There is a ‘fine line’ between stress and anxiety. These two words now seem to have become part of our everyday language. They go hand in hand, with our daily interactions, often a consequence of our busy lives.
There always seems so much to do, regardless of the season, however at this time of year, with Christmas and the New Year looming there seems to be EVEN MORE to fit in.
This compounding demand, that you and others place on you, can manifest itself in many different ways, such as insomnia, irritability or fatigue. You may notice you are craving junk food, your alcohol consumption has increased and you are not exercising as much as you like to.
In short you are not looking after yourself as well as you might, leading to you feeling stressed and or anxious.
“Stress and anxiety have become interchangeable adjectives for describing that feeling of being overwhelmed.”
The difference between stress and anxiety, in psychological terms, is that an external trigger often causes stress. This stress trigger can be immediate e.g. an argument with a loved one or the shop not having your preferred fun size chocolates or it can be a ‘longer-term’ trigger such as being under appreciated at work or home.
Anxiety on the other hand, is defined by ‘persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor.’
In addition to seeking professional support there are some small steps we can all take to feel less stressed and anxious.
Did you know that you can work to ‘change your brain’? – ‘you can learn to change your behaviour, thoughts and emotions’. In very simple terms there are ‘two’ parts to our brain; intellectual and emotional.
The intellectual part of your brain is the ‘best version of you,’ able to make a proper assessment of any given situation and identify the solutions that are right for you. The emotional part is only interested in your survival the ‘primitive you’. It’s hard-wired to hit it, run away form it or hide from it: ‘it’ being the trigger or your perceived trigger to your stress and or anxiety.
“How you think really does dictate how you feel and cope with stress and anxiety.”
By learning to be aware of your thoughts you can learn to think differently and ‘change your brain. We all have the ability to rewire our thoughts and create alternative behaviours to the emotions we experience. It just takes consistent work, time and patience.
In simple terms the emotional part of our brain, when engaged, is on a high state of alert to any perceived danger, a useful survival tool when all and sundry wanted to attack or eat us! When we are in this high state of alert the brain produces a toxic glut of stress hormones; adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisone, it is literally pumping up our fight, flight or freeze response. This response was essential when our lives were in mortal danger but, it’s not really fit for purpose when the supermarket has run out of our favourite fun size chocolate.
One small step towards reducing the levels of stress hormone you are producing is to notice, savour and value (NSV) the good things in your life, no matter how small. Taking this time to NSV will provide you with the intellectual control to be that best version of you and when you are in intellectual control the brain rewards you with the production of serotonin.
“Serotonin is the reward we get for NSV a new skill. It is by NSV the things you are doing well that changes the brain and equips you with positive behaviours, thoughts and emotions.”
To help you embed this change consider keeping a regular journal. Use this journal to formalise what you Notice, Savour and Value (NSV) about your daily interactions. Try not to think of this exercise as a ‘must’ do, rather consider it a ‘want’ to do.
Think how kind you would be if your best friend or partner were struggling to NSV about their daily interactions. You would not allow them to ‘beat themselves up’. No matter how small, you would help that friend or partner to NSV the positive and not dwell on the negative.
It is this effort, this act of compassion that we must learn to apply to our NSV of our own day-to-day interactions.
It is helpful to discipline yourself to think, act and interact with the world around us more positively, but what does this look like in terms of everyday life?
Begin your day by thinking more positively; this starts that flow of the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin. By saying to yourself ‘I get to drive my healthy children to school this morning’ you are NSV, you are thinking about the positives of your life. By driving your healthy children to school you are then turning that thought into a positive action. By taking the time to speak with a friend at the school gate, perhaps noticing they look well, have a new coat or simply that the weather is nice you are interacting positively with the world around you.
The thought, action and interaction expressed here means you get a 3:1 serotonin hit;
1 for thinking positively
1 for acting positively, and
1 for interacting positively.
All of which were harvested from the simple and necessary act of the school run. How you think really does dictates how you feel, by thinking differently you can change your brain.
Brett Rennolds is a qualified Solution Focused Hypnotherapist DSFH, HPD, MNCH NCH Supervisor and registered with the Complimentary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). If you want to know more about the issues covered in this article contact Brett at Rowan House Centre for an initial consultation.
 Ruby Wax ‘How to be Human’, Penguin (2018)