Anxiety and stress can be debilitating and profoundly affect our psychological health and ability to manage our difficulties. Often people work long unsociable hours and compensate for this by playing hard at the weekend. The impact of not being self-compassionate and taking time to rest in a peaceful quiet way can lead to burnt-out and breakdown.
These two emotions are often linked together so it may be helpful to consider a definition of both.
Beverley Shepherd in her book Insight into Stress says ‘The Health & Safety Executive’s definition is one of the clearest and most helpful. Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them.’ (Shepherd, 2006, p. 13)
In their book Insight into Anxiety Clare Blake and Chris Ledger have a powerful way of defining anxiety. They say ‘Anxiety is rather like an octopus that enfolds us in a suffocating grasp that can be hard to break and includes distressing conditions such as….panic attacks. Anxiety impacts both our physical and mental wellbeing….’ (Blake and Ledger, 2007, p.14).
In my clinical experience I have observed that stress can lead to anxiety and anxiety can lead to stress so how do we untangle this? I have found it helpful to work with clients to get to the root of their difficulties by asking questions such as when did their stress or anxiety begin and when is it most profound? I also ask how they have managed this. Often people feel stuck have said to me ‘oh I’ve always been stressed and anxious – my mother was stressed and anxious and that’s just the way that we are in my family.’ This sounded as though it was a permanent state of affairs and nothing could be done about it. It is true that we learn how to live life from our early childhood relationships and experiences. However some of the coping strategies that we may have learnt and used as children to manage anxiety and stress may not work as adults. One of the things that I love about counselling is that change and growth is possible. We do not have to be stuck with unhelpful ways of coping. On occasion, people have told me how hard it is to change and indeed it is – however it is not impossible.
When we are stressed and anxious it is difficult to think straight and we can feel overwhelmed and powerless. Don’t be stuck with anxiety and stress that limits developing your talents and fulfilling your potential. I will show you how to be more compassionate to yourself by acknowledging your strengths and taking one step at a time – this will build your confidence, resilience and increase your self-esteem.