Are you entangled in difficult relationships
or painful emotions?
Long-term stress has several main causes:
- - Difficult external circumstances;
- - Being overburdened with obligations and tasks;
- - Usual way of thinking and emotional functioning;
- - Bad habits.
When a person is under stress for a long time, tension becomes
an automatic habit which can become difficult to get rid of. However, investing
a little effort you can change your habits and ways of thinking which cause
stress. Here are the most important tips:
1. Do not procrastinate. Procrastination is a very powerful
cause of stress since it creates an inner awareness of unfulfilled obligations
and an ever greater time pressure. It often happens that, while we are trying to
put off our demanding and long lasting tasks a bit longer, we spend our time in
worthless and aimless activities which we might even not really enjoy,
especially since the feeling of pressure is still present. Thus we can waste
much more time than we would have needed for the task itself. Persuade yourself
to perform your obligations immediately, motivating yourself with the feeling of
freedom and relief that you will enjoy for the rest of the day (or even week).
Perhaps your procrastination is motivated by fear of criticism or rebellion
against discipline...? You might need some focused work on dissolving those
Maybe you are used to putting off little tasks that would take
you only a few minutes or even seconds: I’ll answer this email…., put that thing
where it belongs….., make that phone call…later. All these little tasks become a
part of the obligations list which is echoing in your head. Later you may forget
them and thus contribute to the decrease of your efficiency (even to the
impairment of the quality of your relationships, if these little “to do” things
are linked to your relationships with other people), or forget some parts of the
context (e.g. where you saved the enclosure that you should send along with your
email…) due to which you will waste your time looking for needed details. Create
a habit to do such little things at once, as soon as they come up.
2. Get organized. Mess and disorganization cause you to waste
your time looking for displaced objects. While you are doing this, you are under
stress due to this waste of time, especially if you also tend to procrastinate.
Organize your PC data in easy-to-survey folders (and pay attention to save new
data immediately there where they belong). You can buy several different and
well marked folders for paper notes. Organize your drawers and boards. A simple,
but efficient additional advice: write down tasks which you cannot perform
immediately, phone numbers etc. in an appointment book. This relieves you from
the pressure of storing everything in your head and of the danger to forget
3. If this is fair and realistic, delegate tasks to other
people. Do you tend to take on too many obligations and responsibilities? Learn
to say “no” and whenever it is appropriate, share your tasks with other people.
Do you take over “little tasks” from your colleagues at work? Do you do all the
household chores while your husband and children loaf? Maybe you do not dare to
ask them to pitch in - you might be afraid of being criticized or rejected, or
asking that the work is shared would make you feel guilty, or you do not believe
they can do it as well as you? In the long run this doesn't only harm you, but
them as well, in many ways: they become irresponsible and develop feeling of
being incapable to take care of themselves. Also the lack of a quality
relationship - with you – can have numerous negative consequences. Likewise, by
avoiding communication you teach your children to act in the same manner in
similar situations. If feelings of guilt or fear of rejection are strong, you
might want to find a coach to help you resolve those feelings.
4. Plan your relaxation. If you are inclined to feel pressure
and think about obligations, it is probably difficult for you to really relax
even when you finally manage to find a little time for it. Our brains tend to
make our usual thinking and feeling habits automatic, even if they cause stress.
It is important not to attempt to relax for a longer time span before you have
performed your important tasks, because your mind will constantly go back to
these tasks. Plan your relaxation time after you have carried out important
tasks. It is also good to determine in advance how much time you will dedicate
to relaxation (in order to avoid guilty feelings and wondering when should you
go back to work) and to set an alarm clock when this time period has elapsed (as
to avoid looking at your watch). Plan activities which you enjoy, or simply plan
to do "nothing". You may wish to plan a whole day, e.g. to dedicate one day in
the week only for relaxation. However, remember again to perform all important
5. Invest effort in the quality of your relationships. There
is no greater stress than when your most significant relationships are
unpleasant and tense; neither there is a better source of relaxation than love
and closeness with your dear ones. Learn about quality communication and
expressing love and put it to practice. The feeling that there are people in
your life who you can share love with, who can give you a hug, support, advice
and understanding is priceless. However, to create such relationships one has to
make active effort and to practice communication skills, which most people are
not used to.
As relationships at work are often one of the greatest causes
of stress, it is good to avoid work related stress by building good
relationships with colleagues from the moment you first get to know them. Act
responsibly, friendly, show appreciation. This does not mean accepting unfair
behavior, but finding the best possible way to express yourself.
Maybe your very preoccupation with work and obligations
decreases the quality of your relationships! It is wise to try to do as many
activities and tasks as possible together with your whole family. Apart from the
opportunity to create a fun atmosphere and the feeling of closeness with your
family members when working together, this will also give you an opportunity to
teach your children to develop work habits and you will avoid the feeling of
anger, resentment, irritability, fits of rage or passive aggression, which can
happen when you feel that the work is unevenly distributed.
6. Take care of your body. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep,
exercise and avoid unhealthy habits. A healthy body, apart from having many
other advantages, will bear more easily both short and long-term stress, and it
will also have more energy for your everyday tasks. People very often use
stimulants and sedatives, not only medicines, but particularly products such as
coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, sugar etc. as a substitute for resting and
relaxation. The person who takes them usually feels a short-term relief as it
seems to him that he has more energy, however, as soon as the effect of the
substances on the brain weakens, we feel even more exhausted and out of balance.
In such situations many people reach for yet another dose of such substance
creating dependency which intoxicates, exhausts and weakens the body.
Physical exercise might be the last thing a scared, nervous,
tense and stressed out person may desire. However, physical activity raises the
level of serotonin in the brain and, what is even more important, reduces the
production of stress hormones. It also helps relax the muscles and release the
accumulated frustration helping the person sleep better as a consequence of
Insufficient and irregular sleep are in themselves stressful
for the body, while stronger external stress can make falling asleep and getting
a good night’s rest even more difficult. In stressful situations, under the
influence of stress hormones, the body remains in the state of alert for longer
time periods and the unused energy is being accumulated. Our way of thinking
about a certain situation can contribute to this process. Even if we are
exhausted from stress, the mental, emotional and physiological level of activity
can still be high enough to stop us from falling asleep or from sleeping long or
good enough. If you cannot fall asleep in the evenings or if you wake up during
the night without being able to fall asleep again since you keep thinking about
the stressful situation, try to apply some of the relaxation techniques which
can help you fall asleep again if you show a little perseverance.
7. Take care about your spiritual life. Remind yourself that
you are a spiritual being and that all external situations present a chance to
grow; if your external circumstances are difficult, you might have to remind
yourself regularly about this. Meditation, visualization, positive thinking and
similar activities are not only a source of relaxation, but help you feel strong
8. Create a relaxing environment. There are many easy, simple
ways of shaping your surrounding so that it promotes relaxation instead of being
neutral, or even stress inducing:
- As much as possible, make your work environment pleasant.
In rare cases you will be able to participate in the decision making regarding
the color of the walls, furniture and similar major changes. However, even if
you cannot take part in such decisions, many small details can make a big
a) One or more living plants;
b) Relaxing pictures or
photographs with natural motifs, inspirational pictures of happy people or
something which makes you feel good;
c) Little things such as photographs
of the people you love, toys or room
- The same approach applies when furnishing your home. Here you have much more
freedom to invest your time and imagination in order to make your home as
pleasant a place as possible with many pleasant stimuli. Carefully choose the
colors, furniture and decorative objects which you will truly enjoy.
- Music. For many people music has a profound and strong
influence on the emotional state: it relaxes, calms, comforts or helps us get in
contact with our own feelings. Tender, slow and pleasant music prevents or
alleviates stress, while faster and stimulating music raises the energy and
creates the feeling of optimism and strength. Use music whenever you can, at
home, in the car, if possible also at work. However, pay attention not to
surrender yourself to the choice of radio stations; surround yourself with music
which has a strong positive impact on you.
- Aromas. For many people aromas can be one more way of
creating sensation of bodily and emotional comfort. Choose smells which you find
especially pleasant and relaxing and use them in essential oil burners and
- Muscular relaxation. There are quite a few different
methods whose main purpose is to release the accumulated energy and tension
from the muscles and to prevent further accumulation of tension. The most
common and the simplest approaches are: relaxation of muscle groups through
the conscious intention, relaxation through combination of strong tending
and releasing of muscles or imagining warmth and weight in the muscles.
- Deep breathing. When we are under stress, we tend to
breathe superficially and irregularly, sometimes it can come to breath
retention. This reduces the intake of oxygen in the body which aggravates
the stress reaction. Deep breathing, especially abdominal breathing, not
just by using the diaphragm, is a well known approach to relaxation. Breath
control can be carried out practically at any time and at any place, and it
is good to combine it with other relaxation techniques.
- Bath. Warm water is pleasant and relaxing in itself, and
the additives such as fragrant oils, foams, music etc. additionally
intensify the sensation of comfort. Magnesium sulphate (bitter salt or Epsom
salt) has a relaxing effect on muscles, and it softens the skin, which makes
it an excellent additive to the bath water. Magnesium is also a very
important mineral for our bodies, and it's actually absorbed better through
skin than oral ingesting. The best time for a bath is before going to sleep
since warmth and relaxation can cause sleepiness and induce pleasant dreams.
- Massage. There are a great number of various massage
techniques, most of them having a similar goal – relaxation and releasing
muscular tension. Many people find physical touch soothing, as it can remind
of caressing. Sometimes talking to the massage therapist can be an
additional source of support.
- Changing perspective. Our way of thinking considerably
influences generation of stress and our ability to face it. Many people are
so much used to the „negative“ dialogue with themselves that they may not
even notice how they exaggerate the situation when under stress, how they
imagine the worst possible outcomes and negate their own strength and
ability. Just as we move our body by thoughts and intentions, so we can lead
ourselves into the state of stress and cause a bodily stress reaction by our
thoughts. The change of such a habit into a supporting and encouraging
dialogue with oneself is of extreme significance for coping with stress.
- Diverting attention. If you find it difficult to realize
a positive internal dialogue or if you have very little control over the
external situation, you can try to temporary divert attention from the cause
of stress as an introduction to more advanced techniques. Anything you find
interesting or pleasant and which occupies your thoughts and body can help
you, such as sport, hobbies, meeting friends, reading, movies… Pets are
frequently one of the favorite source of entertainment and pleasure: a walk
with the dog includes physical activity and meeting other people, while cat
fans have always known how soothing the sound of cats' purring is. However,
take care that diverting attention does not become your habit and a way of
escaping from coping with stress. This is only a “first aid” approach that
gives us some emotional space to regain energy and resources to deal with
- Active coping. Think what you can do to solve a stressful
situation and start working on it. Even before achieving external results,
you will gain a feeling that you are not helpless, that you are moving
towards the solution and you will reinforce positive expectations. Stress is
much stronger if we wait passively and surrender to external influences,
than if we feel that we have some influence at least.
- Focusing. A type of meditation in which you concentrate
on a chosen object for some time and avoid thoughts. It helps gain control
over thoughts. It is recommended to choose something that evokes pleasant
associations as a focusing object, e.g. a flower, butterfly or similar. The
focusing object can be a certain word that you can repeat in your mind, such
as “peace”, “confidence”, “happiness”, “love” or similar.
- Work with the “inner child”. One of the main causes of
stress is the fact that at the moments of stress we go into so called age
regression, i.e. suppressed, unresolved feelings from our childhood start
coming to the surface. From that perspective the situation may seem to have
no solution, just as it seemed to be when we were children with very little
power and experience, and emotions can be especially strong and painful.
Imagine your painful emotions as little children craving attention. Imagine
that you give love and support to those child parts of you, that you
encourage them to change their perspective.
- Affirmations. If you tend to create negative internal
dialogues, you may need to consciously repeat positive ideas in order to
slowly initiate a different way of thinking. The affirmations such as
“Everything will be all right” or “I deserve love”, “I am strong and calm”
etc. can pull you out of the thinking habits which foster stress. It is
important that affirmations are short, positively expressed and pleasant.
- Visualization. Our subconscious reacts better to images
than to words. Ranging from imagining a beautiful, calming surrounding, e.g.
a nice landscape or one’s favorite childhood’s refuge, to imagining a
positive outcome of a situation, pleasant images are a type of affirmation
which the subconscious mind can understand better.
- Sharing emotions. Expressing one’s feelings to other
people is a well known and needed type of catharsis, especially for women.
While talking to others, you can explore and sort out your feelings and
thoughts, especially if they feel confusing. Other people’s compassion,
understanding and advice are an important source of support. However, take
care not to overload other people with your problems; talk about them only
with those people who are ready to listen.
- Expressing feelings. In a similar way as the physical
activity, but on a different level, expressing feelings releases accumulated
tension. You can cry, laugh, scream, hit a pillow or a boxing sack… Choose
the place and time when you can be alone and let your emotions out without
provoking curiosity and undesired questions. Do not exaggerate in
identifying with unpleasant feelings, however; take as much time for this as
you feel to be healthy and necessary. Some people love this and say it helps
them greatly, others feel that it pushes them even more into the unpleasant
state. Experiment to see what works for you.
Coaching with Kosjenka
© Kosjenka Muk, 2009-2017