Every April since 1992 we have celebrated Stress Awareness Month. It’s a sobering exercise, taking myself back to 1992. Those days of dial-up modems and palm pilots (I was a geek then as well). How things have changed: the definition of stress in 1992 was something entirely different to today. For starters, I had no idea what my friend down the road was doing; I didn’t know what he was eating, what music he was listening to and who he was spending his weekend with. It actually never occurred to me to want to know. Consequently, I didn’t feel pressure to compete with him. When we met, we would talk about what had been going on, I might listen to a few of his new cassettes and we might arrange to play football with our other friends. I was in the park recently and I saw a young girl, no older than 5 years old, riding a scooter whilst FaceTiming her grandma.
So, what can I tell you about stress? Well I happen to be very experienced in the subject. Most of my workload is directly or indirectly related to it. The overweight diabetic who eats for comfort; the middle-aged hypertensive who promises to cut down his working hours next week; the young student who is housebound due to panic episodes; the new mum who has been scouring forums about her baby’s feeding habits. Time and time again we see the devastating effects of stress, but we do little to prevent it in the first place.
How To Manage Stress
So, how can you reduce stress? How can you manage your stress? It’s anyone’s guess. In my clinical practice I have tried a number of methods and I’ve been paternalistic, non-judgemental and prescriptive. I’ve advised exercise, prescription drugs, talking therapies and time off work. When I try and distil everything I’ve learnt through practice and theory I’ve ended up with a simple piece of advice which I think can help anyone struggling with stress: talk to yourself.
OK, before you call me crazy, let me explain. There is a lot of research pointing to the idea that group education and therapy regarding stress puts an individual in much better stead to manage stress in the future. In the modern era where we might not have time to participate in group therapy, we should use what we have at our disposal. Stress education is available to anyone with a smartphone. I could wax lyrical about the use of mindfulness apps, the evidence behind yoga and breathing exercises, the benefits of physical exercise, the effect of sleep and diet on your cortisol levels. But you know all this already.
There’s something about talking to someone about your stress which is of paramount importance here. Since we’re not talking any more, we can improvise and talk to your past self.
How To Do It
- Find a quiet place and put your phone into airplane mode so you’re not disturbed
- Set a timer for 2 minutes
- Activate your selfie camera and start recording a video
- Start talking about the physical signs that you are stressed – how your shoulders hurt, how you’ve got headaches or how that rash has come back.
- Then talk about why you’re stressed. Tell yourself about the run-in with your colleague, or how your toddler drove you up the wall. Talk about how you’re worried about the holiday that’s coming up.
- Finally, try to talk about how you’re going to fight back. How you’re going to be more organised, get a massage, go running or finally send that email you’ve been putting off.
When the alarm goes off, you’re done. Save the video and forget about it. Set a reminder in your phone to watch it tomorrow.
This conversation with your past self is extremely powerful. Not only can you see your face, your posture, your eye contact with the camera, but everything that has been bothering you is out in the open. You are hearing about yourself in the real world and the message is clear: this is the problem and here is what I’m going to do.