Even though stress is something that most people will struggle through in their lives, it's still not taken quite as seriously as other health conditions. Sometimes even people suffering from stress avoid dealing with it head on. It's understandable why not; it's not visible so it's not an easy thing to combat. But, in honour of National Stress Awareness Day, we present some psychological tools you can use to reduce those anxiety levels.
In the largest known study of stress levels among the UK population, the Mental Health Foundation discovered that a staggering 74% of people in their poll have felt overwhelmed with stress in the past year. This doesn't mean that there are just a lot of moody people around snapping at their family and friends, this means that 74% of people are at risk of (or already struggling with) serious mental illness, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, impotence, problems with menstruation, gastritis and weakened immune systems.
We have to tackle stress before the consequences have a devastating effect on our bodies. So how to we do that?
A recent study of 2,000 Brits conducted by holiday specialists On the Beach in collaboration with Peter Kinderman (Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool and NHS consultant clinical psychologist) saw that people believed thinking back to their childhood helped them to feel calmer and happier, and more positive about the future.
1 in 10 revealed that childhood memories cheered them up when they were feeling low, 1 in 7 claimed it helped them relax and 1 in 5 felt more motivated and positive when they thought of happy memories, the most vivid memories being those of school trips and summer holidays.
Kinderman says there's a reason for this, explaining that our memories help us shape our perception of the world around us from a young age which paves the way for our actions in the future.
"Philosophers and psychologists agree that we are what we remember - our self concept, our understanding of ourselves, of other people and the way the world works all depend on our memories", he says. "Our sense of who we are and our capacity to be happy and fulfilled is hugely dependent on our memories."
He goes on to explain that one method parents can use to help their contented children retain happy memories is the 5-4-3-2-1 meditation method. That is, encourage them to take note of five things they can see, four things they can hear, three things they can feel, two things they can smell and one thing they can taste, while on a family holiday.
As Kinderman says, "memories aren't like films". They are multi-sensory experiences that naturally change over time. The 5-4-3-2-1 method is frequently cited as a way that people suffering from anxiety can ground themselves in a moment, to stop their troubling thoughts spinning out of control. But this can also be used to recall memories as we absorb ourselves more completely in those simpler times. With the Christmas period coming up, it's a perfect time to test this out.
Here's an example of how to recall those happy Christmas memories over this stressful period:
5 things you can see - Snow, Christmas tree, fairy lights, presents, Santa Claus
4 things you can hear - Carols, church bells, Home Alone on the TV, laughter
3 things you can feel - Christmas jumper, tinsel, snow
2 things you can smell - Pine needles, chestnuts
1 thing you can taste - Mince pies
Tagged in Stress