In the second extract from the This Book Will Make You... series as part of our Say No To January campaign, Dr Jessamy Hibberd and Jo Usmar show you how to remain calm in the face of great stress and anxiety...
Everyone experiences stress, anxiety and worry in life. It’s totally natural. The hunched shoulders, thumping heart and thoughts like ‘I can’t do this’ leading to elaborate avoidance tactics or a shouting match with your boss.
We’re constantly putting ourselves under pressure within our roles as friends, relatives, partners, parents, colleagues, neighbours, students, etc.
We wear many different faces on a day-to-day basis and not only have to live according to our own measures of success, but those of society as a whole. Often the scale of what we’re expected to achieve and how we’re expected to act can feel frightening, leading us to question our ability to cope.
Our response to environmental, societal and psychological pressure can leave us trapped in a whirlwind of tension. If someone feels this way regularly – or constantly – it can be hugely damaging to their health, both physically and mentally.
If you’re feeling panicky and anxious all the time, we’d put good money (hypothetically – we don’t want to give you something else to worry about) on the fact that your physical health is suffering, your thoughts are mainly negative and you’re behaving in a way that’s often out of character.
Stress, anxiety and worry can hugely affect your life, which is why we’ve written this book. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is based on the belief that your thoughts, mood, physicality and behaviour are all interlinked so by changing one you’ll change the others. There are ridiculously simple, practical and easy things you can do day-to-day which will ensure you can deal with issues and problems in a calm way, no matter what pressure you’re under. Below is an example of the kind of thing we mean:
Stop avoiding the scary stuff. Changing how you act when confronted with an intimidating task is integral to becoming calmer and less stressed.
When you’re avoiding something you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re dealing with which tricks your mind into making it worse than it is, which in turn makes you think you can’t cope. At least if you try to deal with it you’re giving yourself a fair shot.
Bite the bullet. Once you actually start facing things you’ll soon realise they’re far more manageable than you anticipated – or they’re hard, but still easier than they would have been tomorrow or the day after or the month after that.
Promise yourself that, having made a start, you’re not going to abandon things half way through otherwise you’re not giving yourself a chance at succeeding and won’t ever have an opportunity to disprove your fears about how you can cope.
- Make a list of things you’re avoiding.
- Order the list with either the easiest stuff first through to the hardest, or the most enjoyable to the most horrible (often the same thing).
- Pick the easiest or most enjoyable thing on the list to start with and do something about it. Starting easy will give you motivation to face the harder things – the things you’re dreading. You’ll gain confidence and feel in a better position to tackle the bigger tasks.
- If you have one massive thing that you’re putting off, work through it by breaking it down into smaller parts. For example, instead of writing ‘Plan wedding’ or ‘write thesis’ put ‘Look into wedding venue’ or ‘plan chapter 1 of thesis’. When there’s one big task looming over you it can feel overwhelming and you can end up not starting at all.
Starting is often the hardest bit and once you’ve done that you’ll feel less guilty – and less stressed – about your avoidance tendencies. Things are almost never as bad as our anticipatory anxiety makes them out to be. And even if they are you’ll be amazed by your ability to cope.
This Book Will Make You Calm by Dr Jessamy Hibberd and Jo Usmar (published by Quercus Books) is out now.