BRIEF COPING STRATEGIES FOR WHEN STRESSED, ANXIOUS
Dee Chadwick
08 Nov 2020
I am reposting a blog from 2017 – as I believe that the strategies will help during our ‘coping with COVID’ and its associated difficulties. We all have different difficulties, but very real difficulties at a time when we may not be able to meet face to face with our support network. As I will be in bubble free isolation, I depend on phone calls with friends, but at present am really drawing on these strategies to help me to cope.

WHY DO WE NEED TO KNOW COPING STRATEGIES?

If you are feeling anxious, unsure of yourself, or what my mum would have described wonderfully as being flustered. The suggestions are ones that can be used whilst you are out and about, a few ideas to help you to cope or simply to relax.

We all need a bit of support at times. It’s great to have a friend or family member to turn to, or a friendly neighbourhood therapist who you know can be relied upon – to name no names! However, it is a good idea, a very positive first step, to be able to employ a bit of self-help and maybe save the ‘bigger guns’ for other occasions. It serves to give you that self-control that you may feel is currently noticeable by its absence.

There is a huge link between our minds and our bodies that we either ignore or simply do not acknowledge. For those in the latter category, I can assure you that it exists. I am back on a favourite topic of mine here – just think of that huge piece of squishy chocolate cake, sitting there on a plate in front of you (or whatever would really tempt you). The more that you think about it, the more real it seems – your body reacts by really wanting that cake, almost smelling it, tasting it, your mouth reacting as Pavlov’s dogs’ did and you are salivating. Your mind has influenced your body. Or, it’s Monday morning and you just don’t want to get up.  You know that you face a hectic day at work – once you actually get there – and your tummy begins to churn, you may feel queasy – once again, your mind is giving you physical symptoms even though you still haven’t got out of bed let alone beginning to disappear under the pile of things to be done.

If you practise your chosen strategies, just as mums do in my hypnobirthing classes, then when you really need to use them to relax in times of stress, your body and mind will link to support you. Hey, if you were learning to drive, you wouldn’t expect to go straight out onto a motorway would you? If you did, how would you cope as a complete novice with having to steer, change gear, brake; look behind, to the side and in front of you whilst remembering which turn-off you need to take – and how quickly that will be coming up? That is assuming you haven’t also got children in the back demanding ‘when will be there’ to add to the plates you are trying to keep in the air. I guess for all but a couple of us, the answer would be not very well at all.  We could end up causing mayhem for ourselves and others. Hence the need for the practising of skills so that when needed, the basics have become automatic for us.

It’s the same with the following techniques – if you practise at times of low stress, you will more readily be able to transfer that learning to more stressful times and situations.

NB None of the suggestions are ‘cures’ rather strategies to help you to cope with our current situation.

COUNTING DISTRACTION

By using counting of ‘things’ we can encourage the brain and body to join forces to distract us from a feeling of anxiety and the associated physical hyperventilation, dry mouth, fast heartbeat etc.

You countdown from 5 to 1, identifying the relevant number of ‘things’ for each count:-

5 things that you can see – look around you and say the item out loud if you feel that that helps.

4 things that you can feel, can actually touch, again say if you prefer

3 things that you can hear – external things to discourage focusing on things such as faster breath or hearing the heart pounding! However, if said internal sound can actually be heard externally, then acceptable – maybe a rumbling tummy or a cough.

2 things that you can smell. This may not be easy where you are so walk around and try nearby – the bathroom or kitchen where there are more smells available is always a good place and there is the added distraction of moving from the spot where the anxiety originated. If all else fails – sniff your clothes for perfume, aftershave, deodorant, fabric softener.

1 thing that you can taste – maybe the lingering taste of coffee, a mint, lunch, really concentrate on your mouth – it’s always surprising what lingers there. Failing actually inside your mouth revealing any tastes, lick your lips – lipstick, facial products of all kinds linger there.

This focuses on the good old multi-sensory approach used in teaching and used by CBT practitioners. It can be used to distract a child in a situation they are uncertain with, if you give the details of the 5 categories – and it can be repeated with the challenge of finding as many different things as they can second time around!

USING TOUCH TO HELP YOU

Let me say first of all that I am not a qualified acupuncturist.  However, many people make use of acupressure pressure points to help with such as pain relief.For further information, do contact a local acupuncturist. I am a great believer in acupuncture, as a result of undergoing a year’s treatment to help with a back injury having previously been told by the medics thatI would be in a wheelchair sooner rather than later. Suffice to say, I am still mobile nearly 40 years later.

1. By applying pressure to the webbed area between the index finger and thumb, on both sides of the hand stress relief and release of muscle tension takes place. This tension in your muscles can be one of the physical symptoms of stress. For further information, this point is referred to as the Hegu point.  This should not be used in pregnancy.

2. Diagram, point O. It is located by putting 3 fingers at the base of the wrist and feeling for a depression between the tendons. Once you have located the point, you apply steady but gentle pressure with your thumb or forefinger for a couple of minutes. Do this on both wrists. To help with a good night’s sleep, you could put a band round the area with a button at the inner gate point to apply that pressure for you, or you could use a travel sickness band.

3. Apply quite a firm pressure on the crease between your hand and wrist (point X on diagram). Again, hold this for a couple of minutes to both wrists to help relieve tension.

4. Making use of touch, though not specific acupressure points, gently massaging your ears between you thumb and forefinger, or side of your forefinger for a couple of minutes is soothing and calming. Cover the whole of your ears and gently extend the ear lobes. I like to apply just a drop of oil to my fingers to do this. You can easily do this whilst sitting in a traffic jam, though beware of earrings!

MANTRA

Repeating a meaningful mantra can help you to focus on the words and their meaning (this is especially effective if worked on in hypnotherapy). I find in times of stress that I automatically click into using my mantra – I am calm, confident, in control. You can use positive words appropriate for you.

AND BREATHE ….

Many of us do not breathe correctly – we rush around in life taking quick, short and shallow breaths. This isn’t good for us. We should breathe more deeply, using our diaphragm. A way of testing this is by placing one hand on the chest, the other on the top of the stomach. When you breathe, the upper hand should remain still whilst the lower one moves in and out. I often get mums in hypnobirthing classes checking out their breathing this way.

Add to this the fact that so many of us forget to breathe at times of stress – or should I say, we breathe in and forget to exhale, holding onto that in-taken breath. This can lead to physical symptoms of light headedness, dizziness, and a feeling of panic. So, remember to breathe – a thing that for most of the time we take so very much for granted – as it just happens automatically. It can feel a little strange for those who aren’t used to focusing on their breathing, but for yoga practitioners it is something they do automatically.

I always get clients to take three or four deep, cleansing breaths when I am about to put them into hypnosis. This begins the process of focusing on themselves, switching off the outside world and also gives that mind body link – that deep breathing means relaxation is about to begin.

Slow breathing

A simple focusing on a good slow breath –

counting to 5 on the in breath, through your nose (unless you have a cold)

holding the breath for a count of 5.

Breathing out through your mouth to a count of 5.  Simples.

Repeating this at the beginning of the above exercises and then continuing through the exercises will allow for greater slowing of thoughts, which is always a positive. 

Extension of slow breathing

The breathing can simply be extended to counts of 4, 7 and 8, with jaw relaxed and tongue resting gently on the back of your teeth.  The actual numbers are not important but the fact that both the hold and out breath are almost and twice as long as the in-take is.Repeat this four times, but after several weeks of use, at least twice daily, you can repeat up to eight times. This is an excellent exercise to use to help you to get to sleep – but remember, practise makes perfect, sorry about the pun, but it won’t happen overnight.

HANDY STAND-BYs

Getting out into the air – especially if you are able to surround yourself with the natural world. Do some of your deep breathing and actually look around at the shapes, colours, feel the textures of the tree bark, listen to the rustle as your feet crunch the fallen leaves, imagine the oxygen flowing through your body bringing you healing relaxation.

Yoga is an excellent way to release stress at the same time developing greater body control and strength. If you can get along to classes, a great and safe way to begin. You can then practise at home; there are many DVD’s and YouTube clips to help you.

Bachflower remedies include Rescue Remedy – a little bottle that you can carry in your bag and acts to calm you down.

A relaxing bath with a few drops of essential oil added (I prefer lavender and add to an Epsom salt bath) with candles and soft music – soaks away the stresses.

My turn to – a Himalayan salt bath. If it was good enough for the Ancient Greeks, it’s good enough for me! I am a great fan of Himalayan salt, also having salt lamps in my home.

A scalp/head massager is wonderful – especially if you have someone to apply it for you. Otherwise you can use an orgasmatron! I suggest use of these for relaxation during labour and there are always chuckles when I give the name!

I also make use of a Kansa wand.  I love massage and it is my main go-to for relaxation. My Kansa wand acts as a substitute for massages at my local college which obviously aren’t happening at present.

IN-HOUSE ALTERNATIVES

I have several relaxation downloads – including a walk through a garden, on a beach available in the downloads section of my web site. Also, the Calm, confident, in control helps you to gain control of anxiety, stress. Do check these out.

Whilst I am currently not working face-face, I am still offering counselling via phone or Skype. Do get in touch to find out about this.

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