Stress /Anxiety Management
Stress/Anxiety Management - the old way
We have inherited built in stress/anxiety management techniques from our parents, our great grand parents, going back even further to early human beings and to apes and lizards. These techniques typically involve fight and flight responses. If we are attacked by a lion or by a thief in our house at night, we typically respond by attacking or by running away. Modern stressors however, typically involve things like a bill or a bullying boss. We can be assertive with our boss or we can go to another room, but we can't bash them with a club and we generally can't go for a five mile run during the working day, so very often difficult feelings such as anxiety or anger may continue to bother us. Also, some people are born more highly sensitive than average. This was often advantageous for our ancestors - they were extra good at spotting predators - and it is advantageous now - empathy is useful for sales people and creativity is useful for artists. But being sensitive has the disadvantage that it can lead people to be extra apprehensive and stressed. People often develop counter productive ways of dealing with stress, such as; alcohol misuse, gambling, promiscuity and avoidance. Stress can also have a negative effect on our bodies, leading to irritable bowel syndrome, muscular skeletal tension, low immunity, etc.
How can we manage our stress/anxiety better?
We can modify our diet, cutting out or cutting down on sugars and caffeine, we can do exercise such as jogging or walking, we can do relaxation specific exercise such as yoga, we can have therapy. We can also use meditation and visualisation techniques to calm our minds. These techniques can be found in both eastern and western traditions, ranging from modern EMDR to ancient Buddhism and Yoga. Some of these meditation and visualisation techniques are outlined below.
Progressive muscular relaxation
Ensure that in the two hours prior to the relaxation you have not had any stimulating drinks such as tea and coffee or sweet drinks such as fruit juice. Place yourself in a comfortable position, preferably lying down. Make sure all your clothing is comfortable. Then carry out the following process of gradually relaxing your muscles.
- Tense your feet whilst breathing in and then relax your feet whilst breathing out.
- Tense your legs whilst breathing in and then relax your legs whilst breathing out.
- Tense your stomach whilst breathing in and then relax your stomach whilst breathing out.
- Tense your hands and arms whilst breathing in and then relax your hands and arms whilst breathing out.
- Tense your shoulders and neck whilst breathing in and then relax your shoulders and neck breathing out.
- Tense your face and head whilst breathing in and then relax your face and head whilst breathing out.
- Tense your whole body whilst breathing in and then relax your whole body whilst breathing out.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This is a pranayama breathing technique. Pranayama is a yoga technique, it is one of the more powerful pranayama relaxation and mind focusing techniques. It is very helpful in managing stress and can be helpful with insomnia. It is better to carry out this technique whilst being in as relaxed a position as possible, for example lying down. Place one hand so that you can alternately cover your left and then your right nostril with your fingers and thumb - for example, the left thumb is placed on the left nostril, and the index and middle finger are placed on the forehead and the ring finger is on the right nostril.
- Breathe in for 5 seconds through your right nostril while the left one is covered by your thumb or fingers.
- Hold both nostrils for 10 seconds without breathing in or out, breathe out with your left nostril for 10 seconds.
- Breathe in through your left nostril for 5 seconds, then close both nostrils for 10 seconds and then breathe out through your right nostril for 10 seconds.
Continue repeating this same cycle for 3 or 4 minutes or until you have some indication that you have become sleepy, for example, your hand falls away from your face.
This is a classic self-hypnosis technique, again, it is best used when you are in a very relaxed position, such as when you are lying down.
- Fix your eyes on a point above you or, if it's very dark, imagine a point above you and fix your eyes on it.
- Breathe in and breathe out slowly as you count the number one hundred.
- Breathe in and breathe out slowly as you count the number ninety-nine.
- Continue breathing in and counting down slowly on the out breath until your eyelids close.
This process of counting down until your eyelids close can be repeated two or three times.
This a very useful visualisation technique, it can be used as part of a relaxation, stress management, sleep inducing, it can also be used as a way of doing phycological work on your self, providing a space where psychological pain barriers can be broken through, in this psychological processing methodology it can be used in conjunction with one of the stress management methods on this page or it can be during meditation. Again, it is best done when you are in a relaxed position, such as lying down.
- Close your left hand.
- Imagine any difficult, frightening and painful things in your life in the palm of your left hand.
- Open your left hand and imagine all these difficult, frightening and painful things flowing away like smoke through the window and over the horizon.
- Open your right hand. Imagine all the good things and strong resources in your life in the palm of your right hand — any achievements, positive relationships, positive things about yourself or anything else good in your life.
- Close your right hand and imagine all these good and positive things going up your right arm and into the centre of your chest.
This is a traditional Indian yoga practice which is using hypnotic techniques to produce a form of trance state, the word "nidra" means sleep in Sanskrit. It is a very useful and powerful hypnotic technique, the best thing about it is that it not only tends to produce a strong hypnotic effect, but also it normally is used with a hypnotic self suggestion which can help people change their attitudes at a fundamental, unconscious/emotional level. It is best done, in a relaxed position such as lying down.
Concentrate all your attention on your right hand thumb and visualise your right hand thumb for a couple of seconds. Then repeat this process sequentially for the following parts of the body: second finger, third finger, fourth finger fifth finger, palm of the right hand, back of the right hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, waist, knee, ankle, big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, fifth toe, left hand thumb, second finger, third finger, fourth finger, fifth finger, palm of the left hand, back of the left hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, waist, knee, ankle, big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, fifth toe. Now concentrate on the whole body.
After completing this process, repeat to yourself, a self-suggestion - in Sanskrit, sankalpa.
Yoga Nidra Sankalpa
The sankalpa needs to be formulated using three rules:
- Ask for attainable things, for example, "Little by little I'm getting better at handling stress."
- Don't use words like; must, will, ought to, should, have to.
- Don't use negative words such as, never, none, not.
Alternative yoga nidra techniques
If you have difficulty breathing through your nose, you can perform yoga nidra without closing your nostrils with your fingers by imagining air going up the right nostril and down the left nostril etc.
If you want to use a CD /MP3 audio of yoga nidra, there are many on the market. An effective one is yoga nidra by Muz Murry, available here.
Combining these techniques
It is possible to combine these techniques in order to increase their power. This can be done, for example, by starting with progressive muscular relaxation and then using all these techniques in the order set out here.
Don't drive or use dangerous machinery after these meditation and visualisation exercises