Is stress always a bad thing and what can we do about it?

Many of us think of stress as a bad thing, but can we really avoid it or is it just part of life in the modern world? We often hear people say about how stressed they are, or how much stress they are under at work or home. The pressure of life seems to be getting greater, as time demands on us increase and down time decreases. We are in constant contactable distance, so even on holiday or when away from the office, we can be ‘got at’. How did we manage this before computers, email, mobiles and iphone?  We seem to expect shops to be open 24/7 and our lives to be 24/7 too. People seem on the whole unhappier. We compare ourselves to others more, we want what they have, or we perceive them to have, and we want it now.

In practice we see more and more children with stress related conditions, due largely to these same issues and, again in my opinion, an existence in the ‘virtual’ world. They have unreal expectations, they communicate with each other via messenger, they talk in text speak and they are again subjected to a barrage of the information on their phones, ipads and through media. Unlike most adults we deal with though, the children do not understandably always know real world from cyber world and so this adds another dimension of stress.

Stress is not however always a bad thing and in fact a certain level of it is seen to be healthy, but what turns healthy in to healthy or what I like to call diss-stress? My view is the way in which we perceive it and the way in which we recognise, control and deal with it. Everyone’s level of coping ability is different, but control, I would say lies at the heart of dealing with stress and there is no right way to exert this control.

I tend to say to my patients to think about the things that stress them and assign a value to the degree to which those things stress/ bother them. Once this is done we have a relative picture of which are the bigger players and those that are the tiddlers in our stress map. Then we look at those we can may be eradicate, minimise or we have to face. There are some stresses in life that we may not be able to control, but in the words of one of my favourite sayings I repeat to my patients “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”. If you really cannot change something, accept it and do not fret it. Why waste energy and stress on something that you cannot change or have no control over, if that is the true case.

Then we work to deal with aspects we can change and together we find ways to control the bodies’ reaction to stress, so that it has less impact on us. For some of my patients this may be through meditation, yoga, massage, hypnotherapy or painting, for others this may be through some more extreme methods like screaming or a hitting a punch bag. I have never believed that one way works for all and certainly myself, I get much better results from a punch bag than I do from meditation. Sometimes I also find visualisation helps, this too is personal from patient to patient and drawn upon by our own experiences.

I have used visualisation techniques to overcome some of my biggest hurdles in life. It has helped me to cope under some enormous pressures and stresses that I have faced and it has got me through some dark times. Often my visualisation will not be focused on a place, but a person I know who I ‘visualise’ myself becoming. So for example one of my friend’s is Mr Chilled out. Very laid back, very calm and very easy going. I visualise how he sounds, how he sits, how he speaks, his breathing and I take on his persona. For me this works and I have several other people, I know well who I adopt the persona of when I need to. May be this may seem odd to some, but for me this works.

The key I believe to stress and managing it is therefore recognise, accept, control and conquer. At BOP we are here to help our patients physically, mentally and emotionally to achieve overall wellbeing. Stress is part of this and asking for help is by no means any sign of weakness. Learn to accept this and to accept and ask for help. You will be surprised sometimes at those people who will help you. I think as British people we are often too proud to ask for help. Take off this proud coat and welcome help with open arms. Hugs are good stress relievers too.

One final thing, please spend more time talking with and listening to your kids. Put the gadgets down and just listen to them. I have learnt many a thing from the little ones and teens in clinic. My use of the word sic has gained me some cred too. The latest prize gem, whispered to me in confidence from fear of being overheard, from a most adorable 4- year old, was  that power rangers are not real…why is that I asked…because they are never seen walking around in Tesco’s! Sometimes what we learn is not essentially useful, but they are always insightful and if our future generations are to be less stressed than us, we need to teach them how to be!