As a counsellor, over the years I have found that many of my clients come to see me simply to learn a few really handy tools that they can use in order to counteract the effects of stress, anxiety and low mood. So I have gradually put together some information about some of the tools that I and they have tried and tested – things that really work. I call this the Emotional Health Toolbox.
Sometimes just making small changes in our lives can help us to feel good fairly quickly and it’s up to each individual to work out which will work best for them. It’s very important that once we start to make use of these tools that we understand that it’s really a lifelong process – I find myself that if a few weeks go by when I don’t watch what I eat, or don’t exercise or do my meditation practice, then I do start to notice – mood and energy levels start to go down, life just feels that little bit more of a struggle. So these tools are really for life – not just for a short spell!
You now have 12 tools in your emotional health toolbox!
9. Preserve good boundaries
For those of us who are people-pleasers, it can be hard to say “no” but it’s very important that when someone asks a favour of you (could you babysit again this weekend, could you work late again Friday evening?) that you take time to consider “do I really want to do this?” And feel OK about saying no – a few moments of discomfort vs hours of feeling put upon and taken for granted – which only adds to your stress levels.
10. Don’t try to be perfect
A mindset that can exacerbate stress is perfectionism. Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best and leads very quickly to anxiety and depression and getting “stuck” because we’re scared to move forward. Whether it’s about your appearance, the state of your home, being a perfect partner or parent or child or how you do your job or even your exercise routine or diet, perfectionism can cause huge stress.
11. Be mindful
Mindfulness simply means “being aware” of your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviour, rather than on automatic pilot – so that you are able to have control and choices about how to respond. Some physical things you can do to calm yourself when stressed (mostly of them invisible to others so can do them at work etc) are:
- Slowing the pace
- Lengthening the spine – sitting and trying to sense the space between the vertebrae, letting your spine slump, then lengthen
- Hand over the heart (or over tummy area)– sit quietly and just breath gently into the area
- Grounding with the feet – pushing both feet into the floor as you sit on a chair, or standing and getting an awareness of your whole body from feet, legs, lower and upper body, head
- Clenching/relaxation – of hands and other muscle groups
- Deepening, slowing down your breathing, practice 7/11 breathing – in for the count of 7, out for the count of 11
- Saying “STOP” to yourself or practice the STOP gesture of putting up your arms and hands
- Orienting: turn head and neck and slowly scan the entire space around you, or focus on one particular object
12. Have a daily meditation practice
We tend to spend our lives in a highly stressful state, reacting to things on automatic pilot, breathing in a shallow fashion, in fight or flight mode. Spending just a few minutes each day listening to a meditation app or just quietly doing some deep breathing can make a huge difference to our baseline level of stress. I love this free meditation app: themeaningoflife.tv
Need some advice and support?
If you are suffering from low mood, stress or anxiety or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!