Stressed? Relax and switch off with Paul McKenna’s techniques

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The body’s stress response mechanism works like a car alarm. If a threat is detected – be it the pandemic, the situation in Ukraine or something closer to home – the internal alarm system lets us know something is wrong by creating a change in body chemistry, producing adrenaline and cortisol.

We feel alert and get a burst of fear or anger. However, the stress response is not just triggered when there is a physical threat, but also a threat to our ego. So, if there is a chance of us looking bad – say giving a presentation – then the stress response is triggered.These things may not seem like real threats, but your nervous system can’t tell the difference between a physical threat and an imagined one.

When we recall something or imagine something, we create movies in our mind – often with a soundtrack – so put simply, it’s the internal pictures and the sounds that create our feelings from moment to moment.

Unfortunately, far too many people spend too much of their lives running negative movies in their mind to motivate themselves – constantly moving away from fear rather than towards happiness is not a very enjoyable way to live life.

Psychologists refer to thinking about all the worst things that could possibly happen as “catastrophising’ – preparing for emergencies that are never going to occur and getting worked up about imaginary threats, instead of focusing on the moment and the reality.

Not only is this exhausting, but it doesn’t allow for us to be creative, optimistic and happy. If you are in a state of stress, you are looking for threats everywhere.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS

It’s not just what we think about, but the way we think about it that’s important. At school, we are often taught what to think, but we are not taught how to think. So, here’s our first experiment:

1 Make yourself comfortable and remember a time that you felt very good. Return to that memory like you’re back there again now. See what you saw… hear what you heard… and feel how good you felt. Make the colours rich, bright and bold… the sounds loud and feelings strong. Right now, you should be feeling really good.

2 Next, I’d like you to think about a mildly uncomfortable memory – maybe a time when you had an argument, or you felt disappointed or upset.And when you think about that time now… I would like you to step out of the memory, step out of yourself and look at yourself as though the event is happening to somebody else.

Next, drain all the colour out of that event and make it black and white.And then gently fade it out. Right now, you should be feeling significantly less upset.

3 What we’re learning here is a very important principle.Whenever we are inside a memory it has much greater emotional intensity than when we are outside of it. So, put simply, one of the processes we do during this system is stepping into good times and stepping out of bad times.

Sstress is not triggered there is a threat…

This will re-code the general landscape of our thinking to make us more optimistic, and free from any uncomfortable past experiences.We will keep all the learnings of the bad things that have happened to us in life, but just not be troubled by them. From working with people such as soldiers and paramedics who have been through extremely traumatic experiences, some are functional, and some are not.The ones that were functional are those that have coded their experiences in a way that means they are not in a permanent state of upset. They can remember something terrible happened and have kept the learnings they needed from it. Those it is emotional, too’

So many of us have a negative internal voice – running self-destructive messages that hold us back. From looking in the mirror and hearing the dialogue of “your bum looks big in that,” to the confidence-chipping inner voice of “I can’t,” it’s time to stop that negative bad talk and that’s a key part of learning the power of internal positivity.

However, it’s not just what you say to yourself, it’s also how you say it.

I’d like you to consider how the world sounds when you’re stressed.What does your internal dialogue sound like? Is it worried, or anxious? Do you speak calmly to yourself? Or do you sound frightened or concerned?

I’d like you to tap into your inner voice, so, let’s try another thought experiment.

ONE: I’d now like you to talk to yourself inside your mind in a very gentle, calm way. With your internal dialogue, I’d like you to use the same tone of voice that you’d use to tell a bedtime story.

TWO: And say something really calming such as,”All is well.All is well.”And notice how that feels. So, as well as what we say to ourselves inside our minds all day long, the way we say it is very important.

PROGRESSIVE RELAXATION ONCE you learn to put yourself into a deep state of relaxation at will, you have real power.

So, by practising this technique several times, you will have mastery over an important part of yourself and your life. Follow these eight simple steps:

Close your eyes and imagine another ‘you’, one that is twice as relaxed as you are now.

1 2 Imagine floating over and into that more relaxed you. See through the eyes of your more relaxed self, hear through the ears of your more relaxed self and feel this deeper relaxation.

Next, imagine another you, one that is twice as relaxed as you are right now.

3 4 Imagine floating over and into that more relaxed you. See through the eyes of your more relaxed self, hear through the ears of your more relaxed self and feel this deeper relaxation.

5 From this place, imagine another you, one that is even more as relaxed as you are right now.

6 Imagine floating over and into that even more relaxed you. See through the eyes of your more relaxed self, hear through the ears of your more relaxed self and feel this deeper relaxation.

7 Pause for a little, while you notice the feelings and then, if you wish, repeat it. Continue imagining a more relaxed you and floating into it, until you are totally relaxed.

8 Stay with this feeling for as long as you wish.You will be able to return to full, waking consciousness, refreshed and alert, as soon as you are ready.

THE APEX TECHNIQUE THIS technique is inspired from the work of my friend, the brilliant Zen Master Genpo Roshi.

1 Place your hands out in front of you with your palms turned up.

2 Next, let yourself focus on the feeling that is bothering you, whatever it is. It could be fear, anger, or something else.

3 As you notice it, ask if there is anything that feeling would wish to say to you. If there is, make a note of it – if there is not, that is absolutely fine, too.

4 Imagine holding the feeling in your left hand, in front of you and try to get in touch with it.

5 Now think of the opposite of that feeling – for example, peace, calm, comfort.

6 Bring that opposite feeling to mind – peace, calm, comfort – and notice how it feels.

7 Imagine placing that opposite, positive, feeling in your right hand.

8 Move your attention up to a few inches above your head and keeping your attention in that position now experience both feelings at the same time.

9 Continue to feel the two emotions simultaneously with your attention above your head. As you do that, your emotional system should recalibrate so you can experience that difficult emotion at a lower level as it re-integrates into your emotional intelligence. You should now be feeling significantly calmer, and less stressed, with more emotional equilibrium when you think about things that were challenging.

CREATE A HAVEN FOR YOURSELF

Studies have shown that when we use the Havening Technique, we reduce stress chemicals in our body and produce states of relaxation and calm. We also change the way our brain processes thoughts and feelings. Over time, this actually alters the neural pathways in your brain.

The patterns of touch used in Havening are what enable a mother to comfort her baby as they are hard-wired into every infant. Havening combines these deep-rooted patterns of reassurance with sequences to break down the associations that triggered unhappy or uncomfortable feelings.

As a result, in just a few minutes, we can now reduce the intensity of an emotion or feeling of unhappiness and establish calm. It uses simple touch to soothe body and mind. I have used this throughout the pandemic to help frontline workers – doctors, nurses, paramedics and ambulance crew – deal with stress.

It was created by Dr Ronald Ruden, an expert in neuroscience, who discovered that patterns of repeated touch to parts of the body combined with specific eye movements and visualisations have a rapid, reliable and predictable effect on our feelings.

1 Pay attention to any stress or traumatic memory you wish to remove and notice what it looks like in your imagination and how stressful it feels. Now, rate its strength on a scale of one to 10 where 10 is the most powerful and one is the least powerful. This is important as it lets you measure how much you are reducing it.

Clear your mind, or just think about or imagine something nice.

2 Cross your arms, place your hands on the tops of your shoulders and close your eyes.

3 4 Stroke your hands down the sides of your arms from the top of your shoulders down to your elbows and keep doing this downward stroking motion, again and again, throughout this process.

5 As you stroke the sides of your arms, imagine you are walking on a beautiful beach, with each footstep you take in the sand, count out loud from one to 20: One, two, three…

6 Keeping your head still, whilst continuing to stroke your arms, move your eyes laterally to the left and laterally to the right ten times.

7 Still stroking the sides of your arms, imagine you are walking outside in a beautiful garden, with each footstep you take in the grass, count out loud from one to 20: One, two, three…

8 Now, open your eyes and check on your scale from one to 10. How much lower is the number of the stress feeling now? If it is way down the bottom of the scale, congratulations – you have personally changed your feelings. If you think that the stress feeling is not yet reduced enough, just repeat the Havening sequence until it is reduced as far as you want.

Positivity: Confidence, Resilience, Motivation by Paul McKenna (Welbeck, £14,99). For free UK P&P on orders over £20, call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832 or visit www.expressbookshop.com

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