David Jockelson MBACP – https://davidjockelson.com/
1. “Stress.” Let’s look at the concept of “Stress.” It’s a very unhelpful word. Firstly, it implies inevitably – “We have stressful jobs, therefore we suffer stress.” Cause and inevitable effect.These are two separate things. But “stress” rolls them together.
Let’s separate them: First start with the alleged cause. “Stress” is a rolled-up concept for what is much more usefully explored as a mixture of things. And how we label them is really important in terms of attitude. There is some truth in the old and rather irritating slogan that the difference between stress and challenge is simply one of attitude.
So “stress” is a mixture of what can be seen as exciting challenges or as interesting demands or as bearable pressure or as threats – and distinguishing between those is much more useful. In fact, it is vital.
And secondly “Stress” also refers to the effect – the subjective impact on people. But again in a rolled-up, vague and unhelpful way. And again, it is far more useful to unpack that and be honest about what is really happening here.
And that means talking clearly and honestly about emotions.
Insofar as we identify the elements of “stress” which are genuinely unhealthy or toxic – then we are talking about threat. And it is necessary to be honest and say that in fact we respond to threat with fear.
And chronic threat means that we are chronically anxious. Familiar to anyone?
And at a less acute level, we can respond often to some challenges with frustration – which can more honestly and therefore usefully be explored simply as anger.
And we can respond to overload with an impulse to surrender. Or using clearer language – sadness or depression.
So next we need to ask what attitude we have – how do we respond to these demands of challenges? How can we come to feel positive or less negative about the challenges and the demands? How can we identify situations where there is a real threat. And identify what is that threat? Fear of being in trouble? Fear of making a mistake? Fear of failure?
And what individually and as an organisation we can do about that in terms of – key word here – Honesty.
People admitting what is happening to them and sharing it – is for their immediate benefit and so that other people learn that they are not alone and the issue can be shared and discussed. No apology for: “A problem shared is a problem halved”.
Reality checks, support and encouragement.
And the joker in the pack: let’s look at pride in our stress. Status. Boasting. Self-inflicting. Are we Stressaholics? Love / hate relationship with stress? Discuss.
2. Then impact of demands of the job. So the second section of the workshop is dealing with the impact of these emotions on us and whether we can be more skilful.
We can make a distinction between “good stress” – bearable and sometimes functional pressure and “toxic stress” which is actually experienced as threat: in which case we can look at the automatic innate response to threat in the human animal.
And in this bit of the workshop we can actually do something! Which will certainly be more memorable than lots of words.
We can enact the experience of being threatened and explore its physical impact on us in terms of breath holding or shallow breathing and physical body language response.
We can note and fully absorbed the importance of the fact that these are being caused by threat and anxiety, but they will then hold us in that state and trigger more anxiety. That is a very vicious circle – unless we release ourselves.
And that release moment is the essence of reducing anxiety and anger and sadness and depression.
And there are very simple actions needed to come out of the uptight threat response body.
So we will practice how to stop shallow breathing and use the whole of our lungs and to open our throats. And then to use our whole bodies to loosen up and to come out of threat response tension and to stretch and bend. In particular to stretch the fascia – explanation of this in the workshop
3. And the third section is about where to take it from here?
Firstly, to acknowledge that many, possibly most of us do something along these lines – gym, running, yoga, Pilates and so on and that is great And significantly the benefit can be enhanced if they are seen in the context of everything that we’ve explored here. You can call it mindfulness, or you can call it placebo effect – and that is not something dismissive – placebo is genuinely important medically – it’s probably about half the benefit of any medical or health intervention.
But for me the real question is how we can – each of us and as an organisation – move along a spectrum from a one-off workshop like this to more regular workshops or events – through to a weekly or then a daily session of breathing and stretching and bending – whatever that is called – yoga, Pilates or just breathing, stretching and bending – my label.
And then the final question is how can we be doing that hour by hour? All day
I don’t have a real answer, but I’m interested in the fact that the Alexander Technique was and is about becoming conscious of and achieving a more healthy body language which has a continuous ongoing benefit physically and emotionally.
Can we create the equivalent for breathing and bodily relaxation?