There is a parable that tells the story of a frog that, if put in a pot of boiling water, will instantly scramble to get out. But if you put it in a pot filled with pleasantly tepid water and gradually increase the heat, the frog will adjust to the slowly increasing temperature, until it can’t. The frog will continue to compensate for the gradual increase in temperature until it's too late.
It’s common for people to not realize they are stressed out. Often people minimize the stress they are under, the effect it has, and don’t take action. It’s easy to write off the signs of stress. That tired foggy feeling is because you haven’t been sleeping well. You haven’t been sleeping well because of the changes in your work schedule. You aren’t feeling as motivated because you’re working from home. You’re snacking more because the food is more available. And you likely come up with similar excuses for headaches, crankiness, aches and pains, and more.
You’re doing a great job adjusting to the slow build up of stress. No matter how well you are adjusting to it, stress still takes a toll on you physically and emotionally. Some physical signs of stress can often be mistaken to be symptoms of some other issue. So listen closely to what your body is trying to tell you. It responds to stress and whatever is causing it in similar ways but the symptoms are different for everyone.
Let’s Talk About Stress
Stress is the word that we use to describe our physical and emotional reactions to the things that strain us. It can be physical or emotional, and come from inside or outside. Stress is just the way we react to things that put a strain or our resources.
You have probably heard of the “fight or flight or freeze” response that happens in our bodies when we’re faced with a physical or emotional strain. We either escape, win, or lose, and when that happens the “fight or flight” response shuts off. In the world we live in now our stresses don’t always resolve easily, and that fight or flight becomes chronic stress. Chronic stress is a continuation of that initial response.
The body is meant to deal with stress in the short term. If a tiger appears, your heart rate goes up, your breathing gets faster and shallow, and some senses fade as others sharpen. Then you escape and your body settles down. But when stressful situations are ongoing, it results in high blood pressure, soreness in the jaw, neck, and back, headaches, sleep disturbances, irritability, fatigue, aches and pains, sugar and carb cravings, difficulty concentrating, and more.
The good news is that you can lower your levels of stress and change the way you respond to stressful situations. Taking some time each day to do something relaxing, using breathing techniques, hypnosis, meditation, and other tools can dissolve your current stress and train your mind and body to choose relaxation instead.
It may also help you to discover how you respond to stress now. Ask yourself: What stresses me out? What do I do well to cope? What don't I do so well? What do I need to learn to do better? You can also ask others close to you to give you feedback. Having a better understanding of your stress response will let you make changes more easily.
Let’s take some time this week to relax. Taking just fifteen minutes a day to practice relaxing can shift your focus, lower your blood pressure, and help restore your sense of calm and wellbeing. Try these simple things to begin creating the habit of being relaxed.
Notice Your Muscles
Take a break from whatever you’re doing. Starting at your toes and working upwards, spend a moment focusing on each part of your body, slowly tensing and then relaxing the muscles of each part of your body.
Sit comfortably in a chair with your back straight and your chin up. Let your eyes close comfortably and take a deep breath while pushing out the muscles in your belly. Inhale for the count of four. Hold that breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold for another count of four before you inhale again. Repeat this cycle four times to begin turning off the stress response in your body.
Take a Vacation - in Your Mind
Sit back for just a moment and take a deep breath. Let your eyes close and imagine a time when you felt the most relaxed. Maybe it was a vacation, or just relaxing on a beautiful day. Imagine that moment as if you are there again, with all that you can see, all that you can hear, and how it feels being there. After a few moments you’ll feel like you’re ready to open your eyes, feeling much better.
Hypnosis is a specific set of tools designed to help people use their own skills, abilities, and resources more effectively to take back control of the parts of their lives that felt out of control before. Hypnosis breaks down the barriers that held you locked in unwanted behaviors and habits, and empowers you to create new healthier behaviors in their place. A great way to begin is by using self-hypnosis. The steps below will guide you through a very basic introductory self hypnosis experience.
Remember that you don’t have to create pictures in your mind in order to be successful. Some people see things very clearly in their minds. Other people just get a vague idea of the thing they’re thinking of. As long as you can “sense” what you want to achieve, you can self-hypnotize.
Find a comfortable place you can safely sit with your eyes closed for about 5 minutes. Turn off your phone and minimize other distractions. Take a few deep breaths. Let your eyes close or let your vision go soft and blurry. Imagine yourself in a place where you felt truly relaxed. Imagine that you are in that moment from your past again right now. Just sit quietly and let your mind wander or rest. After a few minutes you’ll feel like it’s time to open your eyes. When you do, your vision will clear and you’ll feel awake, alert, and refreshed.
Commit to this exercise for a week. Plan on spending about 5 minutes a day. Self hypnosis takes more repetition than using hypnosis with a professional, so you’ll want to stick with it for at least a week. You’ll begin seeing positive changes in the way you think and feel almost immediately.
Begin to practice these techniques on your own and see the positive changes you can incorporate into your life.∎
Karen Gray is a Certified Hypnotist, Registered Nurse, and the Director of Green Mountain Hypnosis. For more information on how you can use hypnosis to change your life, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (802) 566-0464.