Stress and Relaxation

Dear PHSG,

I was recently asked to do a talk on stress and relaxation for PHSG members. Following my talk, I was asked if I would do an article for PHSG. I thought I would cover the main aspects of my talk.

After talking about what makes us stressed and the way stress affects us I focused on coping and reducing stress levels. This included introducing Stephen R Covey’s Circle of Influence. Covey was a professor, an educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker. His book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’ is thought to be one of the most influential books of the 20th Century (Forbes 2002 and a survey by Chief Executive Magazine). I would thoroughly recommend looking up his 7 habits – I found them inspiring.

I focused on Covey’s habit number one: being proactive instead of reactive. Covey states that the problems, challenges and opportunities we face fall into two areas – Circle of Concern (outer circle which has things we have little or no control) and Circle of Influence (inner circle which has things we can control and do something about).

He advises you to focus on the inner circle of influence and to be proactive by working on the things you can do something about. Prioritise and make changes from the inside out, focus your energy and efforts for the greatest effect instead of being reactive and focusing efforts on things you have little or no control.

Gaining an awareness of the areas in which you expend your energies in is a giant step in becoming proactive. Covey advises you to make a promise to yourselves to do this.

Following this I talked about The Worry Tree (Adapted from Butler and Hope 2007 / The Worry Tree also helps you to focus your energies and make promises to yourselves. It asks you to recognise what is worrying you, whether the worry is a current problem or a possible problem and is it a worry you can do something about?

The Worry Tree advises working out an action plan. If you can do something about a worry then plan to do something about it focusing on what and when: now or later. Act now or if later; schedule when you are going to do it. Once you have actioned your plan let your worry go and change your focus of attention away from your worry. If you can’t do anything about the worry then also try to let it go.

However, this is sometimes easier said than done. What else can we do to let go of a worry that won’t go away? How can we let the worry go and change our focus of attention away from it? This is where I talked about Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice which is very relevant for life today. Mindfulness is a very simple concept – it means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment ( Mindfulness can improve our mental wellbeing and help us cope with stressful situations. It is being introduced into schools and has improved well-being and reduced stress levels in pupils (my daughter does Mindfulness regularly at her school).

There are three simple steps to do Mindfulness

Step one: Pausing – mini meditation. Throughout the day pause to take a few moments to bring your attention to your breathing and then take five mindful breaths to bring you into the present moment. You can try doing this when you first wake up, before you get out of bed, while you boil a kettle, when you have a drink, before you go to sleep. This will bring moments of calm into your daily life.

Step two: Mindfulness in Daily Living. In the next week choose a daily routine or activity to do mindfully – encourage yourself to focus on what you are doing. Each time your mind wanders invite it back to the present moment and what you are doing i.e. drinking your tea or coffee – warmth of the mug in your hands, the mug itself, the smell the feeling of the drink and the taste. Before you go to sleep – take a few moments to bring your attention to your breathing, warmth of your bed, and comfort of your bed.

Step three: Formal Meditation Practice. Purposefully stop what you are doing and practice being in the present moment. Set aside time, i.e. five minutes. Sit or lie down. Focus your attention on your breath as it moves in and out of your body.

You cannot breathe for yesterday or tomorrow you can only breathe for the present moment. If your mind keeps drifting away thinking, worrying and dreaming – this is normal. Gently and kindly guide your attention back to your breath, back to the present. By practising this, Mindfulness can help us manage our thoughts and feelings, and help us to relax and feel calm.

I hope you find the main aspects of this article helpful to either remind you what we covered during my talk or for those who were not there.

Kind regards,
Marijke Bruce
Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist Nurse

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