by Christabel Butler

You are reading this, most likely because you are interested in how stress can affect you. So here’s an experiment which will take a minute or two – stay still and breathe nice and slowly like this, as at 1, immediately below, for the next ½ minute:
1. As you breathe in say IN to yourself, as you breathe out say OUT

Done that for about ½ a min? 

2. OK, on the next OUT breath let go of your shoulders saying LET GO.

Did you notice your shoulders drop a few centimetres? Whether or not, keep doing 1. and 2. Eventually you will get the drop, and you will likely notice that your shoulders have a tendency to creep back up, while you are doing the ½ minute’s breathing again. That is how much tension/stress we hold physically. And that’s just the shoulders. I’ve just noticed that I am frowning and clenching my jaw. All this takes energy which is wearing and which we could use for something else.

Many times each day it is appropriate to be fired up, geared up to deal with something important. For example if you are driving, when overtaking or negotiating a roundabout you need to be anticipating, noticing, decidding and probably using your hands and feet. After the challenge, it is good to breathe out and drop the shoulders staying alert and relaxed. Too often we stay in the alert and fired up phase, instead of being alert and relaxed.

We do need some appropriate stress/pressure to get things done. If there is a task with a time deadline and we accept that it is necessary to fulfil that, we need pressure/stress to succeed. And then we need to take a breather, as above.

What happens frequently is that a lot of different areas of our lives produce a lot of different stresses and we begin to go into overload. It becomes harder to hold onto clear judgement about priorities. Maybe sleep begins to be less refreshing or it is harder to attain enough. It may be hard to switch off anxiety. How many times have I screamed internally, sometimes out loud, “GIVE ME A BREAK”? 

When overload is apparent, counselling can be useful in identifying the level of need/urgency in dealing with a client’s feelings of stress. Strategies can be created by client and counsellor working together, so that the stress can be managed and clarity about priorities is gained. Undreamed of possibilities for choice and change can be discovered. Eventually the client has understanding of how their buttons get pushed until they feel disempowered. An early warning system can be set up, so that they can manage by themselves to get through particularly stressful times. 

In isolation, stress can incubate into anxiety or panic. Awareness and seeking support can be the first step in alleviation of these draining discomforts. The physical demonstration of how much stress we hold in our shoulders is a starting point in the awareness of what is going on. 

And I find that when I go through the breathing/shoulders routine, as above, as I do many times each day, there is a momentary punctuation and relief from some of the stress I hold. For a little while my chicken is wholly and more healthily scratching about in the good earth.