Avoiding stress is impossible, but what we can do is adjust our relationship with stress. It doesn’t have to own us. We can own it. – Susan David
Dr Hank Robb, fellow counselling psychologist and ACT therapist in the US, describes stress as “a special kind of being afraid”. He tells folk,
If I give you one ball and ask you to throw it up and catch it because it is very important to keep catching it and not drop it, you will have some fear about missing.
If I then keep adding balls, the more I add, the more fearful you become, because you know that with each additional ball, the chances of dropping one goes up AND it is already defined that it is important to keep catching them.
The solution? Let all the balls rest on the ground, and pick one thing to do…
When thoughts or images about other things show up, rather than follow these or track them, go back to your one thing. Hank calls this “keeping your eyes on the prize”.
See if you can allow and make space for any thoughts or worries that may linger, letting them flicker in your awareness in the background; keeping your one thing in the foreground.
What can help you more, with doing that one thing?
- Grounding and relaxation practices such as these may help.
- A regular practice using an app such as Headspace can be helpful.
- Identify the things (and people) that drain, energise and restore you, and what it is you struggle most with. This post, and this one, may be useful.
- Also, and this may take some willingness 😬, try this alternative and counter-intuitive perspective – is stress all bad? Kelly McGonigal says no, it can actually be a friend. Her TED talk is here.
- Be mindful of your self-talk: as Hank says, do you tell yourself over and over not to drop the ball? or say over and over, “Stay focused on the ball! Stay focused on the ball! Stay focused on the ball”? Or might you not say anything at all, just keeping your eyes on the ball… I’d add with gentle reminders that you can do this. Hank suggests trying each one, and then going with the one that works best.
- This post lists a few places in Adelaide where you can go for financial counselling and budget advice; this one may be useful with managing worry.
Whichever you choose, I encourage you to treat yourself with kindness, and talk to yourself as though you were talking to your best friend.
The hard energy and edges of stress can make for harsh self-talk…
…which we might think of as a way to “stay motivated” and “on track” – but look deep into your heart and into your experience… truly, does this work? And what are the costs?
Compassion isn’t about weakness or some fluffy “niceness”; it is about how we develop the courage and strength to engage with, and deal with, those things that are difficult for us to do. This friendly inner voice will in turn help us pursue our most valued aims and deal with both our so-called failures and our successes. – Dennis Tirch, in his wonderful book, “The Compassionate-Mind Approach to Overcoming Anxiety”.
- The mindfulness & acceptance workbook for stress reduction by Bond, Ek & Hedensjo
- Finding peace in a frantic world by Danny Penman
- Mindfulness for busy people by Sinclair, Seydel & Shaw
One of my all-time favourite poems, “What we knew” by Carolyn Elkins,