World Mental Health Day is a really big deal! The signs of stress and anxiety can be really hard to identify. What is even more difficult is knowing which symptoms you have are stress-related or co plex health condition related too! Do you ever notice that when you are more stressed than usual, just how negative your thoughts can be? Did you know, EVERY negative thought you have is converted into anxiety?
Let us imagine an empty bucket of blissful nothingness…
Now the negative thoughts begin. These negative thoughts may be the ‘what if’s’, ‘I can’t’ or an unexpected bill, thinking about a meeting/appointment, a memory, and so on and these start to build up in our bucket. Imagine each negative thought/scenario is written/drawn on a piece of paper that you are chucking in the bucket. Unless it is emptied regularly, it will, at some point, overflow! Here we must remember what neuroscience has taught us, which is that our brains cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality. Intellectually, using your prefrontal cortex which is the part you know as you, will understand you are imagining a problem, unfortunately, your brain doesn’t know the difference. So every negative scenario you run through your mind adds stress to the stress bucket and we aren’t emptying it. Then what?
Don’t get me wrong, a small amount of stress in our buckets is good. It’s what gets us up in the morning and motivates us for the day. Too much stress, however, causes sleep problems, over or under eating, anxiety, IBS, migraines, chronic pain and loads more. Why? Your body is telling you to slow down! Being able to listen to your body is one of the biggest tools we can learn.
When our stress buckets are filling up or overflowing, these symptoms of stress and anxiety keep happening. Your body wants you to stay home so you can rest, so it will throw migraines at you as an example. You take some tablets and carry on with life, so it throws IBS at you. You keep going, so it chucks more problems at you until you are overwhelmed with symptoms. Now, I understand as a fellow wonky bodied person myself that some of our pain comes from micro/macro traumas, it’s the chronic pain that we can help control ourselves. If everything else has been ruled out, it is very likely that these symptoms are stress and anxiety-related.
Getting good quality REM sleep is the first port of call. Having really good sleep hygiene/management is important to prompt good sleep and is something that JBOT Jo Southall talks about in her blogs and live streams with the HMSA Charity. Also, relaxations when falling asleep are useful in promoting good quality sleep.
Our brains are amazing. We can produce a chemical in our brains which is a natural painkiller. Stronger than a lot of pain medication we can take, it is knowing how we can produce enough of it, to help reduce our stress and symptoms. We can do this by utilising the 3 Ps.
The 3 Positive Parameters
Do things that you love. Whether you enjoy crafting, reading, writing, meditation, gaming, movies, walking. It doesn’t matter, just ensuring you do those things you love to do. We often feel so low with all that we have going on it can be hard to think about doing things you love to do. Start small but do try to prioritise these things. Even if it’s 10 minutes a day to start off with and build it up gradually. I personally love crocheting of an evening or in between hard tasks to break them up.
Positive Interactions with others
Once you have started to do more positive activities, you will have started to produce some serotonin. This is the chemical I was talking about earlier. So you may find that you are starting to feel a little brighter! Once this starts happening, the next step is positive activities with others. This may start to happen gradually once you start doing those lovely things you enjoy. We often will withdraw from the world when we have so much going on. Even if it is messaging a friend, grabbing a cupper together, a video chat, a phone call, all these things make us feel good!
We are such social creatures and we tend to forget that when our stress bucket is full. It’s an evolutionary purpose for serotonin to be released when we interact with others because it ensured our survival. We still need these interactions with others today, it’s healthy to want to be around positive people.
This is THE trickiest. Especially if your stress bucket is full. However, if you have the first 2 positive parameters in place and have been working hard on them, this is something will start happening naturally. You may even notice in your own mind, that you are challenging some thought patterns that you have. I have spoken about the prefrontal cortex before, this is the part that you know as you, it’s your conscious part, the part that we use to interact with the world and the part that we use to be aware of interactions with others. When we use this part of our upstairs/intellectual part of the brain we are positive/logical or ‘Spock brained’ I call it. The other part of the brain is the primitive emotional brain and is very negative. If you are working from this part of the primitive brain because of a full stress bucket, this is where these negatives thoughts/behaviours come from. It’s the fight/flight/depression area of the brain. When you start doing the other 2 positive parameters, you will find you have much more capacity in your stress bucket to think more clearly, logically and then more positively to boot! This is when it feels a little like the ‘good guy’ and the ‘bad guy’ on each shoulder. The less stress in your stress bucket, the more the good guy (upstairs brain) will succeed.
Once these 3 Ps are working beautifully together, we produce a constant flow of serotonin. When we produce this constant flow, we are happy, coping and brave little souls! Serotonin makes us more confident, braver, stronger and even helps with closing the pain gates and how we reduce our chronic pain.
So my message to you is, be kind to yourself. It is OK to do the things you love. When you look after yourself, you feel good! When you feel good, then you have more capacity to care for others. You are unique and special, these 3 Ps, will help you get the real you back. 💜