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Stress affects each and every one of us in all manner of ways, but one thing we generally all have in common is that we certainly don’t try to seek it out. It most often comes when we don’t expect it. As much as many of us try to be adaptable, it’s simply the case that change of any sort is the most common cause of stress, as circumstances we’re used to managing are suddenly turned on their head.
Situations that are widely recognised as being particularly stressful are those that are associated with “big changes” – life events that will have a huge impact on us, yet we feel we have either a reduced or complete lack of control over what is happening1.
Difficult events that lead to highly stressful periods in our lives include some of the obvious; divorce, unemployment, money worries…challenges that many of us will face up to at one time or another.
Even positive life changes such as moving house, getting married and having a baby are also big stress causers. Even though they are positive and exciting times, they make unusual demands on us that are outside our comfort zones – which leads to feelings of anxiety.
The key then, is not to try and remove stress from your life entirely. This is unrealistic and frankly impractical. It’s more to do with accepting that it will come, and adopting an approach to your thinking and your life that gives you the best outlook to deal with it.
By focusing on positive behaviours and taking time out to pause and relax, you can reduce the impact stress has on your life.
Here, we’ve looked at just a few of those ‘Big Events’ in life – positive and negative – with some ways that anyone can learn to address them proactively.
For some, their mind is a whirlwind of doubt and emotion about leaving their old home behind and moving into a new phase of their life. If this is something that happens to you, try to shift focus. It can help to think about what your new home will be like. Visualise how it will look and imagine how you will feel when you’re settled and content in your new abode.
Mindfulness is a powerful stress reducing tool that is really easy to learn, and of particular use in this scenario2. It helps you to pay attention to the present moment using meditation and breathing techniques. Finding moments of calm in the chaos of settling into a new house can create a certain stillness, and help you feel like you are ‘tuning in’ to the new space.
Mindfulness helps to increase your awareness of what is happening around you, while shifting the focus from your source of stress – it has also been shown to affect how the brain works.
Lots of nervous energy about the big day? This may sound silly, but you can put it to good use and get active at the same time.That’s right, exercise is an excellent stress reliever that helps to put you in the right state of mind to take five and calm your racing mind. It also helps you to feel robust and mentally strong. Solo exercise is actually best, because often, the people you would want to exercise with are the people who you’ll be expecting at your wedding – and guess what they’ll want to talk about…?
Running, cycling, walking…it’s all about momentum, one foot in front of the other, no table plans, no worrying about family dynamics or venues. Just you, the outdoors and your own heart beating…bliss!
If the idea of a workout makes you wince, even a short brisk walk can help you to feel refreshed and ready to tackle anything your big day throws at you3. When you exercise, it reduces some of the emotional intensity that you’re feeling, clears your thoughts and enables you to deal with problems more calmly.
Here it’s natural to feel angry, upset or in some way feel inadequate. Now more than ever, it’s important to try and work to understand and accept that there are with the best will in the world, some things you cannot change, and it’s not always a reflection on you.
Employment concerns are one of the biggest causes of stress and can be exhausting, anxious times. Learning to accept that it isn’t always possible to change difficult situations at work can help you to recognise what you do have control over.
This is the key. Many people have gone on in later years to say that being made redundant was one of the most positive things that had ever happened to them. By letting go of the frustration and resentment about losing their job, they were better able to focus on the new possibilities this offered them.
Losing your job is an end, yes – but only of one chapter in your life. View it as an opportunity to start another, with an eye on things you perhaps always wanted to do…
In times of raw emotion and often confusion following the death of a loved one, it can be difficult to face up to the day to day. You may feel like the last thing you want to do is talk, and indeed, giving yourself time to grieve and process your emotions is important.Yet it’s also essential, even if it feels like an effort, to reach out to your support network of friends and family. Remembering the power of connection can really help in these darkest of times. Whether you need someone to listen, a helping hand to assist with making arrangements or just a friendly face to grab some food shopping necessities for you – connecting with others can be a wonderful comfort and support. Sometime, someone just being there, not even necessarily talking, is something to draw a lot of comfort from. Recognise that leaning on others doesn’t make you vulnerable – it shows an awareness and presence of mind that help from those you trust is an essential support.
The end of any relationship, and especially a marriage, can be devastating and unsurprisingly results in emotional distress, often leading to feelings of self-doubt or over analysis of what you could have done better or differently.
Positive visualisation and reinforcement is a useful tool here4. It can be really beneficial to focus on the positives in your life and the things you’re most grateful for. To start with, it may be difficult to reflect on – or even remember – the positive aspects of life before the breakdown of a relationship, let alone how you might go on after it.
This can come in time – it’s a question of training your mind to try and keep the ‘positive’ muscles working. A simple way to start is to try writing down three things at the end of every day that went well or that made you smile. It may sound a little wishful, but in fact this exercise has shown that people can start to realign the way they see the world, actively seeking the positive, where they may not have done so before.
By making a conscious effort to be more positive, you can train yourself to change your perspective and look towards the future with a renewed sense of hope – and this will include accounting for, and accepting the life changes that led to the separation. By taking charge of how you address the situation, you invite greater possibilities for new beginnings, and new opportunities. It can’t be done overnight, but you can bounce back.
Difficult moments in our lives are something we will all experience at some point. Stress caused by these kinds of changes is unavoidable, yet we can manage its effects by first understanding it, and then addressing it in a positive and practical way.
It’s never easy, and you should never feel it’s a fight to be fought alone. With a little effort, and the support of friends and loved ones, you can visualise – and then manifest – a brighter future.
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