What to do when stress or anger are taking over
Sometimes stressful situations can seem to stick with us. Most of us can quite often catch ourselves ruminating or holding onto negative feelings we have about certain stressors or conflicts in our lives. Unfortunately, this tendency can actually end up prolonging the stress that we experience! Here are some proven (and free!) strategies for overcoming rumination, letting go of anger, and creating calmness in your daily life.
Some people write an angry letter that they later burn. Others write about their concerns and brainstorm solutions. A few even write books or short stories that express their feelings and this can combat rumination (and actually turn it into something productive!). Regardless of the form it takes, many people have found journaling and expressive writing helpful in letting go of stress and other unwanted emotions.
It seems that many of the trend-setting celebrities are touting the benefits of meditation and mindfulness for stress relief, and for good reason. A key ingredient of meditation is a focus on the present. When you actively focus on the present moment and gently prevent your mind from fixating on past events or future fears, it’s much easier to let go of negative emotions surrounding these worries or fears. Research confirms that meditation-based stress management practices reduce stress and rumination, and also enhance one’s tendency toward forgiveness, which brings its own rewards.
Types of Meditation Techniques: Researchers generally classify meditation techniques into two different categories: concentrative, and non-concentrative. Concentrative techniques involve focusing on a particular object that's generally outside of oneself: a candle's flame, the sound of an instrument, or a particular mantra. Non-concentrative meditation, on the other hand, can include a broader focus: the sounds in one's environment as well as internal body states and one's own breathing. There can be overlap with these techniques, however; one meditation technique can be both concentrative and non-concentrative.
There are many, many different ways to meditate. Here I’ll mention some basic categories of meditation techniques so you can understand some of the main options and how they differ from one another. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it can give you some ideas and get you on the path of developing a meditation-style that suits you as an individual!
Basic Meditation Techniques: This involves sitting in a comfortable position and just trying to quiet your mind by thinking of nothing. It’s not always easy to do this if you don’t have practice with it. But a good way to begin is to think of yourself as an ‘observer of your thoughts,’ just noticing what the narrative voice in your head says, but not engaging it. As thoughts materialize in your mind, just let them go; don't get caught up in them, don't argue with them, just allow them to come and go.
Focused Meditation Techniques: With this technique, you focus on something intently, but don’t engage your thoughts about it. You can focus on something visual, like a statue; something auditory, like a metronome or recording of ocean waves; something constant, like your own breathing; or focus on a concept, like ‘unconditional compassion’. Some people find it easier to do this than to focus on nothing, but the idea is the same - staying in the present moment and avoiding getting caught up in the constant stream of commentary from your conscious mind.
Activity-Oriented Meditation Techniques: With this type of meditation, you engage in a repetitive activity, or one where you can get ‘in the zone’ and experience ‘flow.’ Again, this quiets the mind, and allows your brain to shift. Activities like gardening, creating artwork, or practicing yoga can all be effective forms of meditation. If you're not sure you've done an activity where you've been “in the zone”, think back to any activities you were so involved in, you completely forgot the time, and didn't realise you had been doing it for so long. That will give you an indication you might have experienced “flow” whilst doing that activity.
Mindfulness Techniques: Mindfulness can be a form of meditation that, like activity-oriented meditation, doesn’t really look like meditation. It simply involved staying in the present moment rather than thinking about the future or the past. (Again, this is more difficult than it seems and it is okay to struggle with it at first – it is all about practicing!) Focusing on sensations you feel in your body is one way to stay ‘in the now;’ focusing on emotions and where you feel them in your body (not examining why you feel them, but just experiencing them as sensations) is another. For example, focussing on the “butterflies” in your stomach when feeling anxious, whether they feel warm or cold, where they move to, how fast their wings beat etc.
Change Your Thoughts
The basis of cognitive therapy is that the way you think about an event can shape the emotional response that you have in a given situation. For example, if you perceive a situation to be a ‘threat,’ you will have a different emotional (and therefore physical) response than if you viewed the same situation as a ‘challenge.’ This assertion has been supported by research as well. Looking at a situation from a new perspective, rather than just focussing on the negative, can help with anger management and lowering one’s stress response. Once you understand how your thoughts color your experiences, you can use this information to reduce stress with a process known as cognitive restructuring.
There’s plenty of solid evidence that how we think about what’s going on in our lives can greatly contribute to whether or not we find events in our lives stressful. Cognitive distortions, or patterns of faulty thinking, can impact our thoughts, behaviors and experience of stress.
Our self talk, the internal dialogue that runs in our heads, interpreting, explaining and judging the situations we encounter, can actually make things seem better or worse, threatening or non-threatening, stressful or…well, you get the picture. Some people tend to see things in a more positive light, and others tend to view things more negatively, putting themselves at a disadvantage in life. But, as our self-talk develops right back in childhood, how does one go about changing these habitual thought patterns?
Cognitive restructuring, a process of recognising, challenging, and changing cognitive distortions and negative thought patterns can be accomplished with the help of a Psychologist trained in cognitive therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. Results can also be achieved at home with the right information and commitment to change.
The techniques described here can definitely see results if you implement them on your own, if you practice them and commit to them. If you’re dealing with a more severe form of stress or a clinical disorder, however, you’ll see the best results with a trained Psychologist who can help guide and support you in your practice of these and similar techniques. Lauren at Empowering Psychological Solutions is trained in CBT and is able to incorporate these skills into your session with her in order to reduce the impact of stress and/or anger in your life.