Over the course of the therapy I have given a lot of the same things come up repeatedly.
So first off let’s start but talking about how stress and anxiety builds up. Every negative thought you have gets converted into stress/anxiety and stored (we say its stored in a stress bucket).
So whether it’s something major like redundancy/grief/trauma or minor things like an argument or a meeting you have coming up it all accumulates and builds up (and here I do have to say that what is major and minor for the individual is entirely variable to the person… confrontation or public speaking can be major things for people too).
When this stress bucket fills up and overflows the primitive mind will take over. The primitive mind is the limbic system (amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus). when this part of the brain takes over it responds with the primitive opt out clauses of fight, flight or depression… or a combination of all three.
We empty our stress bucket during REM sleep. REM takes up enormous amounts of energy in processing everything so when we’re overdoing it our sleep is often one of the first indicators that we are suffering from stress/anxiety etc. Either struggling to get to sleep, with the brain overheating and waking us up during the night or feeling tired and that we need more sleep when we do wake up.
So how do we improve things? Well the key to a lot of this is serotonin. We all know when we’re in a good place we find it so much easier to cope with anything. If you stub your toe when you’re rested and happy it’s just a passing inconvenience that you swiftly forget about… when you’re tired, anxious, stressed or depressed we may well respond in a much angrier or volatile manner
So what can we do to create a flow of serotonin that will keep us feeling positive and better able to cope?
We have to focus on the 3 P’s. Positive actions, Positive intreractions and Positive thoughts.
Exercise, self care (incredibly important and often overlooked), creative pursuits, hobbies etc are all positive actions, and I’m sure you can think of things that you enjoy doing from your life. But also these can be anything that is positive, small achievable goals can be very important when really struggling. Just getting dressed can be enough sometimes. When you’re stuck in traffic it always feels better to take a detour, even if it’s a longer journey, because feeling like you are moving and progressing always feels better, even if those milestones are incremental initially.
Seeing friends, doing social things, going to events are obvious positive interactions. Connecting with people is important.
Positive thoughts is often something people find harder. The primitive brain will automatically take note of negatives that happen. We have to train our brains to take notice of positive things. Far too often we gloss over these and dismiss them but it’s important we acknowledge them in order to maintain a balanced view of our lives. I ask my clients to keep a journal of positive things every night, just 3 things. But the more we practice doing it the more we develop that area of the brain and the more natural it becomes. And these positives can be anything, depending on where you started from, I had a great conversation with a friend, someone made me smile, I made someone else smile, I had a really nice meal… or even just I got out of bed, and acknowledging those small achievements can build up. They’re all important.
And the 4th of the 3 P’s? I hear you all not ask since I only mentioned 3 before.
The 4th P is Purpose. Having goals, objectives and things you want to strive for and achieve. Feeling like you have a direction and that you are making progress towards it. Finding things you are passionate about. These all help with motivation and improving our enjoyment and quality of life. Our brain likes to achieve things and breaking things down into small achievable goals and targets is important.
All this may seem very obvious but it’s also all too easy to overlook when we are struggling.