Tim Talks: I’m Stressed about Stressing Out! (First Aid for Stress and Anxiety Management)

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.

Fight 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.

Ranting helps

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.

How do you cope with stress?

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7 comments… add one
  1. Norlin

    Apparently I’m under a lot of stress…hence my sluggish digestive system, and always feeling lethargic! For me it’s reading that keeps me calm but the downside is finding time to do that when I have assignments due and everything else due around the same time (my blog etc). ARGH! I think I need to just find time, once a day to zone out.
    Norlin recently posted..What I Really Love, Like & Loathe About Mother’s DayMy Profile

    1. Tine

      Tim: Norlin, our body can give us warning signs through physical manifestations as well, and it is usually time to heed these to address it as soon as possible. If reading works well for you, maybe trying other formats like podcasts or audiobooks whilst you are commuting or in between tasks. Setting aside some time in the day, regardless of how busy things can get, can be assuring in itself, as you prepare yourself to unwind then.

  2. Shamim de Varax

    I try all of these. mindfulness is something I’m struggling with because I get distracted a lot or prefer something a bit more ‘instantaneous’ like listening to a song, or shopping or reading, kind of avoidance strategy although my therapist calls it ‘parking the stress’ strategy! continuous application is key however, and not giving up positive thinking because it’s so easy to spiral into all the stress and anxiety. also cats help. lots of cats.
    I didn’t know you lived in Melbourne Tine! how come we never met up!!?
    Shamim de Varax recently posted..SDV Reviews: MAC Lady Danger LipstickMy Profile

    1. Tine

      Tim: Shamim, mindfulness is a skill that can take alot of practice and time to master, but I agree that the more you apply it, the more comfortable you will get at it. That’s quite a good analogy your therapist has used in relations to distraction strategies, there are certainly some limitations to such strategies but if it allows you time to refocus and address the issue at hand, then go for it 🙂 Personally, I’m more of a dog person, but I agree that pets can be a source of comfort and can be a source of support aside from our friends and close ones.

  3. Natasha

    I had no idea this was Stress Awareness Month!

    I am facing some pretty stressful times starting next week… and find the pre-anxiety is starting. Deep breathing, brisk walks and chocolate help. And I’m definitely going to pack some lavender lotion and good tunes for my trip. But mainly knowing that “this, too, shall pass” is a comfort. Nothing lasts forever and I will get through the craziness… one day at a time.


    1. Tine

      Tim: Natasha, sounds like you are already making quite sound plans of how to address the upcoming stressful period. I like how some describe the notion of us riding the ‘wave of life’, such that if you’re at a lull now things can pick up, it helps us to appreciate the uplifting and good moments better.

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