FIRST AID FOR STRESSby Bonnie Grotjahn MUKAHPP
Everyone’s story of stress will be different, therefore what helps one person de-stress may not work for another. Even focusing on the word ‘stress’ may start your heart beating faster and bring on a sense of panic. If you know you are stressed right now, here are a few steps you can take in the next few minutes that can help you feel calmer.
None of these ‘First Aid’ suggestions are designed to replace seeking help from a qualified professional if that’s what you need – if your symptoms of stress need medical attention or there are longstanding or overwhelming issues with which you need ongoing support. But they can be good first steps. Experiment to see which ones work for you.
- Redirect your attention to your physical body if your thoughts are racing. Just feel yourself there, there is no need in this moment to ‘do anything’ other than that. Feel your weight in the chair and the contact your feet are making with the ground. If you notice your thoughts wandering away, gently but firmly bring yourself back to become aware of your body.
- Focus your attention on your breathing – just notice it and feel yourself breathing in, breathing out. Racing thoughts or panic are often signs that your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen. Take 3 long, slow, deeper breaths. Again, if you notice your attention wandering away, bring it back gently and firmly to the feel of your breathing.
- Trust your senses. Refocus your attention on what you see, feel, smell, hear or taste. Grounding yourself in any physical experience of the present moment will often help you feel calmer.
- Hold a calming word in your mind as you sit in a quiet place and keep focusing on it as you breathe. Some people find they like to imagine a particular place where they feel relaxed and safe – this can be a real place or something you’ve made up.
- Ring a friend or someone you trust. Sometimes even if they are not in and you can only leave a message, just knowing that you have taken action to get help will help you feel more in charge.
- Write down what you are thinking and feeling in a journal or piece of paper. Often this works best if you write things down without censoring them. The aim is to ‘download’ these thoughts and feelings in a safe way, to get it ‘out of your system.’
- Take a ‘pocket holiday.’ If you find you’re hankering after some time off, take that as a message about what you need right now. You may not be able to hop on the next plane to Spain, but you can give yourself an immediate version of what you wish for. Take 5 or 10 minutes to stare out the window, daydream, conjure up that sunny beach and feel the sun’s warmth on your skin. Set a timer for the length of your pocket holiday so that you know that for the next few minutes you can give yourself full permission to think of nothing else.