Everyday stressors and more severe traumatic stress, such as post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) can make life difficult to manage. This stress can also cause negative thinking patterns, difficulty concentrating, and avoidance of various situations. There are many tools and techniques that you can easily implement into your routine, all of which can help with coping through stress and its various symptoms. Below is a list of five useful tools and techniques.
Containment is an extremely useful technique to assist with relieving stress. This exercise is effective in utilizing the brain’s natural ability to contain material. It involves imagery of a container of some type that can hold onto material that is distressing or disturbing, until the time you feel better able and prepared to deal with it.
To utilize this exercise, imagine a container of some type, such as a shoe box or plastic bin. Or, if you would prefer not to use your imagination, find a physical box that you can use. Whatever the container is, it should have a door or lid that you can open and close as you please. The container needs to be big enough and strong enough to hold anything that is causing distress. When something distressing comes up and it is not possible or optimal to address whatever is coming up in that moment, imagine letting the traumatic material go into the container temporarily, until it can be addressed at a later time. If you are using a physical box, write down your distressing thought on a piece of paper and place it in the box. You can then come back and remove that piece of paper once you feel ready and capable of dealing with it.
The purpose of this exercise is not to disregard or ignore the important information that the brain is trying to communicate. Rather, it is meant to allow the brain to set aside distressing information for the time that it is optimal to address the material. This helps to prevent becoming too overwhelmed by trauma symptoms, which often include negative thoughts and memories. It is important to discuss these symptoms with your counsellor so that he or she can help you sort through the material in the container at your own pace.
- BODY MOVEMENT
Your body can be one of the best tools for reducing stress symptoms, however it tends to be one of the most underutilized resources.. Research has found that practicing yoga alongside other forms of counselling for posttraumatic stress (PTSD) dramatically decreased symptoms of PTSD in participants. Yoga practice may help individuals with trauma and stress to learn to more effectively tolerate and cope with body and sensory sensations, in addition to helping them to learn to tolerate intense emotions that may arise.
Yoga and other forms of exercise can have major benefits and enhances trauma healing. The exercise or other physical activity does not have to be strenuous or time consuming. Simply walking and performing simple stretches can have positive benefits on your ability to cope with stressors, while waiting for your next counselling appointment. Body movement and exercise also is helpful in gaining self-appreciation and the ability to self-soothe and nurture, particularly for those experiencing traumatic stress symptoms.
- FIVE SENSES TECHNIQUE
This technique involves focusing on your five senses, and counting down, 5-4-3-2-1. Start with finding five things you see, five things you hear, five things you can touch, etc. Once you have found five external stimuli for each of your senses, move on to four more for each sense, followed by three, until you reach one for each sense. This activity allows you to completely focus on what is happening in your external environment, in that exact moment in time. While practicing this technique during a stressful event, you will quickly begin to notice that your mind is moving back to the present, and not focusing on what was causing you stress in the first place.
- FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING
This is a simple technique that you can use anywhere. When your mind begins to wonder off into negative thinking or you start to feel stress and panic, focus on your breathing. It is important to breathe slowly and deeply. Try to breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Also try exhaling longer than you inhale. For example, breathe in through your nose for five seconds, hold for two seconds, and breathe out for six to eight seconds. Practicing this technique will calm your mind and body, and bring your focus back into the present moment.
- THINK POSITIVE
If you’re having negative thoughts and experiencing stress, try to focus on a positive thought. For example, think of that beautiful painting you saw last weekend, your favourite food, or the compliment your co-worker gave you earlier that day. Take a moment to focus on your breathing and think of a positive thought for at least 12 seconds. Practice becoming aware of how these positive thoughts are impacting your feelings and emotions. Neural science has shown that it only takes 12 seconds for new neural connections to be created. Practicing positive thinking and reflecting on these “good” experiences can have a major role in reducing stress and replacing negative thinking patterns.
These five tools are a small number of the many different ways you can manage day to day stressors and traumatic stress symptoms. Practicing these techniques on a regular basis can help with reducing feelings of stress, while at the same time improving your overall wellbeing. Furthermore, working with a therapist can also provide you with the opportunity to learn even more valuable tools to add to your stress management tool kit.