Dr Tracey Zielinski is a clinical psychologist with more than 20 years’ experience working with adults and older adults. She runs a small telehealth private practice and has recently published her first self-improvement book, Get it Together Forever! The Ultimate Guide to Stepping into Control of Your Own Life.
Feeling angry? Snapping at the kids? Struggling to concentrate at work? Feeling overwhelmed? Sounds as though you might be a little stressed.
You might be juggling more boxes than you feel you can comfortably manage. Yes, I said boxes! Think of all the different stresses or burdens or obligations or chores in your life as a single pile of boxes. Big boxes, small boxes, wide boxes, skinny boxes, all piled randomly one on top of the other. And you’re carrying them around with you, trying not to drop them, carrying all that weight everywhere you go. When that pile of boxes gets too big, the weight of it becomes overwhelming. And that is when you really start to feel stressed.
How does stress affect you?
When the stresses in your life become overwhelming, your body shifts from feeling relaxed to feeling distressed. Many people notice tension in their neck and shoulders. It may increase your heart rate, quicken your breathing, raise your blood pressure, impact on your sleep, and leave you feeling fatigued. Stress can affect your digestive system too, in which case you might get reflux or indigestion after eating. When you live with high levels of stress for a long period of time, it can affect your immune system so that you tend to get sick more often. In some extreme cases, chronic stress can even lead to a stroke or heart attack.
You may also notice your behaviour change so that you become more angry, snappy, impatient, impulsive, and distractible. You may even find that you tend to procrastinate more even though you have so much stuff to get through.
In short, stress is not your friend. Stress is, in fact, your enemy.
How to fight stress?
What’s your battle plan to fight stress and overwhelm? The first difficulty is that when you are stressed, you simply do not feel in control of what’s going on in your life, so, I’m going to run through 3 simple steps to help you take back control of you.
Step 1: Imagine yourself gently placing your big pile of boxes on the floor. Now, step back from the boxes and stretch your arms, roll your shoulders, and gently roll your head to loosen the muscles.
Step 2: Breathe! I’m going to teach you a very simple and effective breathing technique that will step your body out of distress mode and into relaxation mode. I’m going to teach you to breathe through your eyes. Well, I’m actually going to teach you a form of relaxation called diaphragmatic breathing (breathing deep into your diaphragm), but it will feel as though you really are breathing through your eyes.
When you get this working well, which should only take a few breaths, you will feel your body relax and it will seem as though the world around you slows down so that you can think more clearly.
How to breathe ‘through your eyes’:
Firstly, take a normal breath in through your nose. I want you to notice that the breath appears to flow into your nostrils and then simply disappear.
Now take another long slow breath in through your nose. This time I want you to imagine the breath flowing so far up your nose that it dives out through the bridge of your nose and flows into your eyes. Focus on feeling the breath in your eyes.
Most people describe either a feeling like a sense of coolness or a light breeze across the surface of their eyes. Some people describe feeling as though their eyes are gently being sucked into their head a little. Personally, I feel my eyes being sucked into my head. It’s a weird feeling, but the best thing is that my body immediately relaxes as the shift into relax mode is triggered.
Take the time now to practise the technique until you feel confident you’ve got it. Notice how your body relaxes as you breathe. Notice your shoulders let go. Now, how easy was that?
Practice this breathing exercise before you eat to help overcome any issues with reflux or indigestion, and when you go to bed to help the quality of your sleep. Just a few breaths will be enough, although feel free to do more if you like.
Step 3: Now that you feel calmer, it’s time to plan your attack. Look at your pile of boxes and go through and deal with any that can be quickly dealt with.
Next, spend a little time prioritising the remaining boxes. Consider both how important and how urgent each one is. If something is both important and urgent, it goes to the top of your to-do list. If something is neither important nor urgent, then it goes to the bottom of the list.
In these 3 steps, you have the tools to take back control of your life. Simple tools that are easy to implement. With practice they can become very useful habits.
One final word about taking back control. As you breathe into your eyes, take time to recognise that you probably can’t control everything going on in your life. You can, however, choose to be in control of your own response to what’s happening around you.