Stress Reduction: Are Unhelpful Thoughts Getting in the Way?


Anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight or organise their lives will tell you; good intentions do not always guarantee success. The same is true when it comes to reducing your stress levels. While you may recognise that reducing stress is good for you mental health and overall wellbeing, actually finding a way to de-stress is harder than it first appears. However, if you’re aware of the obstacles that are getting in the way of your mental wellness, and of ways to get around these obstacles, you’ll be more likely to reach your goal of a virtually stress-free lifestyle.


First of all, let’s take a look at the thought processes that are impeding your progress:

  • You don’t have time.
  • You’re too busy.
  • You have too much stuff to learn.
  • It’s too much work.
  • It’s not your cup of tea.
  • You tried it once and it didn’t work.


According to Allen Elkin, author of Stress Management For Dummies (2nd Edition), ‘Each of these excuses contains at least a grain of truth. Nevertheless, each of them can act as a roadblock, slowing or stopping you from getting the most out of your stress management efforts.’ So how do you overcome these obstacles?


1. Take it a Step at a Time: ‘Mastering any new skill takes time,’ notes Elkin. ‘The trick is not to tackle everything at once but instead spread your learning out over time. Start slowly. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes in your day and practice a stress reduction method or technique. That time could be during a coffee break, your lunch hour, after work when you come home, or on your way to work in the morning.’


2. Different Strokes: Elkin points out, ‘No two people are exactly alike…Some people are hares and others are tortoises. What works for one, may not work for the other. The idea of meditating for 20 minutes may not fill you with anticipatory delight. Mental imagery may not be your cup of tea. Fine. The general rule is, if you aren’t comfortable with a technique or strategy, you’re less likely to use it and make it a part of your life. You need to put together a package of tools that reflects your personality and lifestyle.’


3. Give it a Try: ‘A few stress reduction approaches may feel a tad foreign and not immediately comfortable,’ Elkin admits. ‘Yet, with a little getting used to, these techniques are likely to become routine later on. You may not think, for example, that the breathing exercises are “your thing.” Yet, you may be pleasantly surprised to find them wonderfully calming and relaxing. Keep an open mind. Give everything at least one good try.’


4. Practice Makes Perfect: Elkin explains, ‘Most methods and techniques require some practice before you can master them. Even though they can be quickly understood at an intellectual level, to truly reap their benefits, you need to spend some time repeating a particular exercise or technique until it has the desired effect. Some techniques can be mastered quickly. Others may take a little more time. Don’t give up too easily.’


5. Find a Quiet Place: ‘You need a place to do all this practicing,’ says Elkin. ‘Try to find a place that’s relatively quiet and relaxing, at least for a short time. Given the realities of your life, your quiet place may have to be a setting that is far from ideal. Your office — when the door is shut — may work for you. It could be your bedroom at home. Or your car, when you’re stopped in traffic, or commuting to work.’

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