeth, and ensure that you are less likely to take risks to make up lost time. It works for me.
If you feel that you need help with some of these suggestions, or that you really would like to be able talk it all through, why not telephone Birmingham Counselling Services on 0121 314 9903, or get in touch with us via our website: www.BirminghamCounsellingServices.co.uk One of our qualified and experienced counsellors will be able to work with you as you start to make this significant change in your life.