Taming the Beast - Article 2 of 3 How stressed are you and how can you reduce that stress
Welcome to article 2 of my series - Taming the Beast
The articles in the series are excerpts from my booklet, Taming the Beast, the Little Book of Stress Management (availble in my bookstore on Lulu.com).
Follow along as we look at ways to make your life a little smoother, calmer and more relaxed.
So, how stressed are you? How well do you handle the challenges of daily life, especially the ones you cannot take on directly – corporate politics, troubled relationships, etc. For some people, the difficulties of life are minor. They easily navigate their way between the icebergs. Yet for others, the effects are much greater.
Mayo Clinic website[i] lists a series of indicator questions[ii] to help determine the level of stress in your life. The following questions are derived from the Mayo stress inventory: 1. To what degree and how often does life feel out of control? 2. To what degree and how often do things seem to go wrong? 3. To what degree and how often do you feel angry, irritable? 4. To what degree and how often are you less than confident about your life and your abilities? 5. To what degree and how often do you have difficulty concentrating due to feelings of stress or worry?
If you answered some or most of these questions with “often” and/or “to a high degree,” then you may be vulnerable to the stress monster.
Stress Management –Taming the beast What are some ways to manage the stress in your life? The literature on stress management is extensive and you may want to read some of the materials referenced[iii] at the end of this article. The following is a partial list, derived from the Mayo Clinic stress management page described earlier:
- Better sleep - Better food - Less caffeine - Changes in lifestyle & Circumstances - Healing your present relationships - Changing jobs - Changing social environment - Changes in mental/emotional outlook - Meditation and Mindfulness - Trusting a friend - Counseling
The references at the end of this article provide resources to help with stress management. All of these are good suggestions and each could be vital to your well being. In addition, the techniques described in the rest of this series can be an excellent adjunct to this common-sense list.
Thoughts, Feelings and your health Who or what are the sources of stress in your life? Is it a coworker? Is it a particular circumstance? When you think back on stressful events in your life, is there a pattern to these events? When they occur, is there a sense of familiarity? Have similar things happened before?
There are a lot of potential stress drivers in our everyday world. We live in a fast-paced society. We deal with many demands on our time, many moments of criticism, many roadblocks and frustrations. Why do some seem to cope with stressful influences easily, while others can be quickly drawn into the fight or flight response?
Each of us has our own unique vulnerabilities, our own internal hot buttons based upon our memories, knowledge, beliefs, past experiences, etc. Our beliefs form a lens through which we see the world. For some, this filter may be such that negative influences are limited and reactions to them are low key and collected. For others, the filter may allow too many stressful influences, and too strong a reaction.
When you hear someone speak to you does your mind directly hear the words spoken from the other person? Or is there something in between, layers of interpretation and filtering? Obviously, the latter is the case.
When you hear someone speak and observe their actions, your senses perceive data directly from the world. However, the conscious mind can process only a limited amount of information. Your mind needs to provide a high degree of filtering and pattern recognition before itcan understand and act on the information from the outside world. Thus, a large amount of interpretation goes on between your senses and the processes within your mind.
Each bit of information is processed and recognized according to our views and understanding of the world, our memories, beliefs and prejudices. The past becomes your template for viewing the present and anticipating the future.
What happens within your mind when your boss walks into your cubicle and asks you why the project is behind schedule? Perhaps, memories from years before come roaring back. While you might hear him (or her) asking about the schedule status, your memory is reminding you of that case many years before, of a man yelling at you, threatening to fire you. So what will your reaction be? In this case, perhaps fear and anger.
If your past experiences were painful, then to the threat-recognition wiring in the back of your brain, the boss might as well be a saber-toothed tiger. Even if the boss never opened his mouth, even if he just came in to tell you that tomorrow’s meeting will be in conference room B, the first instinct might be to activate the fight or flight response. Your interpretations are based upon the expectations, formed from your experiences.
When you perceive something in the outside world,spoken words, actions, writing on a page, the information enters through your senses and travels to the visual or auditory processing centers in your brain. The sensory centers within your brain decode the information, sending their interpretations on for higher processing. Thoughts and emotions result, and your mind generates words and actions in response.
Your brain interprets the raw data from the outside world. Interpretations give rise to thoughts and feelings, which in turn give rise to intentions and then actions. We in turn perceive our actions as well as their results in the outside world, repeating the cycle. If events in the world are seen as threats, then thoughts and emotions of fear and anger may be the result, initiating the stress response and engaging the fight-or-flight instinct. We roll up our sleeves and prepare to fight – or to get the heck outof there.
So, if you are to change your life to reduce the continuing influence of stressful thoughts and beliefs, and resulting continuous fight or flight responses, you somehow need to break the cycle, alter the programming by which you interpret outside world events. You need to change your life by changing your mind.
Changing beliefs, the mind-body connection
The human mind is probably one of the most complex systems that ever existed. It forms the very essence of who we are. It is the site and sum of our waking thoughts. It is also the location of the processes in our lives, some of which you are aware, but most occurring out of view. Yet in all cases, those hidden thoughts and feelings affect how your conscious mind functions. Thus, it is necessary to access the subconscious mind to correct non-helpful influences.
As information flows into the brain, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind both process it, influencing your thoughts and feelings. Perceptions enter your conscious mind and pass through a barrier, called the critical faculty, into the subconscious.
What is the critical faculty? It is the capability of the mind to reject or control which information you believe. It is disbelief on hearing something that disagrees with what you know to be true. It is your sense of control, knowing where you are and what’s going on. It protects the subconscious mind from the vast universe of information that may be untrue or even harmful.
The critical faculty is that vital shield protecting the subconscious. Yet as part of the finite conscious mind, it has a very limited ability to process information. It filters and rejects much of what you perceive – including any efforts we may undertake for counseling or healing. Yet to access and correct those processes in the subconscious, we need to get around this barrier, to work directly with the subconscious, focusing in on the areas of the mind that need changing or healing. We call this direct interaction with the subconscious hypnosis.
A brief look at hypnosis
What is Hypnosis? Hypnosis is both an everyday occurrence and a profound mental gift.
- Perhaps you have gotten lost in a good book and forgotten what time it was.That’s hypnosis. - Perhaps someone suggested to you that some minor activity might reduce some type of discomfort. It worked. That’s hypnosis - Perhaps you found yourself in a boring meeting, losing yourself in your memory or imagination. That’s hypnosis.
Hypnosis is merely the suspension of one’s own disbelief, along with the willingness to think selectively on that which you desire to focus. Although simple, this gift can offer us tremendous tools for personal wellness. It allows us to work directly with the subconscious mind to quickly resolve the issues that bring vulnerability to stressful influences.
Take a moment to remember a time when you felt one of these interesting little events happen. Maybe you noticed an idea pop into your thoughts, or maybe a name you had been trying to recall for some time. It felt kind of good, didn’t it? Maybe you noticed that time passed a little faster. And last but not least, maybe you noticed your level of stress had decreased a bit.
Hypnosis and Meditation
We have all heard of meditation. I will bet that most readers of this blog have done at least some meditation, either through yoga, mindfulness, TM, or some other form. So, what is hypnosis, and how is it different from meditation?
The similarities/differences between hypnosis and meditation depend upon who you ask. In the meditation world, especially in the purest eastern traditions, hypnosis and meditation are very different. While in the world of the hypnotist and in the world of the neuroscientist, they are probably about the same.
The only difference, in my view, is that while meditation exists in its own right, hypnosis is goal directed. We use hypnosis to allow the subconscious to guide us in whatever work, healing or exploration we we wish to do.
While some may consider that hypnosis entails giving up control to the hypnotist, in reality, your mind is always in control. There is no more yielding of your control than you would experience when reading a book, watching a movie or daydreaming.
On the other hand, meditation simply is - it is the discipline of quieting the mind, smoothing the waters and becoming more attuned to your higher self. There are many forms of meditation, many traditions and many different experiences. It is a long term process, yet each moment of meditation is simply a moment of peace. There is no goal, no purpose. It simply is...
In my own experience, I find that the experience of hypnosis and the experience of meditation are quite similar. Both entail going inside of my own being. Both entail similar physical sensations. Yet in the case of meditation, I am not working on a goal-directed activity. I am simply going into an inner meditative state - as if in non-purposeful hypnosis.
What, then, is guided meditation? Is it meditation or is it hypnosis? My answer is that it is both. Like meditation, it exists in its own right. It is an inward journey, an exploration based upon guidance or instructions. In guided meditation, you allow a leader or instructor to guide you into a meditative state.
Arguably, guided meditation is quite similar to hypnosis - and in some ways, it is the same thing. The only difference is that guided meditation is not interactive. The meditator is not interacting with a hypnotist or guide but merely using the words of the guide as a focus for meditation, a set of instructions or helpful keywords for going more deeply within. For some, listening to a self-hypnosis recording is nearly the same experience. It is the same experience of following instructions of a guide, and allowing the process to take you within.
In the ultimate case, hypnosis is fully goal directed. Hypnosis such as one would experience in a hypnotherapist's studio/office, is interactive. The hypnotist and the client are in full interaction, even as the client is in a hypno-meditative state. While the mental/neurological process is arguably the same in hypnosis as in meditation, the goal-directed process is very different. Yet the process of going within, accessing the subconscious allows hypnosis to be an effective tool in subconscious healing.
Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy
What is hypnotherapy? Hypnotherapy is simply the process by which we use hypnosis tohelp address issues within the subconscious mind. It is using hypnosis to improve your life.
There are many ways hypnotherap[iv] can help reduce your reaction to life stresses. Among them is the ability to help the mind by modifying your internal programming in response to stress. Anoter way is to dial down the volume of the alarms that drive the fight-or-flight response.
Using Hypnosis to reduce stress Take a moment to again let your mind go inward. Let your mind picture a time when you felt confident and relaxed. Allow yourself to be in that time and place. Experience the pleasant emotions that arose within that moment.
Now allow yourself to return to the present. You can even let yourself be in a moderately stressful moment. Yet as you do, I invite you to again recall that instant of peace you felt a moment before. See if you can recall it with greater ease, the more you try it.
I invite you to experiment a little bit, to play with this technique and see what you can make it do. In the next article, we will look at more ways to invoke and deepen the experience, and explore other means of reducing stress while enhancing the relaxing response you felt as you remembered that peaceful moment.
Feel free to experiment, explore, relax and enjoy. See you next time...
I also invite you to visit The Hypnosis Store at www.hypnosis-storefront.com for the latest in self-hypnosis CDs and MP3 downloads to help you boost self-confidence,reduce stress and improve your quality of life.
Credits and References [i] Mayo Clinic website on stress management http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-management/MY00435
[iii] Resources for stress management: · The Secret Language of Feelings A Rational Approach to Emotional Mastery by Calvin D. Banyan (Dec 6, 2002) · The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook) by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman and Matthew McKay (May 3, 2008) · Stress Management for Dummies by Allen Elkin (Sep 29, 1999)