01.10.2012 Naturopathy

Down-Stress Your Life

Living without stress is almost an impossibility! The secret is in managing it, says naturopath Lyn Craven

Managing stress is now an important part of our lives. In a world of high competition, increased workloads and seeking balance between our professional and personal lives, managing stress triggers can help to ease tension and allow us to live comfortably and happily.

Even the most easy going of us experiences stress at different times and in varying degrees of intensity. So it's helpful to understand the different types of stress.

Eustress is a type of stress that excites you, is fun and instigates motivation and energy, such as when you are dancing, playing a sport you love or even rushing off to some deadline you must keep.

Acute Stress is something everyone experiences; it is short term and can be classed as positive or negative depending on the situation. Positive acute stress, like eustress, often relates to an enjoyable and exhilarating experience. Distressing acute stress, though, manifests as road rage or running late for an important appointment.

Episodic Acute Stress is when acute stress is running rampant in your life, often creating chaos. Some people appear to thrive on acute stress; they are often referred to as "drama queens", many loving the attention it generates for them.

Chronic Stress is a long standing stressful situation, such as working long hours for many weeks or months, constant sleep deprivation due to noisy neighbours or loud music, relationships that are draining and lacking harmony. This ongoing chronic stress leads to nerve/adrenal burnout and ill health.

The 'fight or flight' response is triggered in stressful situations when the body releases hormones that help it to survive. In both humans and animals, these hormones are released to help you run faster and fight harder to survive. They increase the heart rate and blood pressure, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to support and power the muscles. Perspiration increases in an effort to cool these muscles and help them stay efficient. The hormones divert blood away from the skin to the core of your body and reduce blood loss if you became injured. They also focus your attention on the threat, to the exclusion of everything else, thereby improving your ability to survive life threatening events.

You experience the same reaction when you come across something unexpected or frustrating that may impede your goals. When the threat is small, your response is also small and often you have no significant awareness among the many other distractions of a stressful situation.

Unfortunately, this effect on the body driven by the survival impulse has negative consequences. In this state, you are excitable, anxious, jumpy and irritable, reducing your ability to work effectively with other people. You experience trembling and a pounding heart and you find it difficult to execute precise, controlled skills. The intensity of your focus on survival interferes with the ability to make sound judgments by drawing information from many sources. As a result, you find yourself more accident-prone and less able to make clear accurate decisions.

There are very few situations in modern working life where this response is useful. Most situations benefit from a calm, rational, controlled and socially sensitive approach.

In the short term, you need to keep this 'fight or flight' response under control to be effective in your work and personal environment and, in the long term, to avoid problems, poor health and burnout.

The following are some methods that you can use to manage stress, helping you to remain calm and effective in high pressure situations, and avoid problems of long term stress.

Creative Visualisation/Imagery Meditation
This is a technique to deeply relax people and allow them to use the power of their mind to make positive changes in their life. When using creative visualisation or imagery in relaxation, you simply imagine a scene, place or event that you remember as safe, peaceful, restful, beautiful and happy. You may spontaneously visualise this scene, which is brought about through your ability to channel when in a deep relaxed state such as meditation. You activate all your senses to hear sounds of nature such as running water or waves crashing on the shore; to smell the air, grass and flowers; to taste the food, water or wine and feel the warmth of the sun. This place becomes an inner sanctuary, to which you can retreat in times of stress. You will often spontaneously experience the most effective images for yourself, as your subconscious mind is free to communicate to you while deeply relaxed.

Other uses of creative visualisation in relaxation involve creating mental pictures of stress flowing out of your body, or stress, negative thoughts, internal chatter and everyday concerns being drawn out and placed in a box with the lid tightly secured. The ability to draw on your intuitive faculties and tap into the subconscious mind becomes easier with regular practice. Many of these examples are used by hypnotherapists, so this style of meditation is extremely powerful.

Applying Creative Visualisation
You can also use creative visualisation or imagery prior to a big event, business meeting, new date or driving lesson by running the event through your mind.

Aside from allowing you to rehearse mentally, creative visualisation also allows you to practise in advance for anything unusual that might occur, so that you are better prepared and confident to handle the situation. This technique is often used by top sports people, who learn successful habits by repeatedly rehearsing performances in their imagination. When the events they have rehearsed occur, they are more prepared and so can then respond positively to the situation.

This style of meditation allows you to draw whatever you desire into your life and to pre-experience achievement of your goals. This helps to instil self confidence and optimism so you achieve success with your goals.

I have received interesting feedback from people experiencing positive changes in their personal and work life when using these techniques in meditation. I now deliver these relaxation techniques to executives and their staff in various organisations to release stress and anxiety and generate positivity, confidence, creativity and manifest goals, enabling them to be more productive and meet deadlines with greater ease. Companies also experience less absenteeism. Many people find it much easier to be facilitated with these types of meditative journeys especially if they are over-anxious, fearful and stressed.

Progressive Muscular Relaxation
This technique is useful for relaxing your body when your muscles are tense. When using PMR you tense up a group of muscles so they are as tightly contracted as possible. You hold them in a state of extreme tension for a few seconds then relax the muscles normally. Then, consciously relax the muscles even further so that you are as relaxed as possible. By first tensing your muscles, you'll find you are able to relax them more than simply relaxing them directly.

If you tighten a muscle or form a fist and clench your hand tight for a few seconds, then relax it to its previous tension, and then consciously relax it even more so it is as loose as possible, you should experience much deeper relaxation in your muscles or hand.

Channelling Anger into Positive Performance
Anger is an emotion everyone experiences. It can be a normal and healthy emotion that helps you instinctively detect and respond to a threatening situation. When properly channelled, it can be a powerful motivating force. But anger can get out of control, leading to stress, distress, unhappiness and ill health. Anger resides in the liver at a deep cellular level and impedes the balanced function of the liver. It can also lead to high blood pressure and palpitations. Uncontrolled anger can seriously affect your personal and professional life, being incredibly destructive to yourself and the people around you.

Anger is a well developed coping mechanism we turn to when our goals are impeded and we become frustrated, or when we feel threatened in some way. It helps us react quickly and decisively in situations where there is no time for a careful, reasoned analysis of the situation and can motivate us to solve problems, achieve goals and remove threats.

So, anger can at times serve a positive purpose but, more frequently, it has a downside.

The Downside of Anger
A negative angry response can damage relationships leading to a loss of respect and self respect. A common example is when we are quick to anger over a misunderstanding or incorrect perception and this leaves us looking very foolish.

Learning to use anger positively and manage it so that it is constructive and not destructive is the key. Where situations are not immediately life threatening, you need to calm down and evaluate the accuracy of your perceptions before channelling anger in a powerful but controlled way.

Anger management is a process of learning how to 'calm down' and diffuse the emotion before it gets to a destructive level. Use creative visualisation to see the person who is making you feel angry as funny and amusing in some way, or to send loving energy towards them. Both these methods help to dispel the intensity of anger being generated by that person to you. On a subtle energy level, your antagonist will 'pick up' on what you are visualising - and their anger will diminish.

Similarly, if you are feeling angry, allow yourself to draw upon loving energy from a higher source; let it fill you up completely as you focus on your breathing. All this can be done spontaneously in seconds when you begin to practise the technique any time you feel anger. Otherwise, anger can lead to rage, which, in turn, can evolve into hatred, a toxic emotion which always turns in on the host - you!

People experience anger in many different ways and for many different reasons. What makes you angry may only mildly irritate one of your colleagues and have little to no effect on another. This subjectivity can make anger difficult to understand and deal with; it focuses the response onto you. So anger management focuses on managing your response, rather than specific external factors. Learning to manage anger enables you to develop techniques to deal with and expel the negative response and emotions before it causes you serious stress.

Despite differences in the level of anger you feel toward something, there are some universal causes of anger:

Frustration of your goalHurtHarassmentPersonal attack (mental or physical)Threat to people, things or ideas you care about.

All these triggers can be experienced in your daily life at some stage. An appropriate level of anger that is expressed correctly helps you take the right action, solve the problem, or deal with the situation in a positive manner.

When someone has made you feel angry, it is far better to express to them constructively how their actions have made you feel but without blaming them. Constructive communication can be quite empowering if you educate yourself to pause, take a deep breath, consider the situation then express your feeling. It changes the energy between people in an instance.

Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is a simple and very effective method of relaxation. It is a core component of every relaxation technique, plus yoga and Zen meditation. All you do is simply take a number of deep breaths and relax your body further with each breath. That's it!
The various techniques that can encompass Stress Management include meditation, relaxation periods, biofeedback therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, muscle stretching exercises, yoga, time management techniques, and many more.
Most importantly, you need to identify the cause or particular stress triggers and investigate the appropriate stress management remedy for you. By understanding the root cause of the problem, you can look to remove the stressful trigger, or gain insight into how to adapt to it in a much more relaxed manner. Again, meditation is a wonderful tool to help you discover the source of anger or stress in all its forms.
Reducing tasks and obligations can help in eliminating some work pressures and burdens. Delegating tasks to others and sticking to a strict timetable can make work enjoyable, relaxed and stress-free. Time management is the key.

Natural remedies
In conjunction with various types of meditation and stress management, I would recommend remedies that can assist with diffusing, calming and healing the psyche, such as Bach flowers, herbal and homoeopathic remedies. The types of remedies choosen would vary with each person depending on their character, emotional state and the circumstances that are acting as stress triggers. The holistic view is always that no two people are the same.

Remember, stress in all its forms needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Only recently have scientists and leading doctors started to acknowledge that stress is an instigator of so many physical health disorders.

Sydney-based Lyn Craven is a practitioner of naturopathy, nutrition, medical herbalism, Bowen therapy, Reiki energy healing and meditation, and is a corporate health presenter/consultant with 18 years' experience in natural therapies.
Lyn has recently created a Meditation CD for anxiety, stress and self healing.

Lyn Craven

Lyn Craven is a practitioner of Naturopathy, Bowen Therapy, Energy/Reiki therapist, meditation teacher and Corporate Health Consultant. She is also a health researcher/writer and has produced a meditation CD assisting people to manage anxiety and stress. She runs a private practice in Sydney and can be contacted on +61403 231 804