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Stress and anxiety appear to be a common ailment across various ages and despite this, it can still feel very isolating. Through my research on this topic, I came across the work of Dr Arielle Schwartz, who interweaves her expertise in the field of psychology with that in the area of yoga. This is because the body has a very important part to play when it comes to anxiety and stress. During a training webinar on ‘Practical Interventions for Anxiety and Acute Traumatic Stress’ which she gave recently, I felt that the following were the most important points:

  1. Coping with stress vs resolving stress.

When we feel that there are many changes in our life, or else that there are a lot of things happening at the same time, we may feel overwhelmed and unable to understand fully. This means that we take a longer time to process our experiences due to having a sensory overload.

Before being able to process and digest all of this, for which you need a safe space, you may need to simply cope with the stress. This is because when you are agitated, you become reactive, and this impedes you from taking a step back and looking in depth at what is going on since it is not safe to do so at that specific point in time.

Initially one needs to identify ways of coping with stress (which may not always be healthy), before being actually able to resolve it through the right self-care, support systems and developing the required psychological tools.

2. Becoming aware of what is being activated.

When we become agitated, our flight/ fight/ freeze / fawn response is engaged because different parts of ourselves are being triggered. We need to ask ourselves these questions;

  • Is my reaction proportionate to the trigger or is my reaction too ‘large’? When this happens, it can show us that we are not only reacting to the present trigger, but also to something which happened in the past, probably unresolved, which has been tapped into through the current trigger.
  • What is happening to me internally? Which aspects of myself are being triggered?
  • Looking back into my history and my memories, what information can I link to what is happening presently? It is very important to differentiate between what is happening now and what has happened in the past in order to feel better able to resolve the current stressor since you put things in a better perspective.

3. Our body and routine

When we take care of our bodies, and we have routine in our life, unconsciously we can function much better because it becomes more predictable. If you know when your body will be nourished, when you will rest, when you will meet your friend for a chat, etc… everything becomes easier because you don’t need to become preoccupied with having your needs met and you can invest your energy and focus on other things. When a stressor comes up, and we don’t have balance in our life, it will feel even more overwhelming since we need to actively seek out the things which make up our self-care.

This routine isn’t only limited to our activities and interactions at a social level. It is also physical. If you exercise regularly and eat healthy regularly, this also gives a sense of predictability and empowerment. When thinking of self-care, you don’t have to think of high maintenance activities, but simple things which are achievable daily. These may include getting enough sleep, taking in fluids and vitamins, finding some time to unwind, etc…

4. Making choices and focusing on the positive.

When we are being very anxious and stressed, it becomes easy to criticise everything and to focus on the negative. However, you need to challenge yourself to spend some time thinking about positive things. The more you train your mind to see the positive, the more it will react positively to life situations. Thus, it is important to acknowledge what is not going well, but not to lose sight of what is going well. It helps to think of the choices that you can make at that point in time even when we feel that we have limited choices.

5. Coping mechanisms.

Sometimes we engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms, or else denial or numbing out of psychological pain. This can be healthy when engaged for a short while. It helps to acknowledge the fact that it is a temporary distraction which enables you to feel safe and contained for a short while. In the long run, it is important to find better containment and more healthy ways of resolving the conflict in order to avoid repeating certain unhealthy patterns.

To conclude we can say that it is OK to cope with stress and anxiety in the way we feel suits us best, whilst acknowledging the fact that this is a temporary measure. We need to identify what the anxiety is triggering from our past and to put our reaction in perspective. Taking care of oneself and one’s body is extremely important to be better able to deal with new situations which might cause us to feel helpless and overwhelmed.

Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on abigail@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.