A middle-aged woman came to see me suffering from symptoms of severe stress. As long as her work was not mentioned she appeared to be in control … but whenever she thought about work she showed all the classic signs of stress. Her problem was a bullying boss who had gradually eroded her self-confidence. She was so upset that she needed to take sick leave. In the end she left the company altogether rather than face returning. She had become conditioned to a certain stress response whenever she thought about work, and for her the only solution was to run away from it. Fortunately, this response can work in reverse. Just as stressful thoughts can trigger stress responses, pleasurable thoughts can trigger feelings of well-being and relaxation. We can make use of these at difficult times to break a vicious circle of stress, for example before an interview, before speaking in public, or after an unpleasant or stressful encounter. The choice of image is yours, but you should keep it to yourself as a ‘mental mantra’. The beauty of this is you can use it any where at any time – on the bus, walking down the street or at work. You do not need absolute peace and quiet, but the technique works best if you are not too rushed. Common sources of imagery include:
• A romantic encounter that you experienced.
• Lying in the sun on your own empty palm-fringed beach.
• An achievement you are proud of- however small.
• Terms of endearment from family or friends.
• Your ultimate fantasy – whatever it is.
• Assume you will need at least 20 minutes longer to get ready than you think you will. This gives you a comfort zone to cope with the unexpected events that mornings throw at all of us.
Once you are in the habit of preparation, you will spend only fifteen minutes to save many more minutes the next day. We all forget things when rushed. Feeling you have enough time to do all that is needed each morning will lessen stress.
While examining a business director very early in the morning, I was surprised to see a full set of pyjamas under his suit. He was so busy thinking about the day ahead and trying to get to my surgery on time he had completely forgotten to remove them before dressing. This was more amusing for me than it was for him, as he had no time to go home and change before catching his train. With a spare tie from me and a shirt bought from the station concourse, he muddled through.
Start the day badly and watch yourself spiral down hill. To avoid this, prepare clothes, breakfast and work things the night before – 10 minutes of preparation will save you 20 minutes of wasted energy the next morning, and you will start the day organized and in control.
Whichever image you choose, it is important to choose the same one every time. Think of it as watching the same video in your head. With each viewing you feel more and more relaxed. This is positive feedback – your body learns to associate your mental picture with feeling better and therefore relaxes.
It is said that the legendary baseball player Babe Ruth thought about the inventor Thomas Edison every time he went to bat. The thought of Edison’s success after so many early failures not only inspired him but relaxed his swing. The more he thought of Edison the more he relaxed and the better he played. The results of his ‘trigger picture’ method speak for themselves.
This tip does not give you permission to use it as an excuse to daydream and avoid those hard decisions that you need to make. It should be used only at times of stress, not as a way of wasting time in the hope that a problem will disappear. You must stick to your goals and aims. Remember that a goal you are not actively working towards is simply a wish, and most wishes never come true.
Build a mental library of images of your favourite places or situations – for example, a family birthday, a success at work, winning a tennis match or walking on a palm-fringed beach. Recall these in times of stress to trigger feelings of well-being and relaxation.Image courtesy of afroboof