A few weeks ago, we were joined on a webinar by Helen Moon, the founder of Eventwell and a mental health first-aider. She received so many questions that she wasn’t able to answer all of them and we didn’t want to miss anyone out. That’s why we created this blog – find all the answers you need here, provided by Helen.
I am stressed about the future and what’s to come. How do I handle the unknown?
Concentrate on the present. It is always good to have a window to the future to help with planning, but worrying about what the future holds will do you no benefit.
We have to accept the situation we are in now, which will come to all of us in time, some quicker than others. The only thing you have control over is the here and now. You cannot control or change the future since it hasn’t happened yet and no-one truly knows what it holds for us. The past has been and gone and also cannot be changed.
The present and here and now can be changed and controlled and you have the choice in how you do this. That is the power that you have in your hands. By changing your now, you are therefore controlling and managing your future.
How can we change our alarm reaction from freeze to fight?
There is not a lot you can do to change your actual physiological response to fight-flight-freeze as it is kicked off by our primitive brain and in our subconscious. It is also part of our homeostatic function, such as breathing, digestion, heart rate and sleeping and has evolved over millions of years.
Just like you don’t have to learn to breathe and sleep, you don’t have to learn the fight-flight-freeze response, it too happens automatically.
You can, however, by engaging the frontal lobe and prefrontal cortex in our evolved brain, change the neuroplasticity of your brain and your mindset around what actions you perceive to be stressful, and this, in turn, will change whether the fight-flight-freeze response is even triggered.
Do you have recommendations for breathing exercises? Are there any websites/ talks about it?
I’m a big fan of breathing exercises, as part of my mindfulness practice. I find taking a moment to breathe myself through a situation is an incredibly powerful coping tool when I feel the pressure. I’m not a fan of flying so use it when in take-off and landing and it really centres me and grounds me (pardon the pun).
There are a few that you can try that are my particular favourites:
When we breathe normally as part of our homeostatic function we are mostly shallow breathing, and breathing exercises are all about taking us into deep breathing mode which can be incredibly calming and cleansing.
You can try square breathing or the 4•4•4•4 method. Breath in for four, hold your breath for four, breath out for four, hold for four, you then repeat this process for as long as you need to.
You can also try cleansing breaths 9•11. This is a simple breathe in for 9 and breathe out for 11, the aim here is to breathe out all that CO2 and carbon dioxide whilst bringing in lots of oxygen. You do the same here as many as you need to feel calm.
I usually find it difficult to “hear” from my body when I reach stress stage two. I know the theory, but in higher stressy days I actually forget to eat. Any tips to help stick to the pauses?
When you are in the second stage of stress, there are still physiological things happening in the body and many that you will be unaware of e.g. increased heart rate.
You may feel slightly more energised but it is very unlikely you will be able to feel exactly what is happening in your body. Cortisol, the stress hormone, suppresses your appetite; this is why you do not feel hunger too much on an event day, or any stressful day. So, you have to make yourself eat as you won’t get the hunger pangs in the same way as you would any other day.
Build breaks into your schedule, even if they are short 15 minute ones every 2 hours, and have small easily digestible meals that are balanced with carbs and protein to give you the fuel you will need through the day.
When you are stuck in the exhausting area and you don’t see a way out, among the suggestions you gave, which one would you rate number one to undertake?
If you are in the exhaustion stage of stress then you need to rest, you need to recuperate, and you need to cut back as much as you can. There is no other advice I can give here but this.
You are moments away from burnout, if not already in burnout, and you need to give your body and mind time to heal from this. After you’ve done that, then maybe reassess what you have going on in your life and where you can make some changes.
I wouldn’t advise anyone in the exhaustion stage to do anything else but this.
What if you cannot avoid a situation (person) who is causing you stress and your reaction is to freeze?
This is about changing your way of thinking so altering your response to that person. The best approach for a person who is causing your stress, depending on the circumstances is to limit your interaction with this person to simple and professional, friendly but brief interactions.
Your other option is to sit down with that person to speak about the elements of working with them that you are finding stressful. Remember the golden rule of conflict resolution when you do this: explain how you are feeling and don’t just call out the actions and behaviours of the person.
Can cognitive behavioural therapy help with stress?
I’m not a trained Cognitive Behavioural Therapist so can’t really talk too much on the benefits and uses.
The three As of the Stress Management Response – Alter, Avoid, Accept – do have certain aspects of CBT, particularly alter as CBT is based around changing your thinking and mindset when faced with certain pressures and stressors. So, in that sense, CBT can be beneficial for some people.
There are lots of books and websites that offer advice on CBT, and I do use some elements of it for my own mental health care and part of my coping tool kit.
When is your next workshop/session?
If you check out eventwell.org/eventwell-connect you’ll find details of all of the important and essential digital events and support groups that we have coming up over the next few weeks. We update it regularly with new events and partnerships.
If you want to get in contact with Helen Moon, or find out more about EventWell, you can do that all here: https://eventwell.org/