Holistic Centre for Body, Mind & Spirit

Is Stress Ruining Your Life?

MAY 2011, STREETS AHEAD MAGAZINE BY SONIA MANNING

How are you?
Too much to do and too little time? Head full of thoughts and ideas but lacking in focus? Are you constantly preoccupied or worrying? Or maybe you’re finding yourself getting cross at the smallest thing... perhaps you’re already looking forward to 6pm and that first glass of wine... or maybe you’ve been throwing back the painkillers for that headache that just won’t go away...

If you’ve been feeling any of the above – or any number of symptoms that you just can’t put your finger on – then you are suffering from stress. Your mind and body are desperately trying to tell you to deal with something. What are you doing about it?

Most people don’t do anything about it, of course, or they’re not even aware of it. We accept that stress is a fact of life – and to an extent there’s some truth in that. But aware or not, tension and stress need to find outlets – it will come out one way or another, whether you are conscious of it or not.

However, stress shouldn’t be the dominating factor in anyone’s life – and it doesn’t have to be in yours.

Many people come to see me knowing something is not quite right but can’t put their finger on what it is. They might have developed an odd habit, a frustrating compulsion, a bad back, a short temper, become overweight, suffering insomnia or simply be drowning in the thoughts that are buzzing around their head constantly and never seem to fall into order.

All of these symptoms point to a simple truth. Stress comes from not acknowledging or being able to take action on your feelings. All feelings, good and bad, are telling you something – and they’re always right. Ignoring them or not even being aware of them at all will always make things worse. That’s when stress starts to manifest itself in thoughts, behaviours, unhappiness and so on. You might start to get physical symptoms too or even experience accidents that you have inadvertently caused – your body is the last resort for your inner self trying to get the message across to you. It’s time to listen.

Complex

Stress: one simple word but a complex and multi-layered state that is different for every person. Alleviating stress for some people may be as simple as having an hour to themselves every now and then to take a break, go to the gym, read the paper or play with the kids. These people are attuned to their own state of mind and can pick up subtle messages and respond to them. It’s not normally so simple, however, because people generally aren’t self-aware enough to take action at the earliest stages of the problem. They either don’t notice it or choose to ignore it. Usually a crisis is looming before people take action.

I speak from experience. Being a therapist does not stop you experiencing the challenges of life and ebb and flow of wellbeing in the same way as everyone else. At one particular point in my life, my stress manifested itself in problems with my eyes. I had many different problems with them and the result was a series of unpleasant, frightening and painful procedures with eventual surgery. Despite these procedures and the best efforts of experts, the various conditions continued to deteriorate. Finally, I was due another round of treatment – culminating in more surgery - in a desperate attempt to halt the deterioration. With just a couple of months before I went to theatre again, I decided to treat myself to see what I could do.

I took my glasses off, which I had been wearing for 20 years, and put them in their case. I vowed never to put them back on. Enough was enough – I knew I was ready. It’s not that I wasn’t fearful and worried, but I just knew the time was right to trust myself to take on this problem once and for all.

Stress was behind my problems and I undertook an intensive holistic programme for the next eight weeks that released the tensions in my eye muscles that had been causing all the problems. It was hard, challenging work but my reward was that on my next visit to Moorfields Eye Hospital they told me with disbelief that I needed no further treatment. That was five years ago. I threw my glasses away there and then. I knew the healing would take place.

Displacement

So how do you know there’s something going on that needs sorting out? There’s one thing to look out for, called displacement, where you’ll find yourself experiencing symptoms that may not be obviously related to the source of your stress. These can range from the common to the unusual.

A lot of people, when they are in a certain frame of mind, turn to drink, drugs, food, shopping and so on. They’re not quite sure why, but are convinced it will make them feel better – and it might make them feel better for a very brief period, then they’ll feel even worse than before.

Perhaps it’s something else for you to look out for. Maybe you’re finding yourself losing your rag with your children all the time, or all too ready to yell at other road users when driving. Maybe you can’t stop yourself checking the gas is off or you need to run to the toilet all the time. Your stress may not even be externally obvious, it may be a more spiritual struggle for meaning and purpose. You may be feeling blocked or stuck in a rut. This is causing you frustration, doubt and feelings of emptiness; you’re feeling restricted, not free.

The possibilities are endless and I’m simply scratching the surface here to give you an idea of what to look out for. You know, in your heart of hearts, if you have a problem that needs dealing with. You know right now. Stop reading for a moment – can you feel it?

Dealing With It

So, what’s the first step? Well, you’re there now. You’re reading on because you are thinking about yourself and what all this means to you. You should be congratulating yourself because you’ve already taken the risk to read this, to think about yourself and your situation. You may not yet know why you’re reading on but don’t worry, there’s no specific point you have to reach before seeking help. As long as you can feel something isn’t quite right, that’s enough.

Your next step is to take action. If you found a lump or bump in the wrong place on your body, you’d call the doctors. Well, your emotional lumps and bumps should also not be ignored, they should be explored.

Taking action on your own is difficult. If you are very self-aware and are able to take a step back and choose a course of action, you may be able to resolve the situation yourself. This is rare. Usually people need external support to guide them towards a resolution. This will involve identifying the symptoms and uncovering the root cause of the problem. This is exactly what we at Anam Cara do for many local people every single day. You don’t need to understand your problem when you knock on our door, you simply need to acknowledge that there is a problem and be willing to address it.

During our lives, we are constantly adapting and repackaging ourselves to suit our environment and other people in our lives. To a large extent, this is normal – compromise is a key element of civilised relationships. Problems arise when you go beyond the point where you are comfortable, where you feel you are compromising yourself – this is when the pain starts. This creates a constant battle with your inner self that causes stress.

It is ok to seek help and take action. You need to get back to the truth of who you genuinely are.





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Case Study

Headaches are a common reason for people to come to see me at Anam Cara. It’s not unusual that people have tried everything medical and I’m their last hope. This was the case with Brian (not his real name), a successful businessman in his forties who came to me with the most powerful, debilitating headaches. These ‘cluster headaches’ leave sufferers overwhelmed with pain and utterly unable to do anything.

Brian had been seeing medical professionals for years, and had experienced various interventions and heard numerous hypotheses. Their investigations and a variety of scans had led them to understand the headaches at a physical level but not to treat them with any great effectiveness.

When Brian came through my door, I knew that stress and anxiety were behind it all. He ran a large company which involved travelling abroad regularly and was responsible for a lot of people and their livelihoods. These headaches were preventing him from doing his job properly, which was increasing his anxiety and so the vicious circle continued.

I could tell a lot from Brian simply by the way he carried himself and how he spoke. He looked weighed down and agitated. He would hold his head in his hands and use language about being trapped, there being no way out, the pressure of life, of work and so on. His emotional pain was manifesting itself as physical pain. What I had to do was release those thoughts that were trapped in his head and give him some respite from the constant pressure he was experiencing.

I spoke to Brian and we also worked closely with our acupuncturist to release the pressure. It took a little while – a year - but what a difference! The headaches have gone completely, the heavy frown has gone, he stands tall and moves freely and lightly. He is a different person – much nearer the real Brian than he’s been for a long time.