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No More Stress!

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No More Stress! takes the skills and techniques of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Cognitive-Behavioural Coaching to offer you the opportunity of taking control of your stress. It will help you understand what is happening to you and teaches you how to overcome stress through exercises and strategies. If you use and practise the skills in this book, you will learn how to become your own stress management coach. For some people, using the skills in this book may be enough to become stress free. For others, the book will help to reduce the stress they experience. It is an invaluable tool for all.

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HOW WILL THIS BOOK HELP ME?

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This book takes the skills and techniques of Cognitive–Behavioural Therapy and Cognitive–Behavioural Coaching to offer you the opportunity of taking control of your stress. The book aims to help you understand what is happening to you and teaches you how to overcome stress. If you use and practise the skills in this book, you will learn how to become your own stress management coach.

Some of you may find it helpful to read the book through once before returning to do the exercises. Others may find it more helpful to tackle each of the exercises as they come up. It is up to you to decide which method suits you best. What is important is that you work through the book at your own pace and in your own time, making sure that you understand each and every exercise. Don’t skip an exercise just because you think you do not need it; you might not, but many people have thought that and then gone on to find that they benefited from the exercise in question. Change will only come about if you practise the skills in your everyday life. Don’t expect your behaviour to change overnight, as it took you time to be the person you are and it will take time to change yourself. Be realistic and praise yourself for every change you make, however small you think it is. Remember that you are doing something positive to coach yourself, and even if you find it difficult, you have taken the first step to help yourself.

 

WHAT IS STRESS?

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Biologically, our bodies produce a range of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, that encourage changes in your physical and mental state, helping you either to escape from the situation or face it head-on. This is called the ‘stress response’, and you may have heard it called ‘fight or flight’. The three key players that come into play when it comes to the stress hormones are adrenalin (associated with flight), noradrenalin (associated with fight), and cortisol (a kind of on/off switch).

When you experience this type of reaction, you often feel muscle tension and an increase in heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. You may sweat, and experience changes in your digestive system such as ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. Your thinking can become more focused on the task ahead, and you may be able to do things that you would not normally be able to. You may have heard stories of people who have undertaken superhuman feats to save a loved one. For example, a colleague is trapped in a fire under a cabinet that has fallen on him and a friend is able to lift cabinet to free him – something that under normal circumstances would seem impossible as it would be far too heavy to lift.

 

WAYS THAT STRESS CAN SHOW ITSELF

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Post traumatic stress is often experienced following what is termed a traumatic incident. A traumatic incident is one where the person was involved in, or witnessed, an event that involved serious threat of death to a loved one or oneself. PTSD often happens when a person feels intense fear, helplessness, or a sense of horror. For many people, the feelings following a traumatic event pass within the first 4–6 weeks, often without any help. However, for some, the feelings do not pass, and may even get worse. For these people, the sense of fear leads them to avoid people, places, and things that remind them of the event. In addition, people may also experience ‘flashbacks’ of some aspect of the traumatic event. It is not unusual for people with PTSD to suffer from other anxiety conditions and also to experience irritability and anger.

Depression is one of the most severe of the stress-related symptoms and usually only takes effect once an individual has been experiencing stress for a considerable period of time. Most people assume that when someone is depressed they are quiet and sad, but, although this is true, there are many states associated with depression. By the time someone is so low that they may not even be able to get out of bed, they will have gone through a number of emotional stages, and depressed people can often manifest signs of irritability and anger before they become fully depressed.

 

BECOMING STRESS FREE

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Help yourself by remembering that you can always take some action to minimize, even if only by a small amount, the stress you experience. This whole book is about managing stress. However, the following strategies will start you thinking about what you can begin to do to deal with stressful events, and there are further strategies at the end of this book, in the ‘Stress Busting’ chapter.

Come to your own aid by:

A   anticipating stressful activities and planning for them;

I   identifying the major sources of stress in your life;

D   developing a range of coping strategies that you can use on a regular basis so you become familiar with them and can call upon them when you really need them.

You can choose from the following range of techniques to suit your own preferences and circumstances.

Maintain or establish a strong support network. Come to terms with your feelings and share them with others. Ask for help when you need it and accept it when it is offered. You can always offer help to other people when you are stronger and they need it. For now, it is your turn to accept help.

 

STRESS-FREE THINKING

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Whenever you learn something new, regardless of whether it is a practical skill such as using the Internet, or a mental skill such as changing behaviour or negative beliefs, you go through a set sequence of learning:

•   stage one, unconsciously incompetent;

•   stage two, consciously incompetent;

•   stage three, consciously competent;

•   stage four, unconsciously competent.

This process is known as Robinson’s Four Stages of Learning

Don’t know it and can’t do it.’

You feel unhappy but have no idea why.

I begin to notice just how often I have negative thoughts but I don’t seem able to change anything.’

During this stage, you become aware of what is happening but seem unable to do anything about it. This is the awareness stage: for example, realizing the ways in which you make yourself feel stressed by magnifying situations in a negative way, but not being able to stop.

I have skills and can handle situations better although I still have to think about what I am doing.’

You now have a range of strategies to use, but you still have to think about what you are doing, as it does not feel natural.

 

STRESS-FREE EMOTIONS

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Emotional intelligence is about learning to be emotionally smart. It is not always the person with the highest IQ who does best. Emotionally smart people get the most from managing their own and other people’s emotions. If you can learn the skills of emotional smartness, it will help you to overcome your stress. When you are stressed you may find that people behave differently towards you. They may decide not to consult you because they do not want to add to your burdens, or because when they do you do not listen to what they have to say or just say no because you don’t want another thing to deal with. They may talk about you behind your back, and you may get a reputation as someone who is best to be avoided. The skills fall into five key areas.

Emotionally smart people are able to identify their own emotions. This means learning to tell other people how you feel. It means taking responsibility for your own emotions by starting sentences with ‘I feel …’.

Emotions can be difficult, and emotionally smart people know when to take care of themselves. For example, when you find things difficult what are the things you do to take care of yourself? Do you have a long hot bath and relax? Do you talk to a friend? Do you get a DVD or video and watch that? There are times when you need to take care of other people’s emotions and there are times when you need to motivate yourself and others.

 

STRESS-FREE ACTIONS

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If you want to overcome your stress, you have to challenge your behaviour. Stress makes us behave in ways that are not helpful, and when you give in to your feelings all you do is give power to them and you may well find that these feelings increase. If this is the case, the likelihood of positive outcomes becomes less feasible. For example, you are on the phone to arrange for someone to come to service your cable TV and are passed from one person to another; you are feeling increasingly stressed and frustrated. You find you are raising your voice and pacing around the room.

If you really want to conquer your stress, you need to engage in what is called graded exposure. Graded exposure means that you start to face those situations you find difficult, engaging in a range of coping strategies to help you deal with your feelings. Research has shown that when you face a difficult situation your feelings will peak, and if you can stay in the situation after that, your feelings will come down to a more bearable level.

 

THE STRESS-FREE DIET

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Stress can be made worse by taking stimulants such as tea, coffee, colas, and chocolate, all of which contain caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, and stimulants are best avoided when we are experiencing stress. Because we produce stress hormones when we are feeling stressed, this can affect our blood sugar levels and they may indeed drop dramatically. Therefore, in order to keep those levels balanced, it is important to eat ‘little and often’ during the day. It may also be helpful to avoid refined sugars and other substances which ‘give too much of a high’ too quickly. Slow-release foods such as carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, apples, and bananas) are a much better idea, as they fuel the body in a more even, controlled way.

These days it is impossible to avoid information on healthy eating. However, what we eat also has an effect on our confidence levels and our ability to cope emotionally.

As was outlined in the’Stress busting’ section earlier in this book, our bodies produce stress hormones and release fatty acids and sugars to help us cope with a perceived crisis. When such events take place our bodies natural blood sugar levels are disturbed. Our blood sugars help us to regulate the fuel requirements needed by our bodies. Low blood sugar or hypoglycaemia contributes to symptoms of stress.

 

APPENDICES

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