A note from Tine: Welcome to another edition of Tim Talks! For those who are new to Beautyholics Anonymous, Tim Talks is a new series on the blog where my husband, Tim, will be sharing his knowledge to help raise mental health awareness. Tim is a psychiatrist who works in metro Melbourne. His area of interest is child, adolescent and youth psychiatry.
This month is Stress Awareness Month in the US and while it’s not “celebrated” (I can’t think of a better word) here in Australia, stress awareness is something all of us could learn a thing or two on. On today’s Tim Talks, Tim would like to share with you several tips on coping with stress.
I don’t know about you, but the first part of the statement holds through for me on numerous occasions. I’m sure you have had those moments when everything that could go wrong is heading in that direction. For me, I remember having been caught up in heavy traffic whilst on the way to one of my clinical exams (thank God those are done and dusted), and then to find out later that the intended patient I was meant to interview didn’t show (another half an hour delay), and whilst presenting in the exam a mobile phone started ringing! (not mine, by the way). Tine can remember that I needed a lot of debrief and support after that ordeal, not to mention the repeated use of some of the relaxation strategies to cope with such anxiety.
In this blog post, I’d like to debunk some of the perceptions about stress and anxiety and share with you the tools we could use to manage these in our busy lives. We should never underestimate stress, which is a very significant contributor to poor mental health if it is not properly managed.
Again, not everything I mention here will work for everyone, but I’d strongly encourage you readers to give them a go, and to keep an open mind about it.
Deep breathing exercises? Is that like meditation?
Although breathing is something we do without a lot of conscious awareness, the proper technique to breathing is quite foreign to a lot of us. This is a very fundamental aspect of many Eastern practices such as in Buddhism, Yoga and Tai Chi, but it does actually make a lot of sense physiologically as well. When we are under stress, we start to elicit the ‘flight or fight’ response. This is a natural mechanism to prepare the body to respond either to face the source of stress (if deemed able to overcome) or to flee from it (for instance being chased by an armed assailant).
However, this response is not particularly helpful when your source of anxiety and stress is present in your environment most of the time, such as dealing with workplace commitments or preparation for exams. In fact, it can paralyse you and keep you in a state of panic and helplessness.
Deep breathing works on countering the effects of hyperventilation or shallowed breathing when the flight and fight response is activated. Tine and I both practise this, and subjectively I feel a lot less anxious and feel more able to face the upcoming challenges.
A simple tip to deep breathing is to be able to slow your breathing to 10 breaths/minute or less. This means that you inhale for 3 seconds and similarly exhale, while feeling your stomach move to make sure that your diaphragm is working hard for drawing a deep breath. Try doing this 5 to 10 minutes in a day, preferably practicising when you are relaxed and less distracted. It can then be more helpful when you are doing it on the run.
The more ways of de-stressing, the better
Although it sounds abit aggressive, but what I like to refer to this is to attack all your senses! We generally have default patterns of coping with stress. I know that for Tine one of it is retail therapy (Editor: AHEM). The notion of having a variety of activities or things to do to de-stress is so that when one does not work very effectively, there is another option to utilise. Also, there might be only certain options that you can use in certain settings, like soaking in a warm bath.
Back to the senses, think about what types of scents are soothing and relaxing (lavender and other scented oils come to mind), music or songs that can have the similar effect (keep a playlist), what to munch on (chocolates do tend to release serotonin that can lift your mood), something to distract visually (positive statements or memorable photos), and touch (warm showers, soft toy or pillow) This has to be tailored to your unique preferences, and what I suggest is do some experimenting over the weekend to try new experiences or activities out, you might surprise yourself. 🙂
Will my day ever get better?
In the above experience that I talked about, I started to make these really negative thoughts that perhaps it was my unpreparedness or inadequacy that led to the sequence of events occurring. I also thought the mobile phone rang because the examiners didn’t think very highly of my performance, that my outcome (belief that I have failed) was sealed even if this disrupted the exam process. What I could have done differently was to take a non-judgmental approach to the separate events, and not let my negative emotions start making those unhelpful linkages which were not true to start with.
The concept of mindfulness is to increase our ability to observe what we are experiencing without jumping into conclusions as emotions usually can paint and distort the truth. By accepting that these emotions are just emotions and will eventually pass, we can minimize the impact of letting all the negative emotions weigh on us. I intend to cover more on mindfulness in a future blog post.
Having the space and opportunity to talk about emotionally charged issues is a healthy response. That’s what friends are for, aren’t they? Well, there is a caveat. There is a limit to how much ranting to even the best of friends can cope with before it becomes unhelpful. Try to balance that out with some less negative discussions. Tine and I (it was one of her ideas actually) talk about what were the positive highlights of the day before we talk about what didn’t go so well in the day.
I hope some of these suggestions will come in handy, let me know in the comments about what de-stressing methods work well for you.
Until next time, I wish you all good mental health.
One final note from Tine: If you’d like to try meditation apps on the phone, I recommend Headspace. I’m not an affiliate; it’s something I’m currently using. I used to be very cynical about meditation. I thought that meditation was very woo woo and that it wasn’t for me at all. I’m very pleasantly surprised to say that it has helped me tremendously in achieving focus and clarity of mind.