Get Organised: 6 Steps To Less Stress

I always find it interesting how clients can be brilliantly efficient and effective in some areas of their life but not in others. For example, clients who can manage so well in stressful working conditions,
who can manage large teams of staff or complex working environments, can fall apart when dealing with a difficult home life. The skills and knowledge that they draw on in the workplace go out the window when confronted with a stroppy toddler or intrusive parent.

Using effective time management and organisational skills throughout our lives is a great way to reduce our stress and anxiety. Many clients find themselves overwhelmed by emotions when dealing with life’s challenges and it is usually linked to a feeling of losing control. Learning to relax and slow down, by using techniques such as hypnosis or mindfulness, can really help but so to can making some very simple and practical changes.

If you want to get back that feeling of self-control, and start to feel less stressed, try to incorporate these 6 changes into your life today.

Ditch Perfectionism

Striving to do your best can be a good trait to have. It can lead to great achievements in your life such as passing exams or a successful and rewarding career. However, research shows that the dark side of perfectionism can lead to poor physical health and even an early death.

Setting high standards for yourself can help you to achieve personal and professional goals, but setting unrealistic standards throughout your life can lead to unwanted stress.  

The key to ditching perfectionism is starting to accept that you can’t be perfect at everything that you do. Begin by changing your “self talk” – the words that you say to yourself. Replace “I must…”, “I should…”, “I have to…” with more realistic words such as “I hope to…”, “I’d like to…”, “I wish to…”.

Then make sure that you start to set yourself goals and targets that are realistic and achievable. No one can be the perfect parent, perfect partner, perfect employee and the perfect son or daughter.  

Finally, congratulate yourself on your successes but be more compassionate with yourself when things don’t go the way you had hoped.

Stop Procrastinating

Do you find yourself putting tasks off or avoiding them completely? Perhaps you are avoiding them because you’ve just got too much on, or perhaps you are just not motivated to do it. If you are a perfectionist perhaps you are avoiding it because you don’t want to do it badly or wrong, or perhaps it’s a task that you know (or assume) you are just not going to enjoy doing.

Procrastination, and the worry that sometimes comes from putting off a task, especially with an impending deadline, can lead to additional stress. Much better to tackle the task head on as early as possible.

A great way to avoid procrastination is to start by reaffirming your goal.  Is it a task that really needs to be done? Are you the best person to do it? Do you know anyone else who has completed it who can give you some advice? What is the outcome if the task isn’t completed?

Then set yourself a realistic deadline and allocate sufficient time in your diary to complete it.

Finally break the task down into smaller, more manageable steps.

Set Priorities

When we have so many competing tasks and deadlines it can be hard to see the wood for the trees and easy to become overwhelmed by negative emotions. To prevent this from happening take some time to set your priorities. What are the key tasks that you need to complete and what can be pushed back, or is simply no longer required?  Once you’ve made a decision on your most important tasks you can begin by completing those tasks first.

Have A System

For many people who are stressed, when their brain is ramped up and on high alert, their mind becomes filled with all the things that they have to get done. In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen stresses the importance of moving planned tasks and projects out of your head and having a proper system for filing and recording them. In Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual the authors discuss the value of “externalising”, getting all the clutter out of your head so that you can think more clearly.

Many of us might be really organised in work, but allow our personal life to become chaotic. To get organised quickly and simply there are 4 essential steps:

  • Set up a filing system – invest in some folders and something to store them in (you don’t need to buy a filing cabinet, a small expander file might be sufficient). Collect everything in your house that needs to be filed away eg bank statements, theatre tickets, instruction manuals, post-it notes and create a file for each. Make sure you create suitable systems for electronic documents and email as well.
  • Get a note taking device, either a physical notebook or an electronic one such as the Evernote app. Use it to jot down ideas or anything that comes to mind – get it out of your head!!
  • Buy a calendar/diary or make the most of online calendars such as Google Calendar. Put everything in it – birthdays, anniversaries, appointments. Start to use it to book time out for things that are important to you eg going to the gym, meeting friends, taking the kids swimming.
  • Start a task list/things to do list – again, this can be physical, such as an A4 pad, or electronic, such as the app Remember The Milk. Write down everything that you need to do, no matter how small. Review it regularly and keep it updated.

Start to say “No”

Are you a people pleaser? Does it feel wrong to say “No” when others ask you for help? Are other people’s responsibilities getting in the way of your goals?  Then you need to start saying “No”.

It might seem hard at first, you might feel that you are letting other people down or are worried that other people will think badly of you. However, learning to say “No” can be liberating. Consider how much extra time and energy you would have if you had said “No” more often.

So, start to practice saying “No” to the small requests and work your way up to bigger things. Don’t apologise and avoid the trap of saying things like “I will try to do it later if I’ve got time”. Learn to be polite but firm and accept that you can only be responsible for your own feelings and you can’t influence how other people feel.

Learn To Delegate

Just as many people can’t say “No”, others find it difficult to delegate tasks. Perhaps it’s the fear that another person won’t do the job as well as you (see Ditch Perfectionism) or perhaps you don’t want to be seen as being weak. Whatever the reason, now is a great time to start delegating tasks.

The 4 D’s is a classic productivity system for deciding what to do with the tasks you have:

  • Drop it – Does it really need doing? If not, drop it
  • Do it – Can it be done straight away? Then do it now
  • Defer it – Is it going to take more time or resources or knowledge than you’ve got now? Then defer it
  • Delegate it – Are you the best person to do this task? If not, delegate it

In the workplace if you are a manager, then delegation is a skill that you should be developing anyway. Even if you are not a manager there may be opportunities to delegate tasks to colleagues who are better suited to the task. Perhaps in return you could do something that you are better at or would enjoy more.

Even within a family setting, tasks can be delegated effectively. Including children in household chores is a vital part of learning life skills. Teaching children to tidy their own room, wash up or make their own breakfast can free up your time considerably. Make sure you explain the task fully to them and learn to accept that they aren’t going to reach your standards straight away.

Drink Yourself Calmer: 3 Tips To Reduce Anxiety

In my last blog post I discussed the importance of maintaining a healthy nutritious diet to combat the effects of stress and anxiety.
By eating foods rich in nutrients such as calcium, B vitamins, and potassium it’s possible to feel calmer and less stressed.

In this article I will look at why what we drink is just as important as what we eat and discuss the 3 tips to drink your way to a calmer life.

Stay Hydrated

Everyone knows that our bodies need water to function properly. Our organs, such as our brain or kidneys, can be severely affected if we are not consuming enough water. What many people don’t realise is that when we are dehydrated the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our body increases.

Unfortunately, when we are under stress our heart rate goes up and we start to breath more heavily. Each time we exhale we lose water from our body. A vicious cycle is created where stress causes dehydration; and dehydration causes stress.

Once we are dehydrated we then have to deal with the other symptoms it produces such as feeling more tired, headaches and nausea. This naturally makes dealing with the stress in our life even harder.

The answer, therefore, is to stay hydrated – and this means purposefully drinking more water.

In the UK, the general advice from the NHS is that we should drink 1.2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid every day to stay hydrated. However, there has been recent research that questions these amounts and of course we can gain fluid through the food that we eat and a wide range of drinks, some healthier than others.

My advice to clients who see me for hypnotherapy is that 6-8 glasses of water (or fruit/mint tea) is a good rule of thumb. If they recognise that they don’t drink anywhere near that amount then it is a good time to do something about it.

Cut Out Caffeine

Many of us need our fix of caffeine to kick start our day. In fact, caffeine is thought to have several known benefits including:

  • Improves feelings of wellbeing
  • Increases energy
  • Improves memory and cognition

However, caffeine also causes the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, another stress hormone. Additional adrenaline in your body can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and helps to divert blood to the muscles. As part of the flight or flight mechanism, this would be really helpful for life or death situation, such as a lion walking towards you, but not so helpful while sitting in a morning meeting. The jittery feeling that many people get when they drink too much coffee, or a really strong cupful, is a result of the stress response being triggered.

My advice to clients is therefore to cut out caffeine completely, whether from tea, coffee or other soft drinks. The easiest option is to replace it with a glass of water, but you can also try decaffeinated drinks, fruit teas or mint teas.

Ditch The Drink

We might start the day with a shot of caffeine to perk us up but by the end of the day many of us reach for the booze to bring us back down again after a stressful day. Whether your tipple is a cool chardonnay or a G&T, there are good reasons to cut down or go on the wagon.

Firstly, many people drink alcohol in the belief that it is good stress reducer. Alcohol is a depressant and therefore the chemicals in it slow down the brain and central nervous system, leading to a short term feeling of relaxation. However, alcohol, especially in larger quantities over a long period, can interfere with the neurotransmitters responsible for good mental health. In the long term, too much alcohol can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

I’ve seen many clients who have found themselves in a vicious circle of having feelings of anxiety during the day and using alcohol to reduce them, but finding it only offers short term relief. Over time they need to increase their consumption to feel more relaxed until they get to the point where they realise their drinking has got out of hand.

Secondly, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you dehydrated. We’ve already looked at the danger of being dehydrated when we are stressed or anxious and obviously there’s no point being virtuous during the day, drinking your 8 glasses of water, to then blow that good work on booze.

When we drink too much it’s common to wake up the following morning hungover. The headache we have is a result of the body trying to restore our fluid levels. Combined with the nausea caused by the alcohol irritating our stomach and intestines, we start the day tired and less able to deal with the challenges ahead. It’s easy to end the day feeling more stressed and reaching for another bottle.

In addition to feeling calmer, by cutting back or quitting you will:

  • Save some money
  • Have more energy
  • Sleep better
  • Think more clearly and make better decision

I advise clients to drink in moderation or, if appropriate, to stop drinking while they try to tackle their anxiety. Drinking alcohol can be a coping strategy for many people, and learning more healthy tactics such as self-hypnosis or mindfulness can be a lot more beneficial. There are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and posh soft drinks on the market these days and of course you can always replace your drink with a healthy glass of water.

13 Foods To Reduce Anxiety

Whenever a client comes to see me to reduce stress or anxiety I always spend a bit of time looking at what they eat and drink.
Now, this comes as a surprise to some clients who think they are just coming to see me
to sit in a chair with their eyes closed doing hypnosis. 

The truth is that effective stress or anxiety management needs to include a range of tactics and techniques that the client can start to implement on a daily basis. The hypnotherapy that we do will play a big part in helping the client feel calmer, more relaxed or more confident, but we also need to make sure that their lifestyle complements the treatment.

Why do I need to eat a healthy diet?

Stressful situations trigger the fight or flight response, a physiological change that is designed to protect us against life or death situations. Our bodies are flooded with over 30 hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, that are all preparing the body for the impending “danger”. We can usually cope well with short term stress, or acute stress, such as preparing for a presentation or having to deliver a best man’s speech. Once the “danger” has gone our body is able to relax again and we go back to a natural state of balance called homeostasis.
However, long term stress, or chronic stress, can have a significant impact on the functioning of our body. For example;

  • Stress depletes nutrients in our body including calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and Zinc
  • Stress depletes the immune system
  • Stress causes people to crave unhealthy foods high in fat or sugar

Therefore to counteract the effects of chronic stress we need to eat a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in nutrients, but low in fat or sugar. The NHS recommend the Eatwell diet, based upon a Mediterranean diet. Research shows that this type of diet not only reduces stress but can also reduce the risk of depression. To help replace your depleted nutrients the NHS recommends that you follow a diet that:

  • Is rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Is high in (wholegrain) starchy carbohydrates eg pasta, rice, potatoes, bread
  • Contains moderate amounts of dairy
  • Includes protein mainly from beans, pulses and oily fish, and less from red and processed meats
  • Is low in foods that are high in saturated fats, salt and sugar

Foods to make you feel great

The following foods are all healthy and nutritious and will help to combat the affects of stress.

Asparagus
– contains folic acid which is great at boosting our mood and fighting depression.

Avocado – high in B vitamins which can reduce help with reducing anxiety as well as being high in potassium and monounsaturated fat, which can help to lower blood pressure.

Bananas – loaded with potassium which needs replacing when we are stressed.

Berries – contain vitamin C and antioxidants which help repair and protect cells that have been affected by stress.

Complex Carbohydrates – All carbs increase the production of serotonin but complex carbs such as whole-grain breads, pastas, and oatmeal are also great at stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Fish – a diet rich in omega-3 can help reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels when you’re feeling tense. One study showed a 20 percent reduction in anxiety among participants taking omega-3. For vegetarians there are a number of plant based sources of omega-3 including seeds, leafy greens, walnuts and beans.

Green Leafy Vegetables – spinach and swiss chard in particular are packed with magnesium, which can help to regulate cortisol levels and improve wellbeing. They are also rich in folate which helps your body produce serotonin and dopamine and improve your mood. Finally they are high in zinc, which helps maintain your immune system.

Milk – high in antioxidants, vitamins B2 and B12, which all need replacing when we are stressed. The potassium in milk can also help relieve muscle spasms triggered by feeling tense and calcium eases anxiety and mood swings linked to PMS.

Nuts – almonds in particular are high in vitamins B2 and E which can support the immune system during times of stress. Eating pistachios, walnuts, or almonds regularly can also help lower your cholesterol.

Oranges – Another great source of vitamin C which is known to lower blood pressure as well as cortisol levels.

Seeds – pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds all contain magnesium which can increase levels of serotonin, which helps to regulate emotions and enhance well-being. Seeds can also be high in zinc.

Turkey – Contains an amino acid call tryptophan which increases serotonin levels, which promotes calmness. Tofu, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and free-range eggs are also good sources of tryptophan.

Yoghurt – Research shows that fermented foods such as yoghurt, pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut contain beneficial bacteria which improves gut flora. This in turn improves anxiety symptoms.