Coping with stress

This article was written by Paul Hurst, a counsellor, therapist and non-religious pastoral carer. It first appeared in a local magazine called Roundabout.

Modern life can be stressful enough already, but COVID-19 is likely to have made matters worse for many of us – be it financially, through isolation or other challenges.

While we’ve evolved to have biological responses that help us handle risks and challenges, unfortunately, that was for a time when threats usually took the form of things we could either scarper away from or bash on the head. The chemicals released by adrenal glands effectively set us up for either of those options but are more of a hindrance now – particularly when those responses can be triggered many times in a day.

Fortunately, there are ways we can take back control of our bodies with techniques to help us calm down and relax. While no handy ‘one size fits all’ formula exists yet (as far as I know), there are different paths to the same goal and, hopefully, some of the ideas below may work for you. These can sometimes work together with a cumulative benefit and can lead to other changes – go to bed relaxed, and you will probably get a better night’s sleep, and so be better able to cope with the next day.

Decompress

Have a personal space and time available for you each day to act as a buffer, a chance to unwind. Great if you have some form of Man Cave or She Shed – if not, look for somewhere that you can reserve for you. If relevant, having a break between coming back from work and resuming home life can be very helpful.

Activities

Anything that slows our breathing down helps send an ‘all-clear’ to our body that the threat has passed. Activities such as painting, writing (keep a journal?), jigsaws, Sudoku, crosswords, model making can all help with this, as can listening to relaxing music. Meditation and mindfulness can help. If you have a smartphone, there are free metronome apps you can experiment with to practice slowing your breathing.

Exercise

Walking is a great way to combine fitness with relaxation. Tai Chi, Qigong and Yoga can all help as well. While the latter is probably best done with an experienced teacher, there are YouTube videos available for the others.

Talk

Worries can go round inside our heads, just digging a deeper groove and intensifying over time. Get them out into the open, and fears can shrink or even dissolve. You may gain a new insight or understanding about your challenge. Pretty much everyone benefits from the occasional ‘damn good listening to’. Look for someone you can talk to openly, who will concentrate on your needs.

As the psychologist Carl Rogers said, ‘We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know….when someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mould you, it feels damn good’!

A message from us

Good Thinking provides a range of resources to support your mental health, including NHS-approved wellbeing apps, expert advice and podcasts. If you’re feeling stressed, you might find the following useful:

Be Mindful (app)

Dealing with stress and trauma (podcast)

How to deal with stress (article)

Mindfulness workbook

My Possible Self (app)

Stress self-assessment

Why a micropause can help your mental health today (podcast)

We would like to ask if you would tell us, anonymously, in which London Borough you live, work or study.

This information will help us develop more personalised support for Londoners, and improve our service to all users. Please see our terms and conditions for more information.