How to manage stress

Managing stress - get those strategies working for youWhat is stress?

Stress is everywhere it seems. It’s hard to go a week without hearing that someone is suffering from it, is ill through it or has had to have time off work because of it.

Most of us will have felt stress at some point in our lives whether we experience it through an event like moving house, getting married, an illness or bereavement. Or through ongoing circumstances that are challenging such as unemployment, relationship issues, noisy neighbours or problems at work.

Sometimes we experience stress as a result of having too much to do or having a lack of control over our lives.

We all know what it is, but do we?

Why we need stress?

Our biological history determines our physical reaction to stress. We are designed to respond to physical dangers in one of three ways, fight, flight or freeze.

Although we are no longer hunter/gatherers that need to worry as much about our physical survival our biological reaction to perceived danger has remained the same.

When our fight or flight response is triggered our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline.

Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. It increases the rate our blood circulates, our breathing, heart rate and carbohydrate metabolism. all of which work to increase blood flow to the muscles and oxygen to the lungs preparing our body for fight or flight.

Cortisol

Cortisol is present in our bodies all the time and has a number of important functions including regulating blood pressure, Glucose metabolism and immune function.

When levels increase as they do in response to stress it produces a number of positive effects that include a burst of energy, decreased sensitivity to pain, and an increase in immunity and helps maintain homeostasis in the body.

Although cortisol is an important and helpful part of the body’s response to stress, it’s essential that the body’s relaxation response is activated after a stressful event so that the body’s functions can return to normal.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Continued stress results in a build up of cortisol resulting in long term negative effects. These include; Blood sugar imbalances, high blood pressure, suppressed thyroid activity. decrease in muscle mass and increase in abdominal fat.

Why Me?

Why do some people get stressed and others don’t? Our tolerance of stress varies from person to person. What one person sees as stimulating would be unbearable for someone else. What is important to remember is that your body is responding exactly as it should to a threat.

If the threat is physical, the adrenaline that is produced will be used appropriately, you use it to either fight or for flight. As soon as the threat has passed your body begins to recover and you move back into homeostasis.

If the stress if emotional, however the effects of the adrenaline dissipate more slowly and feelings of agitation remain for much longer preventing your body from moving into a relaxation response.

How to manage stress.

As stress is not a medical diagnosis it can go ignored for a long time. The danger of this is that if it continues and is not managed or dealt with it can lead to anxiety and depression.

Recognising that you are stressed is a good starting point. Be aware of the triggers that cause it and try to determine a way of handling them in a more positive way. Learn relaxation techniques and develop a network of friends, family and colleagues that you can rely on.

Stress, it’s not all bad.

It does have its positive side. Short term stress can be highly motivational. Anyone that has had to perform on stage or as a sportsperson will welcome the extra edge that stress provides.

The important thing is that you can to recognise your own triggers and response to stress and develop skills that will help you deal with it and enable you to activate your own relaxation response.

Of course we will be here over the next few weeks to offer you tips and guidance about how to get started. If you ‘re already an expert on managing stress why not share your techniques with us, we would love to hear from you.

How to make more time

Follow these 5 easy steps

Having trouble finding the time to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do? Can’t finish that project that absolutely has to be done? Not sure how you could fit one more thing into your week?

Take a breath. You cannot make more time but you can use it more productively. Here are five top tips for finding the time to do those important projects.

time hypnosis1. Time versus Priority.

We all have the same amount of time in a day… prime ministers, mothers, CEO’s, university students, part-time workers…you get the picture. If you believe that you don’t have the time to do things perhaps now is an opportunity to revisit that belief.

Instead of telling yourself you don’t have the time to do something try telling yourself that it’s just not a priority for you at the moment.  Getting things done often isn’t about the amount of time we have to do them, it’s about how motivated we are to do them.

So next time you find you are using lack of time as an excuse for not being able to do something ask yourself if that is really true or if that whatever it is that needs doing is just not as important to you as everything else right now.

2. But versus And.

I could do it, but. Don’t let ‘buts’ hold you back. If you really want to move forward with a project try changing your ‘but’ into  an ‘and’. Using ‘but’ provides us with a reason not to do something. This is an illusion, we always have a choice we just need to recognise it. Next time you are tempted to say ‘I could do it, but’ try saying ‘I could do it and‘.

3. Goal versus Time.

If you read my previous blog Goal setting – the good, the bad and the ugly you will recognise the importance of setting a specific goal for yourself. In order for you to achieve it you need to do two things:

(a) Make it your priority

(b) Block out time to complete it.

Blocking out the time,  whether it’s an hour a day or an hour a week is important as it commits you to the project. Make the time you set aside limited to that goal – no e-mail, facebook, making a cup of tea etc. Your goal is your only priority in that section of time.

4. Gain versus Loss.

As your brain is designed to move you towards pleasure and away from pain, it is a powerful way to motivate yourself so why not use it. Focus on what you will gain by finishing your particular challenge rather than what you will lose or won’t have if you don’t.

5. Celebration versus Time.

Even if you are busy take time out to congratulate yourself on what you have achieved. I’ve mentioned it several times before but don’t underestimate how important it is to celebrate your successes and achievements. It feeds your reward response and you are more likely to carry on and complete your project if you take a few moments to treat yourself along the way.

A friend of mine has recently written a book, for every hour he wrote he rewarded himself with 10 minutes of Facebook time ( to be published soon, so watch this space!)

So is it possible to do all those things you really want to do even if you have a busy schedule? Yes, prioritise the things that are important to you, give yourself a goal, set aside time to do them and celebrate your success along the way, AND most importantly ban the word ‘but’ from your vocabulary. Why not try it for a week and let us know how you get on

Goal setting – the good, the bad and the ugly

The Good.

The internet seems to be besieged with articles about goal setting. So why am I adding to them? Goal setting is one of the most useful ways to help you achieve what you want.

Setting goals should be a positive and motivational way of helping you move forward on any project where you want to achieve a successful outcome.

Decades of research show that setting goals can increase people’s performance. However as anyone that has made a new year’s resolution or has decided on an action plan of some sort, eat healthy, lose weight, stop smoking knows, they don’t always work.

Unless you are completely new to the idea of goal setting it is likely that at some point you will have come across ‘S.M.A.R.T” – goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

Although having goals and goal setting is important they are perhaps better viewed as a mechanism to get you closer to your overall aims.

The Bad.

Sometimes they just don’t seem to work. We get stuck, feel unmotivated by them and they can sometimes seem unachievable.  There are several reasons why this may be so.

  1. Too Many. If you set yourself too many goals, the chances are that you will focus on the easy ones ignoring the difficult ones even if they are more important. This means that your overall aim can suffer and lead to a lack of motivation.
  2. Too Specific. Although the S.M.A.R.T model encourages specificity don’t get bogged down in the detail of specific goals always keep sight of your overall aim.
  3. Too hard. Goals should be achievable. You should not have to resort to extreme measures in order to reach them. Stretch goals can be de-motivating so if your goal seems too hard why not try to break it down into smaller goals or have a re think about where it fits into your overall aim.
  4. Too Soon. Try to encourage yourself to think long term. Short term goals are often successful but they need to be repeated. A great example of this is something I read recently on Psyblog, – the reason it’s so hard to get a cab on a rainy day in New York is partly because cabbies do such good business that they go home early, having met their daily target.

The Ugly.

So your goals are specific but not so much that you lose sight of your overall aim. They are achievable without you resorting to extreme measures. You know when they should be completed by and you haven’t made too many.  So why aren’t you achieving them?

The number one reason why people don’t succeed in achieving their goals is lack of commitment. Sometimes this is as simple as the goal that we have set ourselves is not congruent with our overall aim so it is worth revisiting the bigger picture of what you want to achieve.

Tell other people about your goal, I mentioned in my previous blog, peer pressure works and increases motivation.

Record your progress. Often we forget how far we have come in achieving our goals. Keeping a record of your progress it can be a  fantastic motivator.

Reward yourself for your progress, as our brains work on the principle of moving us towards pleasure and away from pain even small rewards will move us forward to much greater success.

Think about what will happen once you achieve your goal. Focusing on the future and the steps you need to take to achieve it makes us more likely to take action.

Goal setting.

Goals should be motivational and have personal meaning. When you think about achieving them you should feel positive. We would love to hear how you get on so drop us a line and we will share your goals and achievements on line.

Procrastination (Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow)

Oh, I'll do it tomorrow

As I finally sit down to write this blog I realise that I’ve been procrastinating. The beds have been changed, the washing is in the machine. I’ve played with the dog, checked my e-mails and now I find that I’m running out of excuses, although I do feel the need for another cup of tea!

Procrastination - tips for success

Everyone procrastinates sometimes but if you find that you regularly avoid difficult or challenging tasks and actively look for distractions then you may be a chronic procrastinator. With around twenty per cent of the population admitting to frequently putting things off you are not alone.

For most of us the odd bout of procrastination is harmless but for those that are chronically affected it can be destructive and can prevent them from fulfilling their potential.

Am I or not, I just can't decide

So how do you know if you are a procrastinator or just very good at prioritising?  Here are some useful indicators that will help you identify whether you’re a procrastinator or not.

  • If you sit down to start a high priority task and then immediately finding something else to do, like make a cup of tea.
  • If you overestimating the time you have in order to complete a task
  • If you ignore an item on your to do list for several days even though you know it’s important.
  • If you underestimating the time it takes to complete a task.
  • If you complete a lot of low priority tasks instead of the high priority one.
  • If you read and re reading e-mails without acting on them or making a decision about what to do with them.
  • If you overestimate how motivated you will feel to do a task… in an hour, a day, next week etc.
  • If you believe that working when not in the mood is a bad idea.

If you say ‘yes’ to unimportant tasks on a regular basis instead of getting on with what you should be doing.

  • If you believe that in order to complete a task you need to feel like doing it.

Why do we procrastinate?

So if it’s so bad for us why do we do it? Dr Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago argues that people procrastinate for different reasons and has identified three basic types.

  • Thrill seekers who need that last minute rush.
  • Avoiders who may be putting things off through a fear or failure or success and who would rather have other people believe in their lack of effort rather than their lack of ability.
  • Those that can’t make a decision because by not making a decision they cannot be held responsible for the outcome.

Further research suggests that we procrastinate partly because we find the task at hand unpleasant in some way and partly because we are not confident in our ability to perform it which ties in with Ferrari’s point.

However at the core of procrastination says Dr Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business is our impulsiveness – we don’t like waiting for rewards.

Temptations like a cup of tea or updating facebook are attractive because although the reward is small the delay is virtually nonexistent. In contrast although writing an article or saving for retirement have potentially large rewards they are so distant that they seem unimportant. We only become motivated to do them when time brings them closer and they become more of an immediate task.

Whatever the reasons behind procrastination the results are often the same. Procrastination creates a cycle of anxiety, avoidance, guilt and inadequacy. The good news is that you can create strategies that help.

Tips for success for overcoming procrastination

To avoid procrastination make your goals small, immediate and easily accessible.

Create your own rewards. Anything from checking e-mails to having a biscuit after you’ve completed your task can be seen as a reward

Peer pressure works. Get someone to check that you have completed your task.

Rather than think about doing the task, think about the unpleasant consequences of not doing it.

When you set yourself goals put a time to complete on them. You are more likely to work towards a deadline especially if that deadline is approaching.

If your task seems overwhelming cut it down into bite size pieces.

Focus on how good you will feel after you’ve completed it.


There are various reasons why you may find yourself procrastinating. Once you’ve recognised that you are doing it you may be able to understand why and build strategies to help yourself overcome it. It may not happen overnight but like all behaviour that becomes habitual it can be changed if you are persistent.

‘ We can all be procrastinators, but does that have to result in procrastinating behaviour? It doesn’t, if you recognize your own limitations.’  Dr Steel.

 

Things that go crunch in the night

Do you have a habit that no one knows about? Is it so secret that you don’t even know you do it? Teeth grinding or Bruxism to give it its proper name is a common problem.

Are You Affected by Teeth-Grinding?

With estimates of up to 31% of the population affected, it often only gets diagnosed at a dental appointment when the result of the grinding has created visible damage. If you are unfortunate enough to experience some of the frequent symptoms associated with grinding your teeth then you know that it can affect your quality of life.

Bruxism can not only cause dental problems such as tooth sensitivity, wear and tear and even fractures it can also cause headaches and pain in the jaw. As a large percentage of people aren’t aware they are doing it they don’t associate their symptoms with teeth grinding and so the behaviour goes unchallenged.

Categories of Teeth Grinding

Bruxism falls into two categories. The first occurs during sleep as is known as  Sleep Bruxism – the symptoms of which are usually more severe upon waking and get better during the course of the day.  The second category, Awake Bruxism occurs during wakefulness; the symptoms of which may not be apparent upon waking but get worse over the duration of the day.

Although the consequences of both sleep and awake bruxism are similar, it is widely thought that they have different origins. The reason why people grind their teeth isn’t clear although it is generally accepted that it may have multiple possible causes.

‘Awake’ Bruxism

Awake bruxism is often associated with the occurrence of stressful events and is more common in women. It more usually involves clenching of the teeth although grinding may occur as well. It is often classified as a semi-voluntary habit in the same vein as cheek biting, lip biting, nail biting or chewing on a pen or pencil.

‘Sleep’ Bruxism

Sleep bruxism is equally common in both men and women. Evidence suggests it may be caused by abnormalities involving sleep arousal and neurotransmitters connected to the central nervous system.

In one study of sleep bruxism,* over eighty percent of the episodes were linked to a sudden change in the depth of sleep. These changes were accompanied by increased heart rate, muscle activity and involuntary leg movements.

Other studies suggest that bruxism is linked to the central nervous system. The effects of dopamine altering medications are cited as evidence that disturbances of the dopaminergic system are to blame. This may explain why smokers are twice as likely to grind their teeth than non smokers as nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine.

It has also been suggested that there is a connection between the vagus nerve and tension in the neck and jaw. The vagus nerve is responsible for lots of tasks including heart rate, sweating and quite a few muscle movements in the mouth. It stretches from the medulla in the brain and passes through the skull down to the chest cavity where it branches off in multiple directions to stimulate organs and muscles.

Stress is a risk factor

However stress is generally considered to be one of the biggest risk factors in grinding teeth. Research suggests that people that grind their teeth respond differently to stress than non-grinders. Although the research connecting stress with awake bruxism is more robust than the research connecting it to sleep bruxism it has been shown that children with sleep bruxism are much more anxious than their non grinding counterparts.

If you suspect that you grind your teeth or maybe you have a partner that does, traditional treatment relies heavily on using mouth guards or splints in order to prevent the teeth connecting. This is obviously only really effective in sleep bruxism and can be uncomfortable for some people.

Hypnosis Teeth Grinding

Hypnotherapy May Help

As stress is thought to be a common factor in both types of bruxism, learning how to deal with stress could prevent a temporary short term issue from becoming a long term habit. If you feel that you need support in managing stress, then hypnotherapy may help.  If you’re not sure that hypnotherapy is for you, then why not buy our free download for bruxism and let us know how you get on.

*Macaluso et al

Success – how do you know?

Most of us strive for something in life. Whether your goal is to make money, live a simpler life, retire early, or simply to work on improving yourself we all have things, big or small that we want to achieve.

But how do we know when we have succeeded? Sometimes this is easy to answer. If you set a goal to earn enough money to go on holiday each year then success can be measured by reaching your chosen destination.

When our goals revolve around improving ourselves the question is much harder to answer. I was talking to a friend recently about her desire to be ‘good enough’ to do her job but when I asked her how she would recognise when she was ‘good enough’ she didn’t know.

If we can’t measure our success or our progress along the way then we will always be working towards an unachievable goal. As our brains work on the basis of moving towards pleasure and away from pain then striving for something that will always be out of reach becomes unsatisfying and ultimately futile. It reminded me of a story I heard a while ago that I would like to share with you.

The Fisherman and the Businessman

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small fishing village. As he sat, he saw a fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite a few big fish.

The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?” The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”

“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished. “This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.

The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”

The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman. “I have a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village to the City, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”

The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”

The fisherman asks, “And after that?”

The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”

So how do we improve or achieve success if we can’t measure how far we’ve come or how much further we need to go? Sometimes it’s just about recognising and appreciating the success we have right now.